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With Tom Thibodeau back, Timberwolves finally have some stability

Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau talks to guard Tyus Jones in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bulls at Target Center in Minneapolis on Feb. 12, 2017. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Karl-Anthony Towns said the Timberwolves were "walking" through much of training camp last year.

"Sometimes crawling," he said.

That has nothing to do with their pace or effort, but that's about the speed at which players were absorbing Tom Thibodeau's system at the start of the coach's first season in Minnesota.

Fast forward a year and by the first day of training camp, Towns said, players already were "jogging," a marked improvement. That's what consistency can do for you, something this franchise hasn't had in a long time.

Look at the careers of Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad. When they entered the league in 2013, Rick Adelman was their coach. After he retired, Flip Saunders coached the team in 2014. After his tragic death in 2015, Sam Mitchell took the reins. When he was let go, Thibodeau took on the role last season.

Four seasons, four coaches.

For the first time in the young careers of many of these Timberwolves' players, they have the same coach for a second straight season. What a concept.

"I haven't had any stability at head coach since high school, so it's a lot different," said Towns, who played for John Calipari in his one year at Kentucky before coming to Minnesota.

Same goes for Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad and Tyus Jones, all one-and-done in college and just now realizing what it's like to already know the system a coach has in place.

"I know what to expect, I know the offense he wants to run, I know how it works on the defensive end, how he wants things done," Wiggins said. "I know he wants to win, and so do I."

Many of the players described this year's training camp as "easier," if for no other reason than they can work on fundamentals and other details without wondering where they're supposed to be on the court.

"Learning new things is not easy," Dieng said. "Some people get it quick; it takes longer with others. But I think this year is a lot easier with not just me, but for everybody."

Jones said players spent the start of last season figuring out what Thibodeau wanted from each player. With that knowledge in place, he said, "We can just go."

That doesn't only work one way. After a year of observation, Thibodeau has a much better idea of who he has on his roster. Part of the reason Muhammad chose to re-sign with Minnesota was the familiarity he's established with his coach.

"He knows the positions where I'm going to be successful," Muhammad said. "This is the first time I've had that, and I'm kind of excited it's coach Thibs. I think even last year he made me a better player."

Thibodeau said any time you spend time with players, or people in general, "You're obviously going to understand them better, know what their strengths and weaknesses are." Better relationships tend to lead to better results.

"You'd like to have a group that's together, a coach that's been there," Thibodeau said. "I think that you learn and you build. The more things you've gone through together, the better you'll get at going through things."

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.