The NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves are the laughing stock of the league who regard the ball club as antique and heading for a down season.
For starters, Minnesota employs a slow game (ranked 18th in speed in the league last season) which is a strange phenomenon given the number of young players on the roster headlined by Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.
What is more curious is that Washington Wizards is bottom of the rankings despite having a starting Point Guard who thrives in the open court. Failing to pick up the pace has been labeled as one of the major reasons behind Wizards inability to break past the postseason second round despite a successful run over the past five seasons.
Another weird observation about Minnesota is the team’s three point shooting accuracy and general shyness to shoot from deep. Timberwolves ranked 17th in the 2017-2018 season according to NBA.com which is a good mark that got the side into the playoffs via the eighth seed.
However, that stat exposed the team in the playoffs against Houston Rockets who attempted the most three point shots in the league. Ending a postseason less run for the first time since 2004, Minnesota ought to be brimming with confidence of a great future.
Conversely, such a feeling isn’t shared by fans and observers in the aftermath of an underwhelming offseason.
Head of Basketball Operations and Coach Tom Thibodeau selected Keita Bates-Diop in the Draft and signed veterans Anthony Tolliver, CJ Williams and Luol Deng. By resigning Derrick Rose, Thibodeau has effectively shipped four of his starting five man unit at former club Chicago Bulls to Minnesota.
Deng is the latest signing after Taj Gibson, Rose and Jimmy Butler joined Minnesota last season. Going for Deng has a lot of downturns since the South Sudanese veteran is years removed from his 2012 and 2013 All Star years. While Minnesota and Thibodeau has indicated Joakim Noah-the last member of the starting unit won’t be signed there is a lot of negativity surrounding Thibodeau’s latest acquisition, Deng.
However, that is not the case as Luol’s stellar defensive chops are likely to improve Minnesota’s surprisingly lowly ranked defense. Timberwolves have been ranked 26th and 22nd in defensive ratings in two seasons under defensive specialist Thibodeau. At Chicago, Thibodeau built a contender on a top 10 defense under his five year watch and is yet to translate in Minnesota. Bringing Butler and Gibson has helped but the team’s rating still needs a major upgrade and Deng can help.
It is hard to believe a 33 year old can be relied on for consistently on defense especially one who played just 13 minutes last season. It is for that reason Deng is likely to surprise many since having a lot of time off the court heals a body that has gone through eight straight seasons of deep playoff basketball and over 30 minutes per game. While unable to Guard speedy players in his natural Small Forward position, Deng is more than capable of featuring at Power Forward bumping Gibson to Center in the second unit.
Signing Deng gives Thibodeau a go to option on the wing without sacrificing much on defense by playing Jamal Crawford should he resign with Minnesota. Wiggins has so far failed to live up to expectations four seasons into his NBA career as the 2014 number overall pick and disappeared in the clutch part of the season in the playoffs. As good as Crawford has been for the past six seasons as a Sixth Man, he bleeds points on the other end as a defensive sieve. With Deng’s 15 points and a top defensive resume, Thibodeau has a solid fall back option behind Wiggins to call when the Canadian high flyer no shows in games.
Thibodeau went with Minnesota’s young core in his first season and missed the playoffs. In his second season and signing Gibson, Butler and Rose, Minnesota barely made the postseason. In the aftermath of LeBron James and Isaiah Thomas moving to the Western Conference, Timberwolves could miss out on a playoff spot. As such, signing Deng gives Thibodeau more weapons to deal with the threat posed by rival teams in the conference. Getting three members in his old unit got him a postseason run and it is sound reasoning for Thibodeau to go with his trusted long tenured player Deng. Quite simply, the tough Thibodeau believes if it isn’t broken, why fix it?
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter