The Wolves should run this play more often.

I’m not a big fan of the offense that the Timberwolves are running. They don’t spread the floor very wide. They don’t shoot many threes. They don’t run much pick-and-roll action. Instead, a lot of energy is wasted with non-ball screens that — if executed correctly — will set up an open jump shot. Unless the cutter is Kevin Martin — and even sometimes when it is — that shot will usually be taken from the mid-range, which is generally considered the worst type of shot in basketball. (Basic logic: It’s worth less than a three without being much easier, and it’s not nearly as easy to convert as layups and/or free throws are.)

The other night against the Lakers, the Wolves second string improvised with the shot clock dwindling down, and showed off a basic NBA set that most teams would run regularly with this set of players.

Shabazz Muhammad had the ball on the right wing without much happening with the offense. Anthony Bennett was set on the opposite block, and saw Shabazz left out on his own. He ran up to set a ball screen for his teammate.

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While this ball screen was being set, Robbie Hummel and Zach LaVine got out the way.

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The wide-shouldered Bennett set an effective screen on Nick Young, and Shabazz — with his strong left hand — drove hard into the lane, drawing attention from Robert Sacre, the screener’s defender. Young was left trailing the action and in need of help.

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Wes Johnson did not help enough off of Robbie Hummel, and Shabazz and Bennett had a 2-on-1 situation right by the hoop. Bazz dropped off the dime around Sacre, leaving Bennett open for a layup.

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Young was too late in catching up to the action, and he fouled Bennett as he laid it in for two points and a chance at a third.

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This is incredibly simple, easy-to-repeat basketball that a young team like the Timberwolves could run all night long. Preferably, Ricky Rubio would be the playmaker for most pick-and-rolls. That can happen when he gets back. But Shabazz could also develop nicely if he could attack the heart of defenses from the right wing, much like other lefty wings like Ginobili and Harden. As defenses adjust, it will — at worst — lead to a simple drive-and-kick pass to the left wing, and better ball movement. As things are, the Wolves waste too many possessions without some of their more passive players (Wiggins and Bennett) even touching the ball. Instead, Mo Williams and Thad Young dominate it, en route to difficult and contested shots of their own.

Here’s hoping to see more pick and rolls like this one.

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Jottings from the Wolves Win over the Lakers

Zach Lavine

Zach Lavine

The Wolves defeated the Lakers last night in a 120-119 barnburner at Staples Center. Kobe Bryant missed a wide-open three point shot that would’ve won the game at the buzzer.

  • Zach Lavine: Lavine made shots. The media made a lot out of his psychology in this game because he was squaring off against his childhood hero, Kobe Bryant. Lavine played by far his best game as a pro. He had 18 points in the second quarter alone (28 for the game), and shot 11-14 from the floor. He and Jeremy Lin were locked up against each other for much of this quarter, and Lavine looked confident that he could get any shot he wanted against Lin.  Lavine’s shot selection leaves plenty to be desired and maybe always will — a lot of his makes last night were of the “dribble jumper with plenty of time on the shot clock” variety — but you feel a lot better about it when the shots actually fall, and he doesn’t look surprised by the result.

A lot of times before last night, it looked like Lavine simply shoots to try to get his self going, but doesn’t really expect the ball to go in. Last night was a different story. As athletic as Lavine is, it goes to show how important timing and rhythm are for his offensive game. He was well within the flow of what was a very fast-paced game last night. Hopefully he can take away some lessons about why he was so successful last night and has looked so poorly on other nights.

But it bears emphasis: Lavine put together one of the best games that any rookie plays this season.

More below the fold…

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Wiggins, Bennett, and Different Levels of Investment

bennettwiggins

Forgive me for putting a temporary freeze on the game wraps. In the absence of Rubio, Martin and Pekovic, the games have not been very meaningful as competitions. For the time being, I’d rather focus on emerging themes and trends than the win/loss column.

But the silver lining to the recent struggle has been the way Flip has decided to just give Andrew Wiggins the ball and let him go to work. In the season’s opening games, Wiggins was consistently nervous-looking in the first half, before opening up his scoring arsenal in the third quarter. We could see the talent, but would have to wait for the results. Rubio, Martin and the vets would be the primary playmakers.

No more.

