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The Timberwolves’ new coach is younger than 42 active NBA players

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Ryan Saunders is 32 years young, and has the most difficult task of his career ahead of him.

Ryan Saunders on Sunday night became the NBA’s youngest active head coach at just 32 years old after the Minnesota Timberwolves fired coach and team president Tom Thibodeau. Saunders’ promotion bumped the league’s previous youngest coach, the Los Angeles LakersLuke Walton, off the podium by six years.

Saunders, the son of legendary late former Timberwolves head man Flip Saunders, isn’t the youngest coach in NBA history. That title belongs to Dave Debusschere, who player-coached the Pistons in 1964 at 24 years old. But Saunders still looks more likely to be playing an NBA game than masterminding one:

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves-Media Day Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Forty-two active NBA players — enough to field three full teams — are older than Saunders. That includes three on his own team’s roster: Taj Gibson, Luol Deng, and Anthony Toliver.

Here’s the complete list:

  1. Vince Carter
  2. Dirk Nowitzki
  3. Jamal Crawford
  4. Pau Gasol
  5. Udonis Haslem
  6. Jose Calderon
  7. Kyle Korver
  8. Dwyane Wade
  9. Nene
  10. Tony Parker
  11. Tyson Chandler
  12. Devin Harris
  13. Andre Iguodala
  14. Carmelo Anthony
  15. J.J. Barea
  16. J.J. Redick
  17. LeBron James
  18. Marcin Gortat
  19. Raymond Felton
  20. Thabo Sefolosha
  21. Zaza Pachulia
  22. Anthony Tolliver
  23. Chris Paul
  24. Courtney Lee
  25. Dwight Howard
  26. J.R. Smith
  27. Jared Dudley
  28. Joakim Noah
  29. LaMarcus Aldridge
  30. Luol Deng
  31. Marc Gasol
  32. Nick Young
  33. P.J. Tucker
  34. Paul Millsap
  35. Shaun Livingston
  36. Taj Gibson
  37. Trevor Ariza
  38. Gerald Green
  39. Jason Smith
  40. Kyle Lowry
  41. Marco Belinelli
  42. Rajon Rondo

It’s hard to see Saunders assuming the position long-term. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Wolves have already internally discussed Chauncey Billups, Monty Williams, and Fred Hoiberg for either (but not both) of Thibodeau’s two positions. But Saunders has the experience and the backing to succeed for however long he’s there.

The son of the late Flip Saunders, the Wolves head coach in 2014-15 and for a decade in a previous stint, Ryan Saunders has served in NBA coaching roles for 10 years. From 2009-2014, he was an assistant coach for the Washington Wizards, hired initially by his father to specialize in player development. When his father returned to the Timberwolves’ bench in 2014, he brought Saunders with him. In five seasons in Minnesota, Saunders has earned the trust of multiple coaches, including Thibodeau. The hope in Minny is Saunders can earn the fans’ respect in ways Thibodeau couldn’t.

Thibodeau was booed at every home game following a messy fallout with Jimmy Butler, resulting in a team with two or three stars to rank second-worst in league attendance. (Minnesota’s WNBA team, the Lynx, ranked second-best in attendance for the 2018 season.)

Saunders is young, but as experienced as he possibly can be at his age. He got his first assistant coaching job just months after graduating college. The Athletic’s Jon Krawcynski already claims Saunders has the respect of the locker room.

Now it’s a matter of if he can turn the struggling franchise around at the midway point of the season.