Opinion

Is Tom Thibodeau the Worst Head Coach in the NBA?

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Minnesota’s Tom Thibodeau is the worst head coach in the NBA right now, and it isn’t even close. Here’s why…

Thibodeau was an assistant coach in Minnesota way back in the day, back when he had a very healthy mullet in 1989. Look at this guy. Incredible.

In the spirit of bringing things back, just like Thibs is doing currently, –bringing back all of his Bulls players from 2011– the Wolves brought him back in 2016 to help fuel a young core of Karl Anthony-Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine, as well as a top five draft pick. Everyone was super excited for it, deeming it a comeback as one of the best head coaches in the NBA. I had my doubts.

Thibodeau was expected to bring some success to this young core. He made his first draft pick on defense and playmaking in Providence guard Kris Dunn. He was a very good college prospect and he was just a Thibs guy. I had my doubts.

In his first season, Thibodeau coached the Wolves to 31-51. He had to deal with a big injury to his third best player in LaVine, and Dunn had a very hard time adjusting to the game. There was a lot of hope, but I still had my doubts.

Then Thibs showed his GM “prowess”, striking a trade with the Chicago Bulls, his former team, for one of his former players in Jimmy Butler. The trade sent the disappointing rookie Dunn, LaVine and the seventh pick in the 2017 draft to Chicago in exchange for Butler and the 16th pick in the draft. There was hype, there was craze– it finally felt good to be a Wolves fan. But, sitting there in the back of my head was the questions “What if this all goes wrong?”, “What if LaVine and Dunn turn into great players?” and even though we had our first playoff win, the Wolves still made it hard on themselves. They got to a win-and-in game, and won a classic game that I’ll never forget.

But in true Minnesota sports fashion, they lost in five games to the Rockets, not even giving themselves a chance.

Now comes the off-season. What has Thibs done since that hiring day in 2016? To be frank, besides the 2017 off-season, the technical term is “jack squat.”

As far as coaching goes, he runs his star players into the ground and it’s scary. He runs the oldest, simplest offensive system in the entire NBA. When I tell you that a post up from 15 feet on the wing happens on 70% of the Wolves’ plays, I’m not even kidding. And even though he can have some ball movement at some points in his offense, it’s mostly isolation basketball from the post. When the ball movement is flowing, the Wolves are the best they can be. But the problem is, the ball rarely moves.

Another problem, he doesn’t play young players. Tyus Jones is my guy, and Thibs does not play him. There was a stretch mid-way through last season that Jones was starting because of a Jeff Teague foot injury, and Jones, a very efficient shooter, took smart shots, but he also did what he could defensively by being a pick-pocketing wizard. He had the 4th highest steal rate in the entire NBA last season. Heck, in one game, he ripped future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade and subsequently threw down his second career dunk while hearing the footsteps of the best chasedown shot-blocker ever, LeBron James. It was awesome. Besides that point, he is a great leader, a tough kid who will give effort on defense, though he may not be even a good one-on-one defender against some of the freakishly athletic guards in the NBA. But, we rarely see him.

Now, if you want to look at the optimistic side of things, he brought in an all-star without much potential backlash, and he brought a team to the playoffs that hadn’t been in said playoffs for 14 straight seasons. But other than that, there isn’t much going his way.

If you want to say, “Cameron, he’s a great defensive coach! What are you talking about?” Well, look at this.

This is a chart I made on http://www.austinclemens.com/shotcharts/ and it shows the shots the Wolves allowed at a high rate, and a low rate. Red represents a high percentage for opposing teams, and blue represents a low percentage. Where do you not want to let up made shots the most? In the paint, and the corner three. Teams against Minnesota last season shot a staggering 59%. Add that to the wing three being almost unguarded, and you can see the flaws. Thibs’ system defensively is predicated on switching and rotation on the backside, which makes it hard to stay in position for some guys. If you’re playing against the Lakers, Jeff Teague is on Lonzo Ball, LeBron James sets a screen, and you switch, it’s an awful mismatch in favor of the Lakers.

Watching the Wolves last year was hard for the most part because of the open shots they gave up. They’d give up two layups on the same play, back-to-back, and then cover it, but then leave open a wide open shooter. It was mostly because of the switching. People would get lost, so that’s not necessarily his fault, but switching everything is not easy for any team. It doesn’t help that the team is absolutely gassed, either.

Now, on the other end of the spectrum, you can say that the Wolves last season had more athletes than the San Antonio Spurs. Wiggins, Towns, Butler, Jamal Crawford, Derrick Rose and more were in Minnesota, while guys like LaMarcus Aldridge (who is a great player, but he isn’t an athlete by any stretch of the word), and his center teammate Pau Gasol is maybe even worse. Patty Mills is a pretty decent player, but again, not the greatest athlete. Here is a picture of the Spurs shot chart from last season, being coached by a revolutionary and ever evolving head coach in Gregg Popovich

In the paint, the Spurs forced high post shots, instead of giving up a layup or a dunk, and teams barely made corner threes all year against them. This is what a good defensive coaches shot chart should look like in today’s NBA. Props to Pop there.

If you want to say “Oh, Wiggins and Towns are horrible on defense, they don’t even try!” well, then ask yourself this question. How would you feel if you were to forced to play high level basketball on both ends of the floor for 40 minutes, against NBA players every single night? They do try –Wiggins actually wasn’t bad in one-on-one defense this past season. There were flashes of him being a good defender, but him, Towns, and everyone else are GASSED by the fourth quarter every game, which explains the blown leads and lack of effort.

Thibs plays his starters too much, and plays his young talent too little, hurting their development. His offensive system is old school to the point where three-point plays are barely even in the offense. It’s all post up, isolation. When it’s freelance, there is ball movement, and great play. When plays are called, it’s just terribly simple and nowhere near top tier NBA teams, San Antonio or Boston. He has a defensive system that doesn’t work against almost anyone, and even as far as the mental aspect goes, he just grinds you down until you don’t even want to play anymore, and that part is visible when you watch the Wolves.

Mark my words, he will not make it past February, and the Wolves will once again be a dumpster fire as Jimmy Butler openly says he will leave in free agency, and Karl Anthony-Towns finds any way to get the hell out of dodge.

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