Wiggins played 39 minutes last night against the Bucks. In the game before that he played 41 minutes and in the game before that he played 33 minutes. After starting the season as a third or fourth option (he didn’t score double figures until his fourth game) Wiggins is now the unequivocal first option. Last night, he scored 14 points on 14 shots, along with career highs of 8 rebounds and 4 assists. From the opening tip, he was the focal point of the offense.

He had a career-high 29 in the previous game against the Kings, and he had 14 in the game before that against the Spurs. Flip has Wiggins posting up, and using a variety of moves to score: step-back jumpers, rip-through/blow-by drives to his right, and turnaround jumpers seem to be his most common weapons of choice. In this infant stage of his career, I’m seeing an offensive upside that — if you squint a little bit — looks kinda like Carmelo Anthony.

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Confirmed: Anthony Bennett Should Be Shooting Three Pointers

Anthony Bennett going up for a long two.

Anthony Bennett going up for a long two.

 

A lot has been written about Anthony Bennett’s lack of three-point shooting this season. Flip Saunders told him not to shoot threes, and he hasn’t.

This post takes a look at what Bennett’s and the Wolves offensive numbers might look like if Bennett were taking a step back and able to shoot at the same clip he’s been shooting at.

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Martin to Have Surgery, Implications Going Forward

Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune is reporting that Kevin Martin will undergo surgery to repair his broken wrist. The veteran shooting guard is expected to miss at least six weeks while recovering. Martin is leading the team in scoring by a big margin — his 20.4 points per game is trailed closest by Thaddeus Young’s 14.3 average. On the other hand, K-Mart is a notoriously bad defender and sometimes even his hot nights are more than offset by his opponent’s production.

What sorts of changes can we expect to see in the next couple months, without Martin?

Here are a few possibilities:

* Corey Brewer will be the starting shooting guard.

We’ve already seen this in the first two Martin-less games. Brewer is the starter at the two. He played 32 minutes against San Antonio on Friday and 30 more on Saturday against the Kings. Brewer can play as much as Flip wants; his superhuman skill is a total immunity to fatigue. His mere mortal status is evident in his shooting ability, which is a lot worse than Martin’s. With other plausible options either not capable (Chase Budinger) or needed elsewhere (Mo Williams, subbing for Ricky Rubio at point) it seems likely that Brewer will play a lot of minutes at off guard.

* Brewer may not be traded for the foreseeable future.

There was a recent report from Marc Stein of ESPN that the Wolves were engaged in trade talks involving Brewer with both Houston and Cleveland. Some later reports suggested any trade would require that Brewer waive his 2015-16 player option. Given that this option is worth $5 Million, and Brewer is unlikely to command that again on the open market, that may have been a deal-breaker. In any event, the Martin injury might delay any potential Brewer trades. (Unless those trades can bring back a different shooting guard.)

* Andrew Wiggins will be more involved in the offense.

This could be good or bad, depending on whether you want to see the most immediately-competitive basketball possible (bad) or if you’d rather watch the future develop before your eyes (good). Personally, I have not enjoyed watching Flip’s halfcourt offense this year. Particularly after Rubio’s injury, the Wolves sets seem entirely aimed at setting screens to free moving players for open mid-range jumpers. And Martin was, by far, the player that the offense centered around most. Even if that led to some surprisingly-decent results (Martin’s PER of 21.9 would be a career high if it lasted all season) it fails on the following bases:

* It isn’t fun to watch;
* It does nothing to develop the young players, who are mostly just watching Martin run around and shoot; and
* It is not the type of system that will ever (again) breed consistent success in the NBA. Most teams have discovered the relative value of spread pick-and-roll basketball and three-point shots. Martin’s Reggie Miller imitation will never be the foundation of a decent team.

So without Martin, we have seen something entirely different: The Wolves are posting up Andrew Wiggins and force feeding him the ball around the block. And the results have been okay! On Friday versus San Antonio, Wiggins had a string of baskets in a row, operating on the block against different Spurs defenders (one of whom was Kawhi Leonard). On Saturday versus the Kings, he did even more of the same, posting a career-high 29 points.

With Martin sitting, and not taking all the shots, Wiggins should be thrust into a more active offensive role.

* Maybe the Wolves can begin to take more pride in their defense.

