Hollinger on the new old Timberwolves

Benjamin Polk —  March 9, 2012 — 6 Comments

You know things are really turning around at the Target Center when John Hollinger—who up to this point had been known to Wolves’ fans for serving up incredulous, though generally reasonable, critiques of the Kahn regime—is giving props. Hollinger points out a rather amazing element to the Wolves’ fortunes: drastically increasing a team’s win total from one season to the next is not unprecedented, but doing it with the same players is. Even more remarkable, the significant new faces that the Wolves have added—Derrick Williams and Ricky Rubio—have actually made the team younger.

Some of the explanations Hollinger gives are familiar to us: the Wolves renewed competence and competitiveness on defense; the addition of Rubio as a decision-maker and perimeter defender; Love’s blossoming as a star. But another explanation is maybe so familiar that it was hiding in plain sight. Namely, that the Wolves have replaced minutes and shots for ineffective players with minutes and shots for effective ones:

The neon sign in this case [last season] was “go-to” post option Darko Milicic finishing with a higher usage rate than Ridnour, despite Milicic being one of the least efficient offensive players in basketball and Ridnour being well above average.

Darko wasn’t the only one, though; Michael Beasley also had one of the highest usage rates in basketball despite creating little for teammates and mostly long 2s for himself. It’s as though Rambis thought the contested 17-footer was the pinnacle of offensive achievement. Perhaps he’d just been around Kobe too long.

This season, things are different. You know who leads the Wolves in usage rate? Kevin Love! What a concept! And between Barea, Rubio and Ridnour, most of the touches that aren’t flowing through Love are going through a small, quick guard who can create for others. Beasley and Darko still shoot too much, but their roles and their minutes have been curtailed under Rick Adelman.

Agreed. This calls to mind one of the drawbacks to implementing the triangle offense with such a young and unevenly talented crew. When an offense is predicated so fundamentally on flow and reaction, it can be very difficult to control where the ball goes. The first aspect of this pretty elementary. The post feed is the triangle’s basic initiating action. When Darko Milicic is your starting center, on the receiving end of all of those post feeds, asked to create with his passing and back-to-the-basket skills, you’ll find him handling the ball much more than he ought to.

But the second element is probably even more essential. As we’ve seen with the Bulls and Lakers, when the triangle’s machinations are disrupted (by the defense or poor execution), the ball tends to flow into the hands of the highest usage players on the floor. Not such a bad thing when those players are Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, pretty bad when that player is Michael Beasley.

The Wolves’ inexperience exacerbated that problem. Last season, the Wolves were notorious in their inability to adapt and counter when the defense denied their first option. Far too many of their half-court sets devolved into continuity-deadening isolations for Beasley. They lacked the intuition–an intuition forged mainly by experience–to improvise their way into good shots when the offense broke down, which it very often did. Adelman has brought with him the novel idea that the offense ought to be structured, at least in part, around the principle of creating shots for the team’s best players.

Benjamin Polk

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6 responses to Hollinger on the new old Timberwolves

  1. Hasn’t the Triangle offense only worked with Jordan and Kobe? I don’t know who else runs it.

  2. The Wolves offense is still very ineffective. The biggest difference is they aren’t getting outscored by 10+ anymore. The defense is much more improved.

  3. Right, it’s definitely worth noting that their offensive efficiency is only .4 pts/100 possessions better than last season. On the other hand, since the offensive efficiency of the entire league is down significantly this year, that’s still a huge improvement relative to everybody else. They’ve gone from 24th in the league in efficiency to 13th.

  4. I can’t wait for this team to get even more experience and hopefully some playoff experience (even though they might get bounced right away by OKC). I really like this team and if at all possible would like Kahn to keep many of the pieces. I say only keep Beasley as a cheap 6th man option…if he wants to start let him walk. If AR can get out of “Darko’s Guide to Motivation” mode he would be a keeper….otherwise he’s dead weight as well. I like Rubio and Ridnour as our points….I had to laugh (much like Wes clearly did on the bench but tried to play it off as if something in the stands) when Barea went down by…uhh…jogging. We should all refer to Barea with his full legal name: “Jose Juan Micheal Williams Barea”.

  5. The offense is much more effective this year. They’re scoring at a higher rate despite using 3.4 fewer possessions per game.

  6. Benjamin Polk March 9, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    But the amount of possessions they use doesn’t affect the amount of points they score per possession. By that measure their offense is only slightly more effective this season. Again, though, this in a season in which offense is down across the board.

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