For the Timberwolves to truly ascend into elite status, Wiggins will have to prove to be a special, transformative talent but the clock is ticking on that sort of progression. Wiggins continues to go at his own pace, leaving that slow-burning fire inside and unmoved by outside criticism. “I don’t really care much with people’s opinions. I just play. I don’t really talk or listen to the outside. I kind of have a close circle I listen to, and that’s it. Anything else, I don’t even,” Wiggins told Yahoo Sports. “Jimmy’s not a guy that can really be replaced by one person. It’s on the whole team to do that. I’ve got to be more aggressive. The ball is in my hands more, so I have to make good decisions. Some games, my shot may not be falling, I may have a bad game but I always feel good, always feel confident.”
Butler brought his blunt, take-it-or-leave-it leadership style from Chicago and used his familiarity with Thibodeau to lift Towns and Wiggins out of the pressure-free stages of their careers. But Butler’s unfortunate setback in the first game after the All-Star break removed those trusty training wheels. “You don’t want to see anyone get injured, certainly not Jimmy, and we know we can’t replace him individually. We have to do it collectively,” Thibodeau told Yahoo Sports. “But whenever someone goes out, it’s an opportunity for others to step up and grow. So we want to take advantage of this … and really, the only way you can learn is to go through it.”
Storyline: Jimmy Butler Injury
Thibodeau knew that establishing a winning culture in Minnesota would take time, regardless of the talent on the roster. But he’s starting to see some growth in the young stars, with Towns demanding the ball in crunch time and Wiggins sacrificing shots to expend energy chasing down the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer on the defensive end. “Andrew and Karl, their impact on winning has been far greater this year than it was last year, even though, statistically, they scored more. But they’re making winning plays. They’re playing unselfishly. They’re passing the ball against the double-team. Their defense has vastly improved. That’s what you have to do win,” Thibodeau told Yahoo Sports.
Though he wasn’t often placed in those situations with Butler around, Towns isn’t intimidated by the moment. “It’s normal. I feel comfortable being in this position and I have great teammates. It makes everything a lot easier to do,” Towns told Yahoo Sports about his role as a leader. “Just trying to fill in some voids. Having a bigger role to play now, having to do a lot more. I go with how the situation is playing out. Sometimes, you do it by voice. Sometimes, you do it by action. You don’t have to always be ‘rah-rah’ about it.”
The patience that might be reserved for the development of Towns and Wiggins doesn’t negate the immense pressure. Derrick Rose, a recent free-agent pickup reuniting with Thibodeau, became the league’s youngest MVP at age 22 and can relate to the challenge. “Hell yeah, you’re going to feel that [pressure], no matter what, no matter where you are, no matter what’s going on with the team … it’s no excuses. No crying about it. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you or nothing like that,” Rose told Yahoo Sports.