Phase II: Post-Butler + The Good Stuff
Following a blowout win against the Los Angeles Lakers (sans LeBron James) in front of the Target Center faithful, Head Coach/President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau was relieved of his duties on Jan. 6.
Despite an upward tick in the team’s record and optimism slowly returning to Minnesota fans, owner Glen Taylor felt the team needed to go in a new direction: the team named wily coaching veteran Ryan Saunders interim head coach.
Saunders, who brings with him nearly a decade of coaching experience, is also only 32 years old. Perhaps to assist with some familiarity (and also to fill out the staff after former assistant Andy Greer was let go along with Thibodeau), the team has also added Jerry Sichting to Saunders’ staff. Sichting was a longtime assistant to Flip Saunders at his various NBA stops.
The fourth-year big is enjoying another phenomenal season. The former Kentucky Wildcat is posting averages of 22.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.9 blocks in 33.3 minutes per game. And once again, he’s doing it all while not missing a single game.
Towns has thrived since the Jimmy Butler cloud left town, and while there’s still a real possibility that the center will be left out of the All-Star Game, he is now the team’s clear number-one scoring option.
As he goes, so does the team. If Towns can stay out of foul trouble, expect the massive stat-stuffing games to continue moving forward. Fans should be excited and relived that the 23-year-old signed his five-year extension worth $190 million.
A pleasant surprise has been the play of 11th-year guard and former MVP Derrick Rose.
While Rose showed flashes of being a contributor late last season and in the playoffs, very few would have expected him to post the numbers he has this season. Mostly as a reserve, Rose is averaging 18.6 points, 4.7 assists, and 29 minutes per game.
While injuries have kept Rose out of 10 contests, Derrick has still posted three games of 31 points or more, including a 50-point outburst in a Halloween night win over the Jazz. His run has included fourth-quarter takeovers, too, culminating in a cold-blooded game-winner against the Suns on Jan. 20.
The Butler trade has proven to be a major factor in improving the Timberwolves depth.
Free-agent signing Anthony Tolliver has contributed at times, although his minutes have fluctuated greatly. Even veteran forward Luol Deng has started to see a few minutes under Ryan Saunders. Bayless, who was more or less a salary-matcher and a throwaway in the November trade with the Sixers, has demonstrated his worth in key road wins against the Thunder, Suns, and Lakers.
Overall, this team has shown that it has plenty of valuable role players that can step into starting spots effectively if needed.