The Minnesota Timberwolves are off to a solid start in 2017-18. Sitting at 4th in the Western Conference, atop the Northwest Division, MIN is right around where many predicted them to be. Sure, it's only 8 games in and the Wolves have won just 1 game by a margin greater than 3 points but early signs are encouraging - once a young team bereft experience down the stretch of close games, veteran leadership is making an imprint.
Minnesota's done a nice job w/ its rebuild the last couple years, cashing in on prospects (Z. LaVine & K. Dunn) to shape into a contender. Acquiring two-sway star Jimmy Butler was just a precursor to later moves last summer. Once Jimmy was "on board," MIN swung deals to acquire veterans Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson & Jamal Crawford - with hopes to return to the playoffs since 2004, MIN boasts their deepest, most experienced roster since then.
Avg. 19.5 ppg, 5 rpg
You notice MIN's newfound experience* the most down the stretch of tight contests. A year ago, the Wolves had difficulty w/ what a lot of young teams struggle to grasp early on:
• Who takes the last shot? -- J. Crawford, A. Wiggins, J. Butler, K. Towns all viable candidates
• How to get the right shots? -- K. Towns, J. Butler, J. Crawford, A. Wiggins, J. Teague
• Who will help execute defensive stops? -- J. Butler, K. Towns, T. Gibson
Now, there's more weapons across the board. Minnesota hasn't played its best basketball (especially on the defensive end) but is still figuring out ways to win ball games. The experience factor cannot be understated - in tight contests, there's reason for optimism
• Depth = Key -- MIN's depth will serve them well all year long. A team equipped to withstand minor injuries (day-to-day --> month or two) features players capable of stepping in and playing big minutes if a starter can't go.
Gorgui Dieng, MIN's Undisputed X-Factor, is the perfect example. A pseudo-sixth starter, Dieng can play anywhere from 15-30 min./night, is familiar as a starter if T. Gibson or K. Towns can't go. You can say the same for Jamal Crawford & even Nemanja Bjelica & Shabazz Muhammad on lesser scales.
In their last outing @ NOP, MIN's bench accounted for 45 pts, 18 boards & 8 dimes -- Thibs went 10 deep: Dieng-Bjelica-Muhammad-Crawfrord-Tyus Jones.
• W's in spite of star performances -- Jimmy Butler is avg. a little over 17/night thru 3 games, so the Wolves haven't even seen his best efforts yet. With more surrounding talent, Butler is able to ease into his starring role, taking a backseat to a more aggressive Andrew Wiggins & Karl-Anthony Towns.
And @ NOP, it was flipped: K. Towns struggled (2 pts, 5 fouls), yet Minnesota still came away w/ the victory.
Thibs's old adage, "finding a way to win" appears to be rubbing off early.
• Few Stats...
--MIN's bench is shooting 45% from downtown
--As a team, MIN's avg. 21.8 dimes v. 16.1 TOs
--As a team, MIN's getting to the line over 26 times/night
*bit of an oxymoron