By J. M. Poulard

The Golden State Warriors (26-31) are set to embark on a seven game road trip that might go a long way towards deciding if the Dubs make the playoffs this year. Their first stop will be against the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves (13-46). Kevin Love has played like one of the best players in the league so far this season, but sadly the team has not followed suit.

On offense, the Wolves average 101.3 points per game (10th in the NBA) on 43.6% field goal shooting (28th in the league). Minnesota looks to Darko Milicic, Michael Beasley and Kevin Love to post up their defenders and score on the block or from the pinch post. As a result, the Timberwolves attempt 16.9 shots from 10 feet or less (most in the association), with Love, Beasley and Milicic combining for 11 of those attempts. Normally this would be a great recipe for success given the fact that that the closer you are to the basket, the easier it is to convert; but not for these Wolves.

Minnesota only converts 35.9% of their shots from 10 feet or less (25th in the NBA) because they are extremely predictable. Indeed, Michael Beasley and Darko Milicic (both are left handed players) always go to their left. Always. Hence, whenever defenders sit on their left hands and force them to counter, they either have to go all the way to the basket or settle for a heavily contested shot. Love on the other hand does offer a bit more variety and is able to either face up or back his man down and get a quality look.

Although the Wolves aren’t a good shooting team, they offset that weakness to some degree with their rebounding. Indeed, Minnesota leads the league with 13.8 offensive rebounds per game, which in turn results in 86.0 field goal attempts per game (most in the NBA).

With that said, this offense is far from being a great one. The most glaring flaw on this team is their passing ability: they have none collectively. Good passing teams understand where the next man is supposed to be, and are also able to understand defensive schemes and pass the ball to an open spot. But this isn’t solely on the passer though. The player on the receiving end needs to understand how he is being defended and adjust accordingly to receive a pass from his teammate. This sounds incredibly basic and yet the Wolves do not grasp this notion. This partly explains why they only average 19.9 assists per game (26th in the NBA) but more so than anything, it’s the number one reason why the Timberwolves average 17.1 turnovers per game (most in the league).

On defense, the Timberwolves surrender a league worst 107.4 points per game on 46.3% field goal shooting (18th in the NBA). The best way to fully illustrate the Wolves defense is like this: remember back when Vince Carter played for the Toronto Raptors? He attacked the basket, kept the jumpers to a minimum, defended his position and played with tons of passion. And then, by his final season in Toronto, he had decided that he was going to stop trying. The rest of his career has looked like his final year with the Raptors; at times he tries, but most of the time he doesn’t and therefore he often looks invisible.

The Wolves defense is exactly the same. When watching them play, you can tell that it’s far from being a priority for the team. The players are lackadaisical on that side of the ball, which results in the team giving up a lot of open looks. Indeed, far too often it seems as though they fail to fight through screens to cover their assignments.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about Ray Allen spending the entire shot clock running through picks here; it’s quite the contrary. Timberwolves defenders struggle to get back to their man after screens and the big men do a poor job of helping out during the action to allow the screened player to get back into the fold. Sound bad? It gets worse. The Wolves fail to consistently rotate to open players and also have trouble closing out on shooters.

The end result is that good (not even great) screening teams are able to free up their shooters against Minnesota as evidenced by their 37.1% three point shooting allowed (25th in the NBA). Mind you, the inability to recover from picks does not only hurt teams in defending long range shots, it also prevents a team from defending the interior. Indeed, the Timberwolves commit 22.9 fouls per game (second most in the league), which translates into 28.1 free throws attempts per game allowed (most in the association).

The key to exploiting the Wolves defense is to force their defenders to fight through screens and force them to constantly rotate on defense. They might commit to the first rotation but ultimately their lazy approach to defense will get exposed. It’s important that the Warriors do not get suckered into playing isolation basketball; but rather that they swing the ball from side to side and then attack the porous Minnesota defense.

Minnesota game notes: The Timberwolves are averaging 87.0 points in their last five games (all losses).

Golden State game notes: The Warriors are averaging 96.2 points per game in their last five games (3-2 record).

2 Responses

  1. bgalella

    Kevin Love was unbelieveable. Hope this isn’t the start of Golden State mailing in the season though.

  2. Cedric

    If only the warriors can (or will) follow those simple keys to victory, they should come out with a win. They have to play better than those last two games. Those were almost unwatchable.