After their final game of the season, a 144-109 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, the Minnesota Timberwolves announced that they were relieving Sam Mitchell of his duties as interim head coach, and beginning the search for a new head coach and head of basketball operations.
The Timberwolves finished 29-53 this season, 13 wins better than last season, but still nowhere near where they would like to be. With players Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and a whole cast of other young blossoming talent, the Wolves look to be an attractive job for new coaches and leaders of basketball operations. They also have a chance at even more young talent with a high pick in the upcoming draft, possibly even in the top 5.
There are certain needs that the Timberwolves will need to address with selecting a new head coach if they want to make the playoffs in the next year or two, or even begin to actually contend in a stacked Western Conference. A coach doesn’t change everything, but he can begin to implement a system that will hopefully lead to successful basketball and the breaking of some of the Wolves bad habits.
Of a few sore spots in this season, one that stands out was the defense. Towns proved himself an effective defender, and Ricky Rubio has been able to come up with some crafty steals pretty regularly, but as a team they allowed 106.6 points a game, for 23rd out of 30 teams in the league. They allowed opponents to shoot 47.1% on field goals, which was 28th overall. A defensive possession also is not over until the ball is rebounded and going the other way. The Wolves were 29th in rebounds with 41.6.
NBA teams, more than ever, are moving offenses out past the arc, to shoot and make more 3’s. The Timberwolves have not been able to make that transition yet, and are suffering because of it. They made just 5.5 3-pointers a game this season, 29th in the league, and attempted just 16.4, which was also 29th. Their percentage on long shots was 25th overall, at 33.8%. It is hard to blame them for not attempting too many if their percentage was so low, but they will definitely have to improve in that area if they want to improve on their record.
Part of the reason they didn’t shoot very well from distance has to be that their core is so young, and thus has not had a lot of time to practice and really become efficient, but a new coach who emphasizes these types of shots and works well with players to learn better form could be beneficial.
The two top coaches that the Wolves are considering, and have made meetings with, according to hoopshype.com are Tom Thibodeau and Jeff Van Gundy, who many fans know from his funny and ridiculous (while still intelligent) commentary over ESPN NBA games. Another hot coaching prospect is Scott Brooks who was the leader of the Oklahoma City Thunder last year.
In terms of defensive needs, it would appear that Tom Thibodeau would fit very well into this role. In his role as the assistant coach of the Boston Celtics in charge of defense, they won the 2008 NBA championship, and were extremely stout defensively. They also had Kevin Garnett, Minnesota royalty who is actually back on the team now. As the Chicago Bulls coach from 2010-2015, he made the playoffs each year, even making the conference finals in 2010, only falling to the LeBron James led Heat who were one of the best teams ever.
He is known for his toughness as well, and young players definitely need to have some sort of mentor in terms of getting them to show the most effort possible. He had some turbulent times toward the end of his tenure with the Bulls because of a lot of injuries, but Thibodeau was able to develop Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler into extremely talented players, which is what the Wolves are hoping to do with their young guys.
Jeff Van Gundy, though he has been out of the head coaching game for quite a bit, has not been away from the NBA, having served as a color-commentator on ESPN since he stopped coaching. However, as a coach he had a good amount of success.
Van Gundy served as a head coach for 11 seasons, making the playoffs 9 times, and losing in the conference finals and NBA finals once each, which are pretty solid accomplishments. He has an overall head coaching record of 430-318. What Van Gundy possesses most of all, is a unique basketball mind. Having received numerous fines for the things he says, he is not necessarily a great role-model, but he sticks up for his team and is not afraid to have his voice heard.
Scott Brooks, though there has not been anything set up between the team and himself and his agent, could also be a viable candidate for the job. A year after coaching the Thunder into relevancy from 2008-2015, he is potentially on the market. He was huge in developing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who are both now super-stars in the league, and holds a distinction over the other two that he actually played in the league for a number of years, even winning a championship as a member of the Houston Rockets.
Showing his ability to help in the development of young talent is huge for the Timberwolves job, and he has proven capable of doing such. He coached the Thunder to the NBA finals in the 2011-12 season, before most people thought they would be able to make it there, and even won coach of the year in 2010.
Though it is not certain who the Timberwolves will select, or if it will be any of these three at all, things are looking up for the team, and fans can be hopeful that whoever is chosen will impact the team positively.
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