Following the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Thursday evening 23-point victory, the mood was light at the team’s Friday afternoon practice.
Tom Thibodeau was smiling, Jimmy Butler was making loud noises that his teammates laughed at, and all seems to be stabilizing at the Mayo Clinic Square practice facility. Winning and rest seem to help those things.
“It’s better. Yeah, it’s a lot better…” Gorgui Dieng said. “Practices are shorter.”
For a team that has been forced – through the Nemanja Bjelica’s mid-foot sprain, sidelining him for the past eleven games – to play heavy minutes a decreased workload is a welcome relief.
Without Bjelica since Nov. 22, the rotation has shrunk to eight players many nights. This adjustment has forced players on the Wolves roster to play 38 or more minutes 23 times over those 11 games.
Comparatively, Wolves opponents have given 38-plus minutes to a player only 4 times — three of which were Philadelphia 76ers in an overtime game.
Since Nemanja Bjelica was sidelined 11 games ago, Wolves players that have played 38-plus mins in a game.
Wolves opponents that have played 38-plus minutes in those 11 games:
— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) December 15, 2017
Thursday night against Sacramento was not one of those games – Jimmy Butler led the way in minutes with 35:33.
This drop was in large part due to the rotation expanding to nine players. Marcus Georges-Hunt received his first stint of regular rotation minutes this season. In 17 minutes, Georges-Hunt blended in as ninth man should – making one corner three while playing technically sound defense.
Marcus-Georges Hunt officially in the rotation over Shabazz Muhammad. Largely blending in (not a bad thing). Does a good job of moving his feet here on a possession that ends in a turnover. pic.twitter.com/UE7ugA44dV
— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) December 15, 2017
Georges-Hunt’s “Situational” Role And Bjelica Still Out
Head coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed he was pleased with what he saw out of the 23-year-old.
“You can always use a player like that,” he said. “The thing that I like about him is that whether it’s short minutes or extended minutes, he has kept himself ready.”
However, do not expect 17 minutes per night to be a frequent occurrence. Thibodeau said, the wing-defender “is going to be situational going forward” with the return of Bjelica looming.
“Hopefully, we get Bjelly back soon,” said Thibs.
Nothing is definite with Bjelica, Thibodeau shared the injury will probably last “another week.”
Another week interpreted literally would mean a return on Dec. 23 in Phoenix against the Suns. By that point in time, Bjelica will have missed 29 of the Wolves last 47 games. This dates back to last season when he broke the same foot last March.
Crawford Surprised By Lack Of Playing Time
Jamal Crawford has played 26 minutes per game each season for the past 14 seasons, this year he is averaging 17.7 minutes per game. Since October, Crawford’s minutes have dropped precipitously – only once playing more than 21 minutes in a game.
His role is shrinking and he is noticeably frustrated with this occurrence that he says was “not discussed.”
“It’s a uhh… difficult challenge. Because this is the lowest minutes since I was a rookie, or pretty much the same minutes I played as a rookie,” Crawford said. “You want to actually do things the right way and play within the framework of the game but then if you’re not out there that much you have to kinda make something happen. So it’s a balance in trying to figure it out.”
When I asked about the advantages of playing lesser minutes, assuming he would say it keeps him fresh, that was not his response.
“I don’t have advantages. To be honest with you, I don’t.”
Crawford mentioned prior to signing in Minnesota that “the minutes were discussed, but 17 minutes wasn’t discussed.”
He reaffirmed that he is still comfortable here and that a conversation does not need to be had with coach Thibodeau.
“It’s not about me at all. I think as long as we are trending in the right direction and winning, the rest, hopefully, will work itself out.”
Isaiah Thomas of the Cleveland Cavaliers weighed on in the situation.
He NEEDS to play more! Wasting his talent over there smh!!! https://t.co/8QwQtePTI1
— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) December 15, 2017
Statement Jerseys Debut Saturday Against Phoenix
The Timberwolves’ “statement” jerseys will be worn for the first time Saturday evening. The bold, neon green attire signals a new era at the Target Center.
“Our players are excited about it,” said Thibodeau. “If they’re excited about it, I’m excited about it. You know, whatever they wanna wear, I’m good. The media should wear it too.”