Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Wednesday, February 1, 2017 at 3:00 PM
The Minnesota Timberwolves are only 19-29 as they come into tonight’s nationally televised game with the Cleveland Cavaliers (7 PM ET, ESPN). The T-Wolves’ record against the spread is only marginally better, at 21-27. But recent form says something else. Over the last eight games, Minnesota is 6-2, straight-up 5-3 ATS and there’s every reason to believe that this team is rounding into form for last 2 ½ months of the regular season.
The Timberwolves are an exceptionally young team, with three 21-year-olds all playing significant minutes. And two of those kids, Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins, are easily the two best players. The team is working with a new coach—Tom Thibodeau is a proven winner, but the combination of young players and a new system is rarely going to start well. It didn’t in Minnesota, but the last two weeks have seen a definite uptick.
It started with a seemingly insignificant road loss, 122-114 at San Antonio, noteworthy only because Minnesota did cover the (+12) line. They went to Los Angeles to play a Clippers’ team missing Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Anthony-Towns dropped 37 points, while Wiggins went for 27 more in a 104-101 win as a (-1.5) favorite. And the Timberwolves were off and running.
The Anthony-Towns & Wiggins Duo has been locked in. They combined for 60 more points in a 111-108 non-cover win over Denver. Another win, 112-111 at Phoenix, narrowly missed the cover as Anthony-Towns scored “only” 18 points. After a home loss to Indiana, the Timberwolves came out and beat Brooklyn and Orlando. Anthony-Towns and Wiggins combined to score 110 points over those two games.
Both players were stars coming out of college and #1 overall picks in the NBA draft, so it’s no surprise that both are coming into their own at this point in the season. The key question is whether Minnesota will get enough help to keep the winning going.
Ricky Rubio has always been a terrific playmaker, one of the best in the league when healthy. That health issue has been the sticking point in his career, but so far he’s kept himself on the court and averages eight assists per game. Zach Lavine is the third of the 21-year-olds on hand and he’s a viable third scorer along with having the outside shooting touch necessary to loosen things up inside for Anthony-Towns and Wiggins.
The biggest area that Minnesota needs to clean up though is on the defensive end, where they rank in the bottom third of the league in efficiency. That’s also exactly where Thibodeau’s expertise has traditionally been, both as an assistant on the 2008 championship team in Boston and then over his respected head coaching career in Chicago. It seems almost a given that Thibodeau will get the kids to come together defensively and when they do this team is going to be very difficult to beat.
Will it come together as soon as tonight in Cleveland? Of course that question is as much about the Cavs and LeBron James, who’s again been in the news quite a bit lately. I can’t tip my hand on that here, but I can tell you that wherever I come down tonight, I’ll be watching Minnesota very closely to see if there’s money to be made riding this youth movement the rest of the season.