Right now, the Wolves are 29th out of 30 in total defense. (Points allowed per possession.) Their 111.5 points allowed per 100 possessions is closer to the dreadful Lakers (114.4) than the 28th place Knicks (108.4). Before I go further, I should point out that the Wolves are defending slightly better with Martin on the floor than when he’s off of it.

But the 110.2 points they allow per 100 possessions with Martin on the floor is a ton, and his career-long struggles as a defender suggest that he’ll be more problem than solution as the team works to patch the leaks over time. Furthermore, the small sample size of Martin-less defense is probably a little bit skewed by facing the Spurs juggernaut on Friday night.

Hopefully with Brewer, Wiggins, and eventually Rubio again, the Wolves can start taking steps toward competence on the defensive side of the floor. Really, when you think about the bigger picture, the upside of a team led by Rubio and Wiggins begins on D. Starting with abysmal performance isn’t good for anybody.

* Shabazz to play a little bit more

Shabazz Muhammad has been one of the team’s best players, this season. Among Timberwolves with more than a couple minutes of action (basically, everybody but Glenn Robinson III) Shabazz has the following ranks on the team:

* 2nd in points/minute
* 3rd in rebounds/minute
* 4th in field goal percentage
* 4th in true shooting percentage
* 4th in net rating (team performance per possession)

In spite of all of this, Muhammad ranks just 11th in minutes per game. (9th in total minutes, ahead of Rubio and LaVine.)

Martin’s injury will open up some playing time at the wing possessions, which should give Shabazz more opportunities to prove himself to the coaching staff. He has played — started even — at power forward in recent games, and the combination of injuries across the board will probably have Flip tinkering with some funky lineups in the future. Nobody stands to benefit from that more than Bazz, whose unconventional size-skill combo is all about trying new things.

Next game is Wednesday at home versus the Bucks. What are you looking for in Martin’s absence?

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Saturday Jottings: Recapping the Knicks and Spurs, Previewing the Kings, and Anthony Bennett

Andy G: Let’s quickly get caught up since we last posted.

Wolves Trounce Knicks

On Wednesday, the Wolves blew out the Knicks. Kevin Martin — who we later found out suffered a broken wrist — had it going. He poured in 37 points and couldn’t miss. Mo Williams got his groove back. Shabazz Muhammad started at power forward (!) and had one of his best games ever (17 points & 8 rebounds).

The Knicks looked tired and clueless, allowing Corey Brewer to rip the ball out of their hands and forfeiting three attempts to the red hot Martin. Amar’e Stoudemire looked great on the block against Gorgui — not a great sign for the young center’s development as a post defender — but Gorgui did enough other stuff (5 steals) to contribute to a great plus-minus of +22.

Andrew Wiggins got to guard Carmelo Anthony for a bit — his education continues — and he also heated up for a fun stretch in the 2nd Quarter, scoring his only 12 points of the game.

Spurs Trounce Wolves

Friday’s game — last night — was not so successful.

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Lowe on the Wiggins Step-back J

From Zach Lowe’s Tuesday Column, in his 10 Things I Like and Don’t Like:

4. Andrew Wiggins’s Step-back Jumper

This baby is gorgeous. Again, it’s not an ideal analytics-era shot, but it’s handy to have in your bag with the shot clock winding down. Defenses have already figured out that they have to respect it, and Wiggins can start using the threat of his step-back to work defenders off-balance for blow-by drives.

I wrote about this when we were Waiting for Wiggins, after I spent some time watching his scouting tapes at Draft Express. The most exciting comparison to how Wiggins sets up his man for a step-back jumper is Carmelo Anthony:

Wiggins has a post-up game, and a footwork and cadence reminiscent of Carmelo Anthony on his square-up, step-back fadeaway. IF, and this is a huge if, far from certain or even likely… IF, he can pair that step-back footwork (and accurate shooting, with it) with a strong dribble drive game to the hole, he’ll be impossible to defend with only one guy.

Like Melo.

That’s a sneaky aspect of Wiggins’ game that shows huge offensive upside. There aren’t a lot of outstanding post scorers in the NBA, and the rules seem to encourage smaller-than-seven-footers to explore the post, with square-up action. Like Carmelo, and LeBron, and Wade, etc. If Wiggins can polish up those skills over the next 3 or 4 years, look out.

Anyway, it’s something to watch for. Over time, we’d like to see Wiggins mix some drives into his post-game.

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