An Evaluation of Tom Thibodeau

Tom Thibodeau was hired April 20th 2016 as head coach as well as President of Basketball Operations of the Minnesota Timberwolves. In his two year tenure with the organization, Tom Thibodeau has given fans things to be happy about, along with things to criticize. If you visit any Timberwolves forum, you will find a majority of commenters complaining about a number of problems that Thibodeau is responsible for. Meanwhile, there will be the occasional fan that reminds everyone the good things he has done for the organization. Let’s dive into all the moves and decisions Thibodeau has made in the past two years.

In chronological order:

Thibodeau’s first transaction came in the form of a draft pick. With the 4th overall selection in the 2016 draft, the Wolves selected point guard Kris Dunn. Objectively, this was a nice pick at the time. He was a 22 year old with all the defensive attributes you look for at the point guard position. Dunn also had a nice summer league showing and was potential rookie of the year candidate heading into the regular season. Unfortunately, he struggled to find his shot at the NBA level and he couldn’t run the offense efficient enough to warrant more minutes.

In his first run in the free agent market, he signed Brandon Rush, Cole Aldrich, and Jordan Hill. Not the most inspiring free agent haul of all time but frankly, it should be commended that he held off from spending big in what was a summer of major overpays. Look at the Milwaukee Bucks, who signed a number of players to huge contracts that have essentially halted their progression in NBA contention. Brandon Rush and Jordan Hill are both long gone, and with Aldrich most likely on his way out after this season, all three will be gone after only two years. (Aldrich can be cut this summer with only $2,056,021 guaranteed if cut before June 20th)

In the last month of the 2016-17 season, Thibodeau brought in Lance Stephenson which was interesting to say the least. Stephenson has shown he can still play at a high enough level to contribute in the NBA. This season in Indiana is a prime example of that.

What happened June 22nd, 2017 is what Thibodeau will be remembered for mostly. He traded Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, the 7th overall pick in the draft (Lauri Markkanen) for Jimmy Butler and the 16th overall pick in the draft. When you bring in a top 15 player in the NBA you have to be given credit for that. Thibodeau go way back to their days in Chicago when Butler first stepped on the scene. Butler has transformed this Timberwolves team and is the main reason we are in the playoffs at the moment. With the 16th pick we accumulated, we selected a center from Creighton, Justin Patton. Unfortunately, he broke his foot in the summer and only managed 4 minutes the entire season. He spent most of the winter in Iowa playing in the G-League.

Some Wolves fans would argue that Andrew Wiggins should have been the one to be traded rather than LaVine, but apparently owner Glen Taylor did not approve of that idea. Owners being involved in player personnel decisions is a topic for another day.

Only eight days later, the trade that hurt Wolves fans the most, was the trade of Ricky Rubio to the Utah Jazz for a first round pick via the Oklahoma City Thunder. This was one of the most controversial moves that Thibodeau has made but it seems as though it was influenced by some of the players on the team. A strange situation all around.

Then a slew of big money free agent moves were made. The Wolves secured the talents of point guard Jeff Teague and big man Taj Gibson. The “Timberbulls” are slowly coming to fruition. Both were overpaid but you cannot argue that the Wolves still needed more veteran presence around Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Taj Gibson has been worth every penny, Jeff Teague has had great moments too but he is not worth his price tag of 19 million dollars a year. In this same free agency, we signed Jamal Crawford to a two year deal, the second being a player option. Crawford certainly can bring a scoring burst but defensively he is a major liability.

Midway through the season we signed Derrick Rose and Aaron Brooks to the end of the season.

The roster construction is set for now, all core pieces are signed through at least next year. The argument to be made now is addressing the depth issue on the wing and why our starters have to play so many minutes compared to the rest of the league. The biggest complaint fans have of Thibodeau is his refusal to play the bench a decent amount of minutes. Our bench is not deep to be fair, but Tyus Jones, Nemanja Bjelica, and Gorgui Dieng have a lot to offer on the basketball court. Thibodeau refuses to give them even 15 minutes a game in some cases which is dumfounding especially when we have a 14 point lead with 5 or 6 minutes left in the 4th quarter.

One could argue for Thibodeau by saying the bench does have a small amount talent but since he’s responsible for all player acquisitions, there’s no excuse. Either go out in free agency and sign a player who can contribute, or develop the guys on the bench to the point where they can maintain a lead or deficit to get our star players some rest. One of his most frustrating qualities.

Another gripe most fans have with him, is his inability to recognize when a lineup does not work. The lineup of Tyus Jones, Jamal Crawford, and Derrick Rose is one of the ugliest and inefficient lineups we have but Thibodeau refuses to recognize this notion. Also, his refusal to not have Towns shoot at least 15 times a game is beyond me. He is having a historical shooting season but he insists on having Jamal Crawford and Andrew Wiggins shoot at will.

It’s a concerning proposition that we will have to keep Thibodeau in order to sign Butler to an extension but if Thibodeau continues the close-minded approach he currently has, we will never have a window to win a championship in this league. No matter how many times you yell ice, it won’t change the fact that we have a bottom ranked defense. It won’t change the fact that Wiggins is signed to a max contract with no sign of major improvement. But thanks for Jimmy Butler.


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