Timberwolves 104, Jazz 119: outflexed

Benjamin Polk —  March 17, 2011 — 5 Comments

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It would be tempting to blame this somewhat discouraging loss on the fact that the Timberwolves hit only three of their 22 second quarter shots. And, ok, that definitely had something to do with it. But at no point should we believe that things would have all turned sunny if the Wolves had simply managed to get some shots to fall.

Because at almost no point in this game did the Wolves defend with the energy, intelligence and decisiveness needed to play competitive NBA basketball. Last Friday in Minneapolis, the Jazz were stagnant and very easy to guard; they looked nothing like the razor-sharp operator’s of Jerry Sloan’s offense that we’ve come to expect over the past 20-odd years. But in this game, Utah was cutting and setting screens and moving the ball with their classic combination of energy and patience. In some ways similarly to the Blazers offense under Nate McMillan, Utah’s offense is, at its best, able to sustain its action throughout the duration of the shot clock, providing counters to every defensive reaction, just waiting for the defense to make a mistake.  Most of the time against the Wolves, they didn’t have to wait long.

The list of problems is pretty long. First and foremost, the Wolves were unable to run around Utah’s ever-shifting nest of off-the-ball screens with any precision or intensity. This resulted, most directly, in a fairly endless run of open jumpers throughout the first half in particular. C.J. Miles, for instance, began his 40-point night by using curl screens to toss in easy, open jumpers and get to the hoop. By the time the Wolves decided to contest his shots, he was in some ludicrous, post-heat checking land of fadeaway threes.

But then, see, the Wolves’ bigs began their beloved dance of helping too late, but also too aggressively, setting off a chain reaction of slow reads and indecisive rotations, and allowing Utah’s cutters to have free reign to the basket. On a repeatedly successful play, the Jazz wing player (often Miles) would come off a screen and curl into the paint as the big man who set the screen (usually Al Jefferson or Derrick Favors) cut to the hoop. Most often this resulted in an open jumper for the wing, but if the Wolves big decided to leave his man to deter the shot, the rolling Jazz player would end up wide open at the rim. This baffled the Wolves over and over. (The Derrick Favors dunk here is a prime example of the latter option).

Compounding the defensive problem was the fact that, in a hilarious irony, no Wolf was close to being able to handle Al Jefferson one-on-one. Darko was at least able to bother Big Al, though it landed him in foul trouble. Nikola Pekovic was too slow. And Anthony Randolph? Anthony Randolph had literally no chance. It was vintage Big Al: the spins, the sweep throughs, the baseline drives, the up-fakes, the inside-pivot up and unders. Remember how pretty that all was?

So defense was a problem. On the other hand, it wasn’t like that second-quarter offensive debacle was just an unsightly spell of cold shooting, a case of randomness and probability unleashing their cruel magic.  Sure, the Wolves missed their share of open jumpers, but under Jonny Flynn’s direction their offense also became incredibly stagnant and predictable. Because Kevin Love was out of the game, because Darko and Pek were struggling with their offense and because Flynn does not enter the ball crisply into the post, the Wolves were unable to generate significant inside-out action in the second quarter. Ball and player movement slowed. The Wolves guards began to overdribble and play from the outside in. The result was a series of arrhythmic, contested jumpers. So 3-22 was no act of chaotic chance; it’s what happens when you play really poor offensive basketball.

Benjamin Polk

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5 responses to Timberwolves 104, Jazz 119: outflexed

  1. I enjoyed your recap of the game last night. As a Jazz fan (who just happens to live in Minneapolis and goes to my share of Timberwolves game) I was amazed about how different the game last night was compared to the game at Target Center on Friday. It looked the teams switched jerseys. Anyway, on my end it has been really nice watching Al Jefferson play over the past month. It seems like he is a much better player without Deron Williams, which makes me wonder if the style of Jefferson’s play (lots of isolations plays) is better suited for a team without a great point guard. He isn’t an effective pick and roll player and really just needs someone to throw him the ball on the block. When he gets the ball there he is really good at scoring, but maybe that is counterproductive to a team’s success since it makes other players too complacent and reliant on Jefferson. Should I be worried that Jefferson will only be a good player on a bad team or do you think that a good team with a good Jefferson can coexist together?

  2. Ivan Kronkvist March 18, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Well put. Watching the game it was glaringly obvious that we have no defense. Still our offense kept us in the game until Flynn stepped on the court. He can take the momentum out of any offense. In addition, getting a technical on such an immature gesture is embarrassing to say the least. Flynn is a complete draft bust. Please send him back to the D-league. I also feel that Beasley is a bit of a momentum stopper when he gets the ball he stops, fakes, looks, fakes, looks, fakes… It’s fairly predictable. Like his drives to the basket usually starts from the top of the key and he often loses the ball within a few steps cause his move is anticipated. He needs to develop a few more alternative moves, and to be able to move the ball a little quicker and nto wait for the defense to set up against him.

  3. Like most great post scorers, Al needs the ball to be effective and he needs time to put his little dance into action. He’s not a great passer and he’s not a great offensive rebounder, so he’s really only effective when he’s got the ball with space and time to work. This explains why, as you say, a ball-dominating point guard in the context of a motion offense is not the best fit.

    But the problem is that even at his best, despite those gorgeous post moves, he’s not a terribly efficient scorer. Because he doesn’t get to the line much, his career true shooting percentage is 53.5%–just average. Even over the last ten games its been something closer to 56% (compare that to Love or Amare who are almost at 60%). So, in other words, he makes a team’s offense stagnant and one dimensional while at the same time not making it more effective. I do love watching him do it though. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Ivan, I totally agree with you about Beasley. I’ve been meaning to write something about that for a while. Most great perimeter scorers need to slow down the offense a little bit to allow help defenders to clear from the lane, but when Beasley does it, he stops the ball without scoring terribly efficiently. And your absolutely right that he’s become really predictable–driving into the paint and taking that so-so, fadeway midrange jumper. Its a problem. Thanks for the comment.

  5. Has anyone looked at the free agent list for next year yet? The only one that stuck out to me was Tyson Chandler. Could really help our D out and hopefully rub off on the others. Think this can work or will Cuban pay him an ungodly sum of money?

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