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Wolves' Thibodeau trusts the numbers

MINNEAPOLIS -- Tom Thibodeau is no tech wizard, and doesn't claim to be. During his time as an assistant coach in Boston, Thibodeau would have computer problems from time to time. Members of the Celtics' information technology department generall...

May 4, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game one of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
May 4, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game one of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS - Tom Thibodeau is no tech wizard, and doesn't claim to be.

During his time as an assistant coach in Boston, Thibodeau would have computer problems from time to time. Members of the Celtics' information technology department generally found the issues to have a consistent cause.

"They always would refer to it as, 'The problem exists between the keyboard and the chair,'" the Timberwolves coach said with a laugh.

Thibodeau might not be great with technology, but he loves the information it provides.

"It's changed so much, and you can get information so fast now," he said. "What used to take a day, you hit a button now and you get it in a second. It's fascinating to see where it's going."

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Thibodeau can split almost any statistics into categories. For instance, three-pointers that come from transition, pick-and-rolls leading to a kick out after the defense collapses, offensive rebounding.

Turnovers? Those come from either the risky pass or too much 1-on-1 basketball.

It's all charted in some way, shape or form.

"You can program the computer to pull the stuff that you want, that you think is valuable," Thibodeau said. "So, if you want to see a certain player against a certain type of pick-and-roll coverage - on a high pick-and-roll - you can get that. And you can get it real fast. In game planning, that stuff is valuable."

After each game, a thorough stats report is handed to Thibodeau.

"It's your fast breaks, your offensive rebounds, your assists, points in the paint, corner threes, layups, things of that nature," Thibodeau explained.

You can check the box score for half that stuff, but there's more. So much more.

The coaching staff charts the efficiency of each play the team runs. Fourth-quarter efficiency is gauged. There are detailed shot charts for each player: layups, corner, long twos, above-the-break three-pointers.

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The Timberwolves look at real plus-minus - a stat that charts how many points a player adds or subtracts based on when he's on the floor - and examine every turnover.

And that's just the stuff Thibodeau covered in one answer to a question. Every single-game stat is then added to composite numbers so coaches can chart trends. One game could be an aberration; three-, five- and 10-game stretches can reveal a pattern.

It seems to be a glut of information, impossible to process, but Thibodeau doesn't have to. The info is there at his fingertips should he need it.

Thibodeau has an idea of what he liked and didn't like after watching a game from the sidelines, but he doesn't rely on the eye test; he'll look at the numbers after the game, which will either confirm his initial beliefs or make him look at something differently. Then he watches film to see what it happened.

"If you see that you're defending at a high rate on the high pick-and-roll, but not on the side pick-and-roll, you're going to look at the film and see where the breakdowns occurred, and then you're probably going to work on that in practice that day to try to correct it," he said.

The film, he added, helps the players see "where we made our mistakes." The goal is to see improvement in those areas, whatever they may be. That gets back into a phrase Thibodeau mentions almost daily - "Understanding what goes into winning."

"It's about building habits, doing the right things, practicing the right way, and then you tend to things," the coach said. "We'll look at it after 20 games, then after 40, then at the all-star break. We'll take another hard look at everything, and you want to make sure you're moving forward. And the big thing is obviously we want to be a much better team as we go forward.

"You have to go through the season and see what transpired, and you have to ask yourself, 'OK, if we aren't doing this well, why aren't we doing this well?' And then do we have to tweak something? Do we have to add to it? Do we have to change it? So, there's a lot that goes into it."

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