Mavericks defeat Timberwolves because they are better at basketball

Benjamin Polk —  December 2, 2010 — 8 Comments

Photo by Ragingwire

We Wolves followers–especially the optimists like me–have become experts in one particular facet of the basketball fan’s craft: allowing ourselves to become heartened and encouraged with very little prodding (there’s a cynical, dark underside to this too, but that’s for another day). Kevin Love is a rebounding colossus? Michael Beasley is averaging 27 points/game over a six game span? Darko looks like a real NBA player? The Wolves almost beat the Spurs?! Let’s ignore the fact that the team is 4-13 (make that 4-14) and just, y’know, get excited!

But then there are games like Wednesday’s pedestrian 100-86 road loss to the Mavericks. These games remind you of the yawning gulf that separates our Pups from the top teams in the association, of the oceans of experience and talent between the Wolves and basic competitiveness. These pills are especially bitter because they often closely resemble this Dallas game in one particular respect: the Wolves never really seemed particularly awful and the Mavs were never overwhelmingly great (Dirk Nowitzki barely got out of bed), but at no time did you really feel that the Wolves had even a remote chance at winning.

The Big O

One important fact about the Wolves is that while they now play at the league’s fastest pace, they also boast the league’s second-least efficient offense, at 98.7 points/100 possessions. Even more amazing, the other teams in the top ten in pace all score at least four more points per 100 than do the Wolves, and most of them outscore our boys by many more than that. (The Knicks, the league’s second fastest team, score 107.7 pts/100, for example.)

In other words, while most fast teams play fast because they’ve discovered hidden caches of easy points early in the shot clock, the Wolves do so…well, why do they do it? Because they’re excessively eager to run and yet lack the requisite skills to do so? Because they’re too undisciplined and inexperienced to play more slowly? Because they’re constantly turning the ball over (and thus sacrificing possessions early in the clock)? I’m thinking “all of the above”.

That first option was at play throughout the Dallas game, and was particularly concentrated on the Wolves point guards. Luke Ridnour and (particularly) Sebastian Telfair both displayed an impatience possibly borne of the understanding that the game always seemed on the verge of slipping away. Both pushed the tempo at inopportune times. And both turned the ball over attempting hopelessly difficult passes. (By the way, get ready for this not to change when Jonny Flynn returns).

I’m most interested, though, in a particular way in which I’ve noticed the Wolves struggling in the half-court. When an opposing defense thwarts the Wolves’ initial action (as most competent NBA defenses are able to do most of the time), the Wolves seem to lack the creativity or the wherewithal to progress to a next set of reads and options. A typical case in point came in the third quarter. The Wolves attempted to set up a two-man game with Darko in the left high post and Beasley at the elbow extended. The Mavs had the action covered the entire way and the Wolves were unable to generate an open look. But rather than flowing into the next option, they instead did this: Darko held the ball for a while, looking a little panicked. Finally he dumped it out to Beasley. Beasley held the ball for a while. Then he shot a long, contested jumper (which missed).

The Big D

As troubled as the Wolves have been on offense, they’ve been even worse defensively. This is showing up in more subtle ways then it did last year–we’re not seeing the catastrophic breakdowns of transition D, for instance–but it’s evident nonetheless. Over and over against Dallas, whether fighting around screens, defending the pick-and-roll, or just in simple isolations, Wolves defenders were repeatedly unable to cut down the space between themselves and the Dallas jumpshooters. And while it’s true that long jumpers are the lowest-percentage shot in the game, good NBA shooters will totally hit that shot if it isn’t staunchly contested.

This would have been okay, though, if the Wolves were giving the Mavs space to shoot in exchange for protecting the paint. But they weren’t. Here’s a typical sequence. Kidd initiates a 1-4 pick-and-roll with Nowitzki. Kevin Love shows on the screen but is just a hair too slow to cause Kidd to retreat. Luke Ridnour recovers to Kidd, but not quite quickly enough; he’s still a half-step behind Kidd as the old fellow slashes into the lane. Darko attempts to help on Kidd…but he can’t quite do it aggressively enough to deter him or soon enough to allow his teammates time to rotate. Kidd dishes the ball to a waiting Tyson Chandler on the baseline, suddenly open since Darko left him to half-heartedly challenge the drive. Chandler attacks the basket and Darko tries to recover…but he can’t quite get there in time. He fouls Chandler, barely preventing a crushing and-one. Another failure in increments for the Wolves’ D.

