Get To Know Timberwolves Interim Head Coach Ryan Saunders

by Kyle Ratke, Digital Content Manager

Digital Content Manager

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On Sunday evening, the Minnesota Timberwolves relieved Tom Thibodeau as the President of Basketball Operations and head coaching duties

The team’s interim head coach will be Ryan Saunders. Chances are if you’ve followed Minnesota basketball over the years, you know plenty about Saunders. If so, consider this a refresher. For those who don’t know much about Saunders, here are a few talking points to chat with your friends around the old water cooler.

The Youngest Coach In The League

At 32 years old, Saunders is now the youngest head coach in the NBA – he doesn’t turn 33 until April 28. The next youngest is the Lakers’ Luke Walton. Walton is 38 years old. Saunders isn’t the youngest coach in league history, though. That goes to Dave DeBusschere, who became the league’s youngest coach when he was named the Pistons’ player-coach at age 24 in 1964.

Saunders has a knack for connecting with players and that’s on display at practice and if you watch the team's pre-game workouts. Being able to relate to players is a major advantage for any coach if they can successfully do so. It doesn't look like Saunders will have any trouble in that department. When it comes to player development, Saunders is one of the most-respected coaches in the league.  

"I think being close to these players in age helps so that I can relate to them," Saunders told Timberwolves.com in 2014 after being named an assistant coach for the team. "I want to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Those are kind of my main goals moving forward as I try to help with player development."

A Coaching Family

Ryan is the son of the late and legendary Flip Saunders. Flip, of course, is one of the most beloved figures in Timberwolves history. Flip’s 427 wins ranks first in team history and his 654 career wins rank 21st in league history.  

Flip put his time in, rising up from a college coach to a CBA coach, all the way to the NBA, leading the Wolves to the Western Conference championship in 2003-04. 

While he’s young, Ryan has put in plenty of time. After playing for the University of Minnesota, Saunders became an assistant coach and helped with the academics of players until 2009.

From 2009-14, Ryan served as an assistant for the Wizards. It first started with his dad as coach, but even when his dad left to come back to Minnesota, Saunders remained an assistant coach and excelled in player development. Ryan formed a bond with All-Star point guard John Wall and he received plenty of credit for the development of Wall and Bradley Beal, now two cornerstones on the Wizards.

Ryan has been an assistant with the Wolves since 2014.  

"Minnesota is home ... [so] it's good to be back home and be around friends and family," Saunders said upon coming back to Minnesota. "It's also good to really start getting to work. I want to help this team improve."

An Analytics Mindset

Saunders helped form Game Time Concepts, an analytical program that uses in-game analysis and statistical probabilities to provide real-time results. 

It’s something that is used by NBA and NCAA teams, which is remarkable. To be a co-founder of an analytics program at such a young age is one thing. To have it used by the best of the best is something else. 

“Analytics has really become prevalent in basketball and sports in general,” Saunders said to the Star Tribune back in 2014. “The fact that you can do them in real time now, make adjustments and changes as the game goes on, that’s kind of where it’s starting to go.” 

The game is growing every day, and as we’ve seen more than ever, analytics have become a huge part in the league. Expect Saunders to be at the forefront of that.  

Saunders’ first game as interim head coach will be on Tuesday night against the Thunder in Oklahoma City. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. on Fox Sports North Plus, NBA TV and 830 WCCO.

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