Statistical Analysis

Running to fail: Wolves on the break

The possibility of the Wolves indulging in Nellie-ball has the internets a-buzzing. First, at Truehoop today, Zach shows himself to be somewhat ambivalent on the Wolves’ plans to push the pace. Here’s an interesting tidbit:

To say Wolves fans just want to see up-tempo basketball seems to be extremely shortsighted. I think Wolves fans are willing to settle for up-tempo basketball if the wins aren’t going to be pouring in any time soon. If up-tempo basketball is going to make the Wolves more competitive than they were last season, I think it’s something we’d all settle for…If anything, this concept of the fans wanting to see faster paced basketball with Ricky Rubio running the show seems more like a marketing tool than a strategy for turning the Wolves around right now. It’s rebranding the image of a poor product.

That it may be.  Over at NBA Playbook, the indefatigable Sebastian Pruiti goes to his usual lengths to examine whether the Wolves really are built to run. Some of his conclusions make easy sense: Ricky Rubio is an elite open floor passer; Kevin Love’s great rebounding, outlet passing and trailing threes make him an ideal forward for a fast break team. Some are a bit more intriguing. For instance: although Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph are blessed with size and athletic ability, their poor decision making makes them below average transition players (although I’m thinking now about AR’s high-dribbling, no-passing end-to-end forays and I’m less surprised).

Finally, at The Point Forward, Zach Lowe discusses why, despite their fast pace, last year’s Wolves were such a bad transition team (though the Wolves led the league in pace of play, transition trips accounted for only 10.8% of their possessions, eighth worst in the league). First, he points to turnovers, which we’ve discussed. But then he drops this:

The Wolves are taking a lot of really terrible shots really quickly in their half-court offense. This is another way to “play fast,” and the Wolves were awful at it…A team’s shooting percentage tends to go down as the clock ticks from 24 to zero, so shooting early is good in theory. But it appears the Wolves are doing it in the worst way possible — by taking irresponsible, quick shots out of their half-court system and failing to work the clock for better ones.

Anyone who watched the Wolves play last year knows that this is indisputably true.

And then there’s one more fascinating fact. Many of the teams who played at the slowest pace actually ran more and did it more efficiently than the Wolves. Asks Lowe, “What in the world is happening here? Perhaps the simplest explanation is best: Better teams have better and smarter players who understand when to run and how to run effectively.”

Right on. I’d also point this out. Four of the teams that Lowe mentions as being among the best at playing in transition despite their slow pace (the Heat, Bulls, Grizzlies and Celtics) are in the top ten in the league in defensive efficiency. It turns out that if you want to score on the break, it helps to make the other team miss.


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0 thoughts on “Running to fail: Wolves on the break

  1. Anyone who watched the Celtics for the past few years just read the last sentence and nodded enthusiastically. The C’s were borderline unstoppable last year when they were getting stops and getting out in transition immediately.

    This is why I think it’s so incredibly crucial that Minnesota gets a coach who can teach a young team how to defend. The offense will come if the defense is there.

  2. @ Tom W: Doesn’t hurt to have two guys in Pierce and Ray “lights out” Allen who can drop a three on you from anywhere, anytime.

    And I 110% agree with your second point. I would like to add to that though, that assigning definitive roles would be almost equally important. I mean, the C’s are a perfect example; Allen and Pierce are the shooters. They averaged 4.7 and 3.7 3’s/g, respectively. And outside of Nate Robinson, who averaged 3.5 3’s/g, there wasn’t another player on that team that shot more than 1.5/g. The Wolves on the other hand, had only Wes Johnson that shot more than 3.5/g. But worse than that stat, is the fact that they had 10 (yes almost an entire team) players average more than 1.5/g. So somebody tell me where the definitive roles are. To me it seems that everyone had free reign to just fire at will.

    Interestingly though, the wolves as a team averaged 19.1 3’s/g and shot it at a .376 clip. Versus the Celtics, who averaged only 13.6/g, at a .365 rate. So the breakdown is not as much in the fact that they were a bad 3 pt shooting team (actually an impressive 5th in the league)… it is more so in knowing who is going to be shooting, and when. There were way too many times that guys looked completely caught off guard, by someone just jacking one up, unexpectedly. And by my loose math, if you are making 19 attempts/game, and shooting at .376, that is about 12 misses/game. And if you compare that to the Celtics 3 pt shooting numbers, they come out with only 8-9 misses. So it is more or less like saying that we averaged 4 more to’s, on 3’s alone.

    (And for anyone who wants to point out that not all misses are automatically to’s- yes I do realize that Love is an offensive rebounding machine… but even he can’t pull down those misses, when he’s only at half-court, when they are thrown up)

    1. Andy I agree with your point that the Wolves often didn’t know where their shots were coming from and that this added a level of haste and confusion to their offense. But three point shooting itself was not the source of the problem. In fact, its pretty clear that three-point shooting and offensive rebounding (they were second in the league in O rebound rate) were the only things they did really well.