The reason for this is simple: they don’t have very many good defenders. The Wolves lineup, particularly their starting lineup, is filled with young players just learning the craft–Wes Johnson, Kevin Love–players adjusting to new positions and new roles–Michael Beasley–or veterans who’ve been, at best, only mediocre–Telfair, Darko, Ridnour. We can speculate about Kurt Rambis’ systems or his teaching methods, but this basic lack of talent and especially experience has been killing the Wolves every time.

Benjamin Polk

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8 responses to Mavericks defeat Timberwolves because they are better at basketball

  1. Offensively this team needs ball handlers. Look at the shooting guard rotation: Wes Johnson, Corey Brewer, Wayne Ellington is there a worse rotation of ball handling 2′s in the NBA? I think Darko is a better ball hanlder than all three. Then the point guards: ridnour is efficient, and Bassy is really just a point guard that might not be on the team had Flynn been healthy.

    The big problem I have noticed is that up front we are over passing to make up for our lack of ball handling, and dribble penetration (exceedingly so when Beasley is out of the game) and whne you pass so much that leads to both dumb turnovers and random quick hands like JJ Barea being able to poke a ball loose.

    Flynn coming back should help, but we need a 2 guard that can both D up, knock down some shots and is a confident dribbler. Thus why I’ve brought up O.J. Mayo’s name a few times….I think short of getting the no.1 overall pick and drafting Harrison Barnes, Mayo is the best available 2 guard option

    Defensively the one thing that is constant is young doesn’t play defense. Look at the Celtics, I don’t remember Paul Pierce or Ray Allen being exceptional defenders when they where 24/25 but now they are super stud defensive players. It’s all about becoming smarter, wiser and wanting it more and that all seems to come with experience.

    In saying that I have noticed Kevin Love stepping his defensive presence up in the last couple of games, he has had to guard generally bigger more athletic players (David Lee, Dirk) and it appears he has done a fine job both nights. Plus he is amping up the charges he has been taking

  2. The Joos!

    December is going to be rough. It will really be a test of whatever remaining optimism is with the fan base. They have a 14 game stretch with 10 on the road and 4 back to backs. I think it will be interesting to see how the whole “is it the roster or the coaching?” angle play out when Flynn and Webster get worked back into the lineup. Although, I’d be surprised to see Webster by the New Year.

  3. It would be really nice to get Flynn, Webster, and Pek back and healthy and playing for 10 games so we can really see what we have. I think Webster might have a really nice ripple effect on this team in terms of being a heady and competent NBA defender who can help other guys understand where they’re supposed to be, and offensively as either a scoring threat off the bench or a guy with a timely sense of when to attack the rim to stop some runs. Then again, he might just show up as yet another complimentary guy who is waiting for his Alpha Wolf to show up.

    And that’s the crux of it – this team needs its star. Where have you been, Be-Easy? This is an honest question: how hard is it to play a 2 or 3 man offensive game in the NBA but in a more, shall we say, playground style? Love, Darko, and Beasley all know how to play the game, so why not just let them play? Rambis has shown that he’ll make an adjustment when he sees positive evidence for doing so (anyone else notice that Love’s up to 33.6 mpg this season?), so why not let these just play and find out what they do that other teams can’t stop and then roll with that.

  4. You also might have noticed that when Beasley heated up, the Wolves started running much less pure triangle and many more isolations for Beaz (although those isos often flow out of triangle action).

  5. Ben said exactly what I was going to. They need to dumb this thing down and just run some damn pick and roll action with Beasley and Love and some Beasley iso on the right side of the court. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so. What Rambis is trying to do with the Wolves is a lot like what my dad (a physicist) tried to do to me with my 7th grade science homework: make me understand things at a level far above and beyond a) what I was capable of at the time and b) what I was interested in at the time. I look at the Wolves bench when Rambis talks to them and I know that look on their faces.

  6. Ben I noticed you called Darko a mediocre defender and I would argue that he has been at least above average this year. Doesn’t he lead the league in blocks? One stat does not a DPOY make but I think at a minimum that makes him better than mediocre.

  7. If Webster where healthy that would be nice, but I’m under the impression he isn’t a super ball handler either (he’s got to be better than our 2 guard options now). That but mainly this back thing he’s got makes me really want an O.J. Mayo trade

  8. The only thing wrong with the notion of oceans between the Wolves and Dallas is the fact that the lowly Kings very nearly beat the Mavs tonight. Granted, the Kings last action was getting thoroughly used by the Lakers, even to the extent of the 3rd-stringers extending a 4th quarter lead. There’s something to be said for humilation as a motivating factor but the Kings are still (in my view) a lesser team than Minnesota and have to deal with blame-first Westphal as well. The Wolves have some size, some depth and an ambitious plan with their hybrid triangle. They could be a team to watch, I hope they and fans don’t start packing it in this early in the season.

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