Tom Thibodeau was once the defensive mastermind for the Chicago Bulls. With their defensive mentality, they strangled opposing offenses and fought hard for their wins.
Thibs has taken on a new challenge: to bring the young offensive juggernaut Minnesota Timberwolves back to the playoffs while installing a defensive mindset. This is a hard task, of course, since the team hasn’t been to the postseason since 2004 — and it is also hard teaching a young team defense.
Back in the 2010-11 season, Thibodeau lead the Bulls to the best record in the Eastern Conference and all the way to the conference finals, eventually losing to the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh Miami Heat team. The Bulls were second in opposing teams point per game, holding them to 91.3. They also were first in defensive rating with a 100.3.
This year, the Wolves allowed 106.7 points per game, ranking 18th and had a defensive rating of 112.0 which ranked 27th. The Bulls of 2010-11 and the 2016-17 Wolves are pretty much opposites. But, one thing Thibs had in Chicago was players who are defensive minded and are winning to scrap, grind and get dirty; players like Joakim Noah, Loul Deng, Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer, and Taj Gibson. Not all household names, but one of the big reasons why the Bulls were as good as they were — beyond that year’s MVP, Derrick Rose, of course.
This off-season, the Wolves started the summer off with a bang by acquiring Jimmy Butler. Butler began his career as a defensive star under Tom Thibodeau in Chicago before his offense took off. This is the start of a new era in Minnesota. Thibodeau gave Butler a chance and now they are back together to build something special.
What Thibodeau needs to do now is develop the bench with defensive-minded veterans who do not look to dominate the game with scoring. They have fire power in Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns already, as their offensive rating was 10th at 110.8 and scored 105.6 points per contest, which finished 13th in the league. That 2011 Bulls team finished with an offensive rating of 108.3, good for 11th, and scored 98.6 points per game, which was 20th in the NBA.
The Wolves have the chance to make changes in the off-season via free agency. Notable free agents that would add value on defense include Andre Iguodala, Tony Allen, Jrue Holiday, Roy Hibbert, Serge Ibaka, Andre Roberson, Michael Carter-Williams, and Robert Covington. The Wolves could use any of these players as an upgrade from what they have now to give them a defensive spark either in a starting role or off the bench.
Thibs may also need to improve the team’s three-point shooting as they ranked last in the league in three-pointers made and attempted. The team shot 34.9 percent, which ranked 20th in the league. They also didn’t defend the three-ball well, allow teams to shoot at a 36.6 percent clip (23rd overall).
For the Wolves to start winning again, they need to improve in the above categories and buy into Tom Thibodeau’s system. He was the associate head coach of the championship-winning 2007-08 Boston Celtics. Thibodeau helped the Celtics becomes leaders in defensive ratings that season before becoming the head coach of the Bulls.
In other words, the Wolves simply need to follow Coach Thibs and he will bring them back to the promised land.