Jace Frederick / St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS — With the Timberwolves' playoff drought over and a strong veteran base on the team, Minnesota has safely departed the rebuild phase and jumped straight into a transitional summer. Assuming he's back next season, Tom Thibodeau — the Wolves' coach and president of basketball operations — has a slew of decisions to make as he attempts to improve a roster in need of changes without virtually any salary cap space. But before Thibodeau makes any decisions about what he can and will do this summer, he must first answer these questions:
HOUSTON — Following the Timberwolves' season-ending Game 5 loss to the Rockets on Wednesday night, Taj Gibson went up to Minnesota's younger players and said two words: "Step 1." Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said that when you're trying to get out of a "hole" such as Minnesota's 14-year playoff drought and change franchise's culture "there's going to be steps that you have to take along the way." This, in Gibson's mind, was No. 1.
MINNEAPOLIS — In an interview with WCCO radio's Chad Hartman on Monday, April 24, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor was asked if he was concerned about Jimmy Butler's decision to have surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his right knee. The question was framed as if Butler had two options — undergo one surgery that would allow him to return to action sooner, or take a different surgical route that would keep him out for an extended period of time but might be better for his career long term.
MINNEAPOLIS—In recent years, the Houston Rockets have been a top-two seed in the Western Conference and reached a conference finals behind a high-powered offense led by all-world guard James Harden. But this is the first year Houston is a legitimate NBA title contender, and it's because of its defense. The Rockets were sixth in defensive efficiency this season. Pair that with their already powerful offense, and the Rockets became nearly impossible to stop—hence their NBA-best 65 wins in the regular season.
MINNEAPOLIS — Through two playoff games, Andrew Wiggins was the Timberwolves' most aggressive offensive player. The fourth-year wing took 29 shots and scored 31 points in two games. He consistently knifed into the paint, yet had taken just six free throws. Entering Game 3 against the Houston Rockets on Saturday night, April 21, at Target Center, Wiggins felt as though that number should have been a bit higher. "I think I'm getting fouled," Wiggins said. "There's nothing I can do but just keep driving and hoping that I get the calls."
MINNEAPOLIS—The Minnesota Timberwolves offense was one of the best units in basketball this season. The Wolves scored 110.8 points per 100 possessions during the regular season, marking the NBA's fourth most efficient offense. The challenge for Minnesota in its first-round playoff series against top-seeded Houston was supposed to be slowing the Rockets' high-powered offense. The Wolves' points would come. Or so everyone thought.
MINNEAPOLIS — One day after calling for his all-star center to get more post touches, Timberwolves point guard Jeff Teague seemed to be at a loss for answers following Wednesday, April 18's 102-82 playoff loss in Houston. Almost absent from the offensive attack in Game 1, Karl-Anthony Towns was the focal point heading into Game 2 against Houston, but the result was the same. Not only are the Wolves down 0-2 in the best-of-seven series, they can't seem to get any production from their third-year big man.
HOUSTON — James Harden killed the Timberwolves in Game 1, with the presumptive MVP tallying 44 points and eight assists. But the legality of how he did it was up for debate on social media after Sunday's game. Four of Harden's 15 makes were listed as "step-back jump shots." The step back is one of Harden's most effective moves, and he goes to it often. It gives Harden enough space to get his shot off over any defender. "There's not too much you can do (against it)," Wolves guard Andrew Wiggins said.
HOUSTON — Tom Thibodeau praised Jeff Teague for his ability to attack the switches in Minnesota's Game 1 loss to Houston on Sunday, April 15. When Houston switched the pick and roll, Teague was guarded by Rockets center Clint Capela. Teague attacked the matchup to the tune of 15 points, eight assists and nine rebounds, nearly tallying a triple-double despite playing less than 29 minutes because of early foul trouble. "He was in the paint, making easy plays, made the game easy," Thibodeau said.
HOUSTON — Derrick Rose maintained a small role in the Timberwolves rotation down the stretch run of the regular season, averaging 12 minutes in nine appearances. But when the playoffs rolled around, that changed. Rose played 24 minutes in the Wolves' Game 1 loss to Houston, the most he has played in a Minnesota uniform. Part of that likely had to do with the foul trouble Jeff Teague and Andrew Wiggins found themselves in, but it looks as if Rose will be a major factor in this first-round series.