What is Tom Thibodeau if His Defense Stinks?

He became known as a defensive tactician, but as the NBA continues to make life easy for offenses, how does that impact Thibodeau’s stock?
November 16, 2018, 3:39pm
Tom Thibodeau reacts poorly.
Photo by John g. Mabanglo/EPA-EFE

The below has been excerpted from this week's Outlet Pass, to get caught up on everything else you need to know in the NBA this week read the rest of the column here.

Say what you will about Jimmy Butler's behavior, multiple generations of corrosive dysfunction, and every other obstacle Tom Thibodeau has faced since he became President of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves—some of which was clearly self-constructed—but the team’s putrid defense is impossible to ignore.

The Timberwolves have the worst defense in the NBA, and are surrendering about four more points per 100 possessions than they did four years ago, when...they finished with the worst defense in the NBA. Teams are brutalizing Minnesota on the offensive glass and taking total advantage of their non-existent hustle back in transition. Their only five-man unit that’s played major minutes and come close to yielding dignified results was Butler + The Bench, and that group no longer exists.

Not all the blame can rest on Thibodeau—Karl-Anthony Towns is still at his best chasing shots to block and, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski pointed out on a recent podcast, Andrew Wiggins doesn’t appear to enjoy playing basketball—but the team has yet to resemble one that knows how to defend uncomplicated NBA offense.

What exactly is Derrick Rose doing here? Does he think he should switch onto Iman Shumpert? Does he see Kosta Koufous through the corner of his eye and anticipate having to guard a high pick-and-roll? For whatever reason, Rose being this far from where he should against a speed demon like De’Aaron Fox is instant death. Plays like it aren’t uncommon.

They’re allowing 1.13 points per possession after a made shot while opponents gallop by at the third-fastest tempo in the league, per Inpredictable. They make no effort to match up and hardly ever sprint back. The play below came seconds after a Towns dunk, and they can't even use poor floor balance as an excuse! It's not new for the Thibs Timberwolves, but it’s still disturbing.

He entered this job as a revolutionary defensive tactician, someone whose militaristic instructions could squeeze water from a brick. But how does a league that’s never been more open about its desire to make life easy for offenses impact Thibodeau’s stock if/when he loses his job? Can he build a top-notch defense in today's NBA, which looks much different from what it was when he was Doc Rivers's assistant in Boston or head coach of the Chicago Bulls? Or did poor personnel decisions spell out his own doom?