      Your point that they ought to have taken fewer threes because of the amount of misses those threes created is a little shaky. The Wolves scored 1.128 points per possession on threes and .919 ppp on twos–so that extra point on those 7 makes per game more than makes up for those 12 misses per game (which is why threes are more efficient overall than two-point jumpers, which is why so many good teams shoot well from three). So what the Wolves really need to do is not to take fewer threes, but to figure out how to score more efficiently from two and get to the line (28th in Free Throw rate last year). Greater patience, better leadership in transition (Ricky), and more skill down low (D Williams) should really help there.

  3. @Ben- I apologize… I was kind of all over the place with my reasoning there, and didn’t really make a clear point. Basically I was just saying that I think it would have been greatly beneficial for the Wolves to have shot more 3’s out of a set offense, and less run and gun. Especially when you have an offensive rebounding monster like Love.

    As I said, they were 5th in the league in 3 pt shooting. So they clearly don’t need to back away from the long ball. They just need better leadership, all the way around.

    And while 3’s are more efficient, in terms of pts/possesion, couldn’t the argument be made that they are also a lower percentage shot. I mean, if we are talking about fast back offense, shouldn’t that imply that there should be easy lay-ups/dunks to be had (theoretically at least)? Which is where I completely agree with your point about Rubio. I think this year is going to be difficult for him to settle in. But definitely, in the long haul, he is going to be a much more apt floor captain, than what we saw last year. Ridnour just doesn’t have that kind of offensive game. And Flynn is way too wild and seems too concerned with taking it to the hole himself, rather than looking to dish to someone, for an easier basket.

    And I also agree that between D-Will and Wes, we have a couple high skill guys, on the wings. I really hope they make the right choice on a coach. The Wolves have a lot of really good pieces… they just need that right person to fit them all together. AND they have to give it some time. Kahn can’t go blowing the team apart again next year, because he didn’t see the far-fetched improvement that he thinks is somehow possible.

    Not to say that they didn’t underachieve, or that Rambis wasn’t partially at fault. But I really fail to see what Taylor and Kahn were thinking hiring Rambis in the first place. They knew exactly what he was. They knew he was an apprentice of Phil Jackson, and would try to run the triangle, just like his mentor. So if that isn’t what you want for your team, then why hire a guy like that? In my opinion, it is just a lack of real basketball knowledge, on the part of Kahn, and complete ignorance, on the part of Glen Taylor.

  4. @Andy – not sure if they knew what they were getting in Rambis. I dug up some links awhile back, but if my memory serves Rambis came in talking about how his experience playing with the Showtime Lakers and under Pat Riley would serve him well here. Maybe he meant that in a more abstract, general sense, but I know I took it to mean that he, as Coach Rambis, believed in some of the things Riley and Showtime did. I think if he came in and said, ‘David, Glen, I’m going to run the Laker’s Triangle offense…whaddya think?’, both GT and DK would have barfed next to their chairs. In my reading of things here there is something really fishy going on dealing with expectations and communication between Rambis, Kahn, and the rest of the team. There’s the Love thing, there’s the running the Triangle instead of a simpler fast break transition offense, there’s the pickup of Darko/Martell/Lazar, and then there’s the transformation of Wes Johnson into a taller, more athletic Derek Fisher who’s role (apparently) was to pass the ball and take threes.

    The point is, something got lost in translation amongst all these parties and Rambis is out, which is what is important. All those crying and moaning that Kahn’s handling of Rambis are, for the moment, worrying about nothing as none other than Rick Adelman is coming to interview today. I think the truth, as is usually the case, is somewhere closer to the middle here – Kahn is more mediocre than terrible as GM, Rambis is not some culpability free saint (nor is he as inept at coaching as he appeared to be with our cast), and GT still gets in the way of progress for this team more often than not.

    My hope is that the Wolves make Adelman a contract offer today, and if he pauses when looking at it that Kahn or Glen lean over and add an extra ‘zero’ to the end of the number and give it back to Adelman. This team needs a guy exactly like Adelman. These players, to develop quickly and fully, need a coach like Adelman. Hiring Adelman would bring me full circle, rekindling the feelings of optimism I had when a young KG was going to be paired with a young Marbury (and Googs, TP, SM, and so on). Flip was an up and coming coach; life looked good for TWolves fans. Rubio, DWill AZ, Love, Wes and Beas – let’s get it goin!

  5. I wrote a frothy little bit (Jim Buss Eats Your Babies) and mentioned Nellie in passing. It would have been funnier with the Larry Brown rumor.

    biggity – the triangle may have been lost in translation but I’m not sure Kahn or Glen’s awareness of it was. I think it was a different time, there was a cachet even a couple years ago, that’s not there now. In truth, nobody other than Jackson with his considerable clout and success, would be able to pull it off in today’s league or in yesterday’s. There must have been some feeling at the time however, that it or some part of “it” would be a road worth traveling. I much agree, that Rambis snuck in enough Showtime catch phrases to sweeten the pot.

  6. I don’t know about the Wolves being a particularly good 3 point shooting team . . . with bad teams it’s hard to say how much of it is just bombing away in garbage time when you’re down by 20 and the other team has already emptied its bench. IMO advanced stats are like the Olympic diving scores, you have to throw out the top and bottom to make any sense of it . . .

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