Towns, Wiggins and Butler: The New Big Three

Steven Toroni

Would you believe me if I told you that Wednesday night’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs was actually a good thing for the Minnesota Timberwolves entering their first year under Tom Thibodeau? Before you overachievers spew out your discontent, I will submit that you do play to win the game (See: Coach Herman Edwards circa 2002). But, if we learned anything from Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy that asked the caped crusader many times “why do we fall?” it cannot be denied that failure is inevitable before success can be achieved.

Let’s put the loss into perspective first, shall we? Game one of season one for Thibodeau’s new-look Minnesota team happened to be in San Antonio. This Spurs team has been so successful for so long that arguably the best player on the Wolves, Karl-Anthony Towns was four years old when Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio team won its first championship in 1999.

The team is still led by Pop and pretty much nothing has changed. The franchise has been absolutely brilliant for a staggering near two decades with a record of 1,077 victories to 433 losses since that first ring (which were followed by four more in the timeframe). 1999 was the only year in the 19-year period where the team did not win 50 games…but one has to think it is probably because the season was only 50 games long due to a lockout.

So, you get it. The Spurs are pretty good. But, this Wolves team is nothing to scoff at.

I do have to include the word “arguably” for good reason when describing the status of the seven-foot Towns, but, if KAT were on most teams in the NBA he would be without question the team’s clear-cut most talented ball player. The guy is ultra talented, multi-dimensional and is a walking double-double.

The 21-year-old has been paired with superstar and athletic freak Andrew Wiggins for his first two seasons in the league. In an off-season where stars were dropping former teams like bad habits, superstar Jimmy Butler joined the tandem and the coach who drafted him in 2011.

The team would add former All-Star point guard Jeff Teague who has been to the playoffs an astonishing seven years in a row along with signing sixth man specialist Jamal Crawford and another one of “Thibs” defensive disciples, Taj Gibson.

There is no question that the talent is there for this 2017-2018 Minnesota team, but it is also accompanied by leadership and experience along with players that can be valuable based on different game-flow situations.

As Zach Lowe stated in the video above, the Wolves are going to need more shooting. While I would still give their off-season an A if I was grading, three-point shooting is going to be vital as the team looks to make a playoff run. With the acquisitions the team has added, it is no doubt a playoff team. But, it will be the lack of shooting that may prevent them from making a deep playoff run as they face teams like the Rockets, the Warriors and the Spurs in the stacked western conference.

Wiggins was lethal from the outside against the Spurs on Wednesday, hitting four of his six from deep. This boosted his total to 26 for the night leading all Timberwolves while helping them contend with the Spurs for about 40 minutes.It remains to be determined if the 20.4 career scorer can sustain that kind of shooting, but if he can be the team’s weapon from the distance this year it will be a nightmare for the opposition. Defensive woes and indecisiveness on the offensive end in crunch time contributed mightily to the defeat as San Antonio went on a 9-0 run with about three minutes left to close the home opener out.

There are many good things to take away from this game. Jimmy Butler only scored 12 points as he was trying to find his rhythm within the offense. That sort of output will trend upward as the season goes on as Jimmy “Buckets” has topped 20 points per game in each of the last three seasons.

Tyus Jones was on the floor for the majority of the latter half of the fourth quarter in place of Teague which must be corrected if Thibs expects to win these kind of games. Look for the former Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacer to finish games going forward as the coaching staff evaluates how they distribute minutes. Finally, Jamal Crawford was aggressive and put in solid minutes off the bench. This is promising for Timberwolves fans as the 37-year-old still has the ability to light it up when called upon.

Overall, the Wolves played a competitive and smart basketball game against a really good Spurs team. Look for them to correct mistakes from the opener moving forward. As the team learns how to play together, they will start to eke out victories in tight situations. When they do, the rest of the NBA is going to have a big problem on their hands. Adding another outside shooter mid-season could be the difference between Minnesota getting booted from the second round and them being a serious contender come June of next year.

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