Rockets 108, Timberwolves 100: Keeping pace

Zach Harper —  March 17, 2013 — Leave a comment

ROCKETWOLVES

I apologize for not getting a quicker game recap up. I forgot it was my turn to writer the gamer until this afternoon. But even though the game against the Hornets is about start, I figured I’d offer up a few thoughts on the Wolves and what it means to be a running team in the league.

The Houston Rockets have up-tempo DNA. Remember that term? That was supposed to be the Timberwolves last season and beyond. That was the brand of basketball that was going to usher in the new era of the Wolves. I don’t say that in a condescending way — at least I don’t mean to. Up-tempo basketball is fun. Up-tempo basketball is exciting. Up-tempo basketball can be something that grabs national attention and put butts in the seats.

It’s also one of the most telling strategies of just how you view your team as a coach, GM, and organization. There are two reasons teams play with a fast pace (and sometimes they coincide with each other): 

1. You’re a sloppy team that turns the ball over at a high rate.

2. You’re a team that is maximizing the talents of your team by getting as many possessions as you possibly can.

I think the Rockets play the fastest pace in the NBA with a little from Column A and a little from Column B. They’re certainly a sloppy team. They have the highest turnover rate in the league to go with the fastest pace, but the difference between them and a team like the Wolves from three seasons ago is they know how to run in transition and they know how to find the most efficient ways to score. It’s why the Rockets rank fourth in the NBA in offensive efficiency.

The Wolves are also a pretty fast team. They rank 12th in the NBA in pace, but some of that can be not taking care of the ball (10th highest turnover rate). With the Wolves, they would be much better off playing a slower pace while their guys are injured and the rest are trying to survive. Instead, they’re pushing possessions to a higher volume than they need to be. The Wolves don’t score efficiently. I’m guessing the majority of this has to do with their best player being out, and their two best shooters being out. But regardless, the Wolves are bad in transition and they are bad in the half court with Rubio and the 2nd/3rd stringers.

There are only four teams with a worse offensive efficiency than the Wolves. There are also only four teams who are worse at scoring efficiently in transition than the Wolves. The Wolves create too many possessions for themselves right now. When you have more talent than your opponent, you want to ramp up the possessions in a game. The more possessions you can create with more talent on your side, the more likely you are to capitalize on your advantage.

Conversely, when you’re battling injuries and asking guys to play outside their capabilities and comfortable roles, you want to slow the game down and not allow a more talented team increased chances to take advantage of your shortcomings. Against the Rockets, we saw clear evidence of this. It was frustrating that the Wolves blew a 20-point lead but it made total sense.

When the Wolves were up and blowing Houston out of the water, it had much more to do with what Houston was doing wrong than what Minnesota was doing correctly. The Rockets were sloppy with the ball and because of this, they couldn’t play the game at their preferred tempo. Their tempo is pushing the ball, getting into a free-flowing offense, and getting to the free throw line. The first half had them turning the ball over 15 times and the Wolves took advantage. But once the second half began, the Rockets upped the tempo of their offense, started getting to the line, and took care of the ball.

If the Rockets aren’t turning the ball over against you, then they’re taking advantage of their style of play and talent on offense. James Harden got to the free throw line, the Rockets got to the rim, and the Wolves ended up losing a game they indirectly controlled for 25 minutes. When the Wolves are healthy, I fully endorse them pushing the tempo and learning how to run as a team. I think it benefits Andrei Kirilenko, Derrick Williams, and even someone like Chase Budinger. I think Love is one of the best players in the league at trailing the play in transition to get a secondary transition jumper from the 3-point line.

And while Rubio’s turnovers will probably stay in the high 3s to low 4s, it’s simply collateral damage for having him create more plays in a free-flowing offense. Until then, the Wolves need to grind out victories. They can’t score. They have problems putting the ball in the basket. Amazingly, this is a defensive team more than it’s an offensive team. Wolves are almost completely healthy, but until then, channel the Memphis Grizzlies and get your grit and grind on.

Zach Harper

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