2012-13 Season

Timberwolves vs. Knicks: A Preview With Visual Aids

The ever-indispensable Synergy Sports has a pretty nifty little Interactive Scouting report function that lets you take two teams and compare how they work various aspects of their game to see how they match up. I did this for the Wolves and Knicks game that’s coming up later this afternoon and found a couple of interesting things.

First, let’s look at their success with different play types and how much of their offense they make up:


The thing that might be a little hard to see right away is that this graph shows not only how much of a team’s offense a given play type makes up (size of the bar), but also how many point per possession (PPP) the team scores with that type of play and where that ranks them against other teams in the NBA. Thus, we can see with this graph why the Knicks have been so successful on offense while the Wolves have struggled for consistency.

The three top play types for the Knicks—making up roughly 65% of their offensive possessions—are pick and rolls, spot-up jumpers, and isolation plays. They rank sixth in the NBA for points per possession on PNRs, first for spot-ups, and eighth for isos. This means the plays they are most often running are the ones they run most successfully.

By way of contrast, the top three play types for the Wolves—making up about 50% of their offensive possessions—are pick and rolls, spot-ups, and transition plays, in which they rank 16th, 29th, and 24th respectively. Throwing in cuts to get them to a comparable 60% of their offense and it doesn’t help much—they rank 26th in PPP for that play type.

Now, Synergy’s method of tracking plays has its problems, but evidence that looks this bad does actually say something. The Knicks have done a terrific job this season of playing their games the way they want to play them, of harnessing the strengths of the team (Felton’s PNR and Carmelo’s improved shooting). It’s really rather simple: do what you do well most of the time.

The Wolves, by contrast, have hard a time executing plays the way they should be because of a variety of factors, with injuries being the chief factor. Because of this, they haven’t found consistency and it’s been a struggle for them to generate offense in the most efficient ways possible.

We can also compare the Timberwolves’ offense to the Knicks’ defense and vice versa:



You can see that the only area in which the Wolves hold a distinct advantage offensively over the Knicks’ defense is on hand off plays. Unfortunately, referring back to the first graphic, we can see that the Wolves are running such plays only about 2% of the time. The Knicks defend the spot-up well, but their pick and roll defense only ranks 24th in the NBA, so it’s at least possible the Wolves can make something of that, particularly if they can get pick and rolls the way Adelman wants, which is coming out of motion in the half court and not from the ballhandler bringing the ball across halfcourt.



The Knicks’ favorite plays matchup pretty favorably for the Wolves, who defend the spot-up and the pick and roll decently. Isolations will present more of a problem, and most of the other play types don’t stack up well against the Wolves’ defense. If the Knicks’ offense doesn’t stagnate, it will present a lot of problems for the Wolves, and the Wolves will need to get creative with their playcalling and not lean so much on their fallback play types if they want to pull a win out.


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0 thoughts on “Timberwolves vs. Knicks: A Preview With Visual Aids

  1. Steve,

    I think the data is a little misleading. For instance, the Wolves are terrible in spot-ups because their 3pt-shooting has been awful; but that doesn’t make them bad plays; no one believes their 3-point shooting will remain THIS bad.

    Similarly, if you think the Knicks are going to keep shooting 40-50% from 3 all season, I have prime real estate in Siberia to sell you ;), so that skews things a bit too.

    Lastly, even though the Knicks are *relatively* great vs. the rest of the league in isos, that’s a lot like winning a beauty contest vs. Cinderella’s ugly step-sisters. .84 PPP is, in an absolute sense, pretty terrible, and it’s actually a BAD thing for the Knicks that they run so many isos, and if the wolves can tempt them into doing that a lot today, they should be in great shape.

    I think, rather than ranking vs. the rest of the league, you should rank by pure PPP; does either team maximize their PPP by running the plays with the highest PPP as often as possible.

  2. Those are all good points, Patrick. “Spot-up” according to Synergy also covers a very broad range of plays, from 3-pointers to layups off passes that don’t come from PNRs or cuts. And yes, no coach loves tons of isos, but tons of isos are going to keep happening with ‘Melo and he’s been too successful for anyone to be able to tell him different this season. I still think the overall point that the Knicks are generally playing in a way that plays to their strengths while the Wolves are still trying to find a consistent identity holds, though.

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