Suggestion Box: Stagger the screens and free the offense of worries
I would like to preface this post with the fact that I have full confidence in Rick Adelman’s coaching abilities, fully believe in his philosophies when it comes to basketball, and think his offensive system is superb. I will never pretend to know as much about basketball theory or even half of the practical applications of said theories in comparison to Rick Adelman.
The offense of the Minnesota Timberwolves is crucial. This isn’t so much basketball theory as an expectation of what’s in store for us this season. I’m not breaking any ground in telling you that the Wolves have to be good on offense. This isn’t news to anybody reading this site. The Wolves need to score points and we expect that they’ll need to score a lot of points in order to neutralize whatever shortcomings are there on defense. We felt this way going into last season. Points wouldn’t be the problem; defense would.
Turns out that was backwards but mostly due to an injury rash that turned into an injury flesh-eating bacteria. Kevin Love went down. Ricky Rubio came back but missed significant time while needing a month or two to get back to where he needed to be. Brandon Roy never materialized. Chase Budinger went down for the middle of the season with love handles on each side of that middle. Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko were sporadically banged up. The season fell apart before we could even see how it fit together.
And that’s why the offense of the Wolves is so crucial this year. I think we see frustration this early from Rick Adelman for two reasons:
1) Adelman doesn’t think this team is good enough to coast and not give their full attention and effort even in the preseason. That’s because they’re not.
2) Coach knows that if the offense isn’t living up to its full potential, the team could be in serious trouble.
Other than getting everybody together on the court and running sets over and over again, I’m not sure how I can suggest the current offense gets any better. In theory, it should complement Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, and Kevin Martin quite nicely. I believe Ricky Rubio can thrive in the offense with the wrinkles it has, but as I’ve noted before, there are concerns as to how high the ceiling is with this offense. I believe in the pieces and I believe in the system, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other things I’d like to see.
I’m sure some of you feel the same way about the stuff this team will run during the season. The great thing about great coaches is their ability to employ the roots and fundamentals of their offense while changing it up/tweaking it on the fly for certain personnel. I’m a big believer in Adelman doing this. We saw him do it last year in dire, injury-slapped situations. But even if we see a mostly healthy roster (get well soon, Chase), there’s one thing I’d love to see the Wolves adopt on offense, even with the starters/main players on the floor.
Staggered screens make the points go up… and they stay up and they stay up…
The Wolves ran a lot of pick-and-roll last year but I’d like to see a variation of that, which is employed by a lot of teams with deadly point guards. We’ve seen the Golden State Warriors run a version of this — mostly in transition or secondary transition possessions — in which they free up Stephen Curry for the 3-point shot. Minnesota probably doesn’t have that luxury or confidence with Ricky Rubio making that type of play consistently any time soon, but what they could do is run the staggered screen like we’ve seen from the San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets.
Here’s the play from the Spurs in action during the 2011-12 season:
The beauty of this play is that it’s universally easy to run if you have the patience to read the defense and make the right pass. We know Rubio is capable of that because that’s what we often see from him on PnR plays — his patience in waiting for the play to materialize without feeling pressured into moving onto the next read or set. This is what that same play could look like with the Wolves running it:
Allowing Kevin Love to loop around to that weak side wing means the defensive big man covering the paint has to think about recovering immediately as not to give up the 3-point shot. With Nikola Pekovic rumbling down the lane, the defense has to choose if they can’t cut off Rubio making it to the wing with his dribble. The helper on the side Rubio is coming to can’t sag off because Kevin Martin would be in that corner (50% from the left corner last season on 96 attempts). I threw Corey Brewer in the right corner because I like him cutting off-ball from the weak side, especially along the baseline.
The Wolves have so many options to execute in this type of play that it seems like Rubio’s decision-making is the best thing going for them on a play that could be lethal.
Let’s take a look at a variation the Denver Nuggets ran during the 2010-11 season:
I’d posit that Kevin Love is a better 3-point shooter than Al Harrington on most days. You can set up the action for the 3-point line on the pop with a couple of successful rolls by Pek or vice versa. Here’s what it would look like if the Wolves ran it:
Love is not only the best scorer on the team but he’s also the best player as well. I trust the ball in his hands once he gets the pass from Rubio and I think it affords the Wolves some options at that point.
1) Kevin Love shooting a 3-pointer here with this kind of space is all kinds of what the Wolves want.
2) If the defender laying back decides to rush at Love to prevent the shot, Pek is big and strong enough to roll straight down Broadway. Love can make that pass over the top or a side bounce pass to his right.
3) If the corner defender leaves Brewer because he’s not good from anywhere but the left corner, Love has a good enough rapport with Brewer to know when he’s cutting and where to deliver the pass along the baseline. If the sagging defender in the lane moves toward Brewer, Corey can then deliver a quick pass to the rolling Pek.
It almost seems unbeatable for this Wolves team, but there are plenty of ways defenses could defend it. If they play the screen on the stagger hard enough, you can push Rubio back and force more of a looping pass that allows the defense to recover. Or they can just dare Rubio to shoot the jumper or drive the lane. At some point, that won’t be something Rubio has much hesitation with doing. If he gains that confidence, look out. If he doesn’t, I still trust in his decision-making.
I believe in the motion offense. I believe in the corner play. I believe in Rick Adelman. I also think this is a cool play the Wolves could excel at if they throw it out there every once in a while to startle the defense. Who knows? Maybe they’ve already planned on using something like it. I’m excited for Wednesday to get here so we can find out.