The Minnesota Timberwolves are winning right now, but without the rookies getting the minutes they deserve, the momentum might be hard to keep up throughout this season.
Here’s something you’ve no doubt heard before: the Minnesota Timberwolves‘ rookies aren’t getting minutes.
It’s no secret that Tom Thibodeau isn’t a huge fan of giving rookies chances to really prove themselves; we’ve seen it throughout his coaching career how hesitant he is to consider expanding his rotation beyond nine players.
So far, he has stuck to almost exclusively a nine-man rotation, giving heavy minutes to Karl-Anthony Towns, and more dangerously, Derrick Rose (29.5 minutes per game) and Robert Covington (over 30 minutes in all but one game as a Timberwolf). Rose’s minutes load is most concerning, because of how valuable he’s been to the team thus far and his checkered injury past.
With the promise flashed by Josh Okogie in a smattering of games this season and the potential of Keita Bates-Diop, Thibodeau runs the risk of not only hurting the confidence of his two prized rookies, but the rest of the team. It’s time for Thibodeau to get his rookies in the mix and let them prove they are ready for the spotlight.
Okogie has proven already he can play at a high level in the NBA. With a 17-point showing against the Los Angeles Lakers and a 15-point performance against the Golden State Warriors he has shown he is more than capable of being a quality addition to the rotation. Save for Monday night’s win over Houston, Andrew Wiggins has struggled of late and it’s time for Thibodeau to deploy Okogie.
Monday was the first game since Nov. 18 in which Wiggins shot better than 25 percent from the field, including an ugly 0-for-12 showing against the Bulls. Giving Okogie some of Wiggins’ minutes would not only give a spark to an offense that needs to play at a high level to stay competitive, but it would light a fire under Wiggins and remind him to bring his best every night.
Okogie is more than capable of taking opportunities away from Wiggins and holding the rookie back not only stunts his growth and confidence as a player, but also affects the other players on the roster as they lose opportunities to build their chemistry with him.
As for Bates-Diop, unfortunately he has seemed to find his home with the other Wolves squad about a three-and-a-half hour drive south on I-35. The second-round pick has either been inactive or has been stashed in the G League for all but two games this year. While this makes some sense for a rookie to develop correctly, he should be brought up later in the season in order for his game to translate well at the next level.
For what it’s worth, Bates-Diop has averaged 21.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, two assists, a steal, and 1.4 blocks per game over five games with the Iowa Wolves.
Not giving KBD opportunities could hurt the Timberwolves bench down the stretch in the season. Having him slowly make his transition up from Iowa is fine for now, but if this trend continues, Bates-Diop will miss out on prime opportunities to find his true role on the Timberwolves as they inch closer to the playoff picture.
While the Timberwolves are certainly on the upswing, they need to make sure all assets at their disposal are being used and ready to go to keep the momentum up through a long season.