Sacramento Kings

Timberwolves learning the hard way in hopes of reaching NBA elite

Karl-Anthony Towns and his Minnesota Timberwolves teammates have had a steep learning curve with new coach Tom Thibodeau.
Karl-Anthony Towns and his Minnesota Timberwolves teammates have had a steep learning curve with new coach Tom Thibodeau. The Associated Press

Growing pains inevitably precede NBA success.

And even the most talented team must learn how to win, especially when that talent is still under rookie contracts.

That’s the case with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Many observers made Minnesota a sleeper pick to make the playoffs because of its young core of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine. All three are averaging at least 20 points.

But the Timberwolves are 11-22, a reflection of their reliance on two third-year players (LaVine and Wiggins) and a second-year player (Towns).

Knowing that we’re right there and we’re not getting beat by 20, 30 points. We’re losing by a couple points and most of the time we had the lead. Once we turn that corner, open that door, hopefully we’ll stick with it and keep it going.

Andrew Wiggins, Timberwolves forward

Because of their inexperience, the Timberwolves haven’t closed out games they’ve led in the fourth quarter.

“I think that’s a big part of learning, the trial-and-error part of it,” first-year Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You try to explain and you try to work on it in practice and then try to develop an understanding. And you need repetition and then you need to be out there in games doing it. I think the more that we do it, the better we’ll get at it.”

As expected, Minnesota’s learning curve in Thibodeau’s first season has been steep. Veteran point guard Ricky Rubio also was sidelined by a sprained elbow, putting more accountability on the youngsters.

Minnesota has progressed, going 5-5 in its last 10 games, with three of those losses coming by four or fewer points.

The Timberwolves believe they have a foundation for success featuring the last two Rookies of the Year (Wiggins and Towns) and a two-time Slam Dunk champion (LaVine) who is proving to be more than a high flier. Gorgui Dieng, who is in his fourth season, is a solid interior defender, and Rubio, in his seventh year, is backed up by touted rookie Kris Dunn.

I think that’s a big part of learning, the trial-and-error part of it. You try to explain and you try to work on it in practice and then try to develop an understanding. And you need repetition and then you need to be out there in games doing it. I think the more that we do it, the better we’ll get at it.

Tom Thibodeau, Timberwolves coach

Wiggins said the close losses help the team focus on the positives.

“Knowing that we’re right there and we’re not getting beat by 20, 30 points,” Wiggins said. “We’re losing by a couple points, and most of the time we had the lead. Once we turn that corner, open that door, hopefully we’ll stick with it and keep it going.”

But only experience will show the Timberwolves how to win consistently.

“For us to build an intensity level that will help us be successful, you need maximum concentration and maximum effort, and you need to do it day after day,” Thibodeau said. “You can’t skip days. You can’t skip any steps. There’s no shortcuts to this. That’s us approaching it the right way, and if we do that, I think good things will come.”

In front of plenty of folks who know him in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Sacramento Kings coach Dave Joerger led his team to victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016, then acknowledged key contributions from several players.

The ‘This Can’t Be Life’ Award

Is all publicity really good publicity?

As former NBA coach George Karl promotes his book, “Furious George: My Forty Years Surviving NBA Divas, Clueless GMs, and Poor Shot Selection,” that cliché might not apply.

After being rebuked for excerpts that criticized Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin for growing up without fathers, Karl upset one of his coaching protégés, Portland’s Terry Stotts, when he blamed the Trail Blazers’ struggles on Damian Lillard receiving too much attention off the court. Stotts said Karl needed to “stay in his lane” when discussing his players.

Karl also said, without evidence, that performing-enhancing drugs are a problem in the NBA.

The run-up to the book hasn’t endeared Karl to the public. If anything, it’s making Furious George look more like Bitter George.

The ‘Keeping It Way Too Real’ Award

“I think it’s (expletive) that the NBA throws the refs under the bus like that.”

Golden State star Kevin Durant, on the NBA releasing a “Last Two Minute Report” that points out officiating mistakes late in close games.

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

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