This game wasn’t as close as the score would imply. However, it was pretty close at various times throughout the night, which makes it a bit confusing as a whole. About six or so minutes into the game, it seemed like I was going to have to find a blowout recap topic for tonight’s game and I even crowd-sourced for a few ideas. John Wall was picking apart the Wolves and we had several instances of big men not getting back on defense.
There were multiple plays in the first couple of minutes in which Thaddeus Young and Gorgui Dieng were slow to either get back in transition, only to get beaten down the floor by Marcin Gortat and Kris Humphries, or to locate their defensive assignment once they did get back. You don’t give space to John Wall’s passing targets and win to talk about it. He’s too good at this stage in his career and as the Wolves found out a few times, you can’t just play 10 feet off of him and expect him to Kemba Walker that jump shot. His game doesn’t break like that anymore.
Since this was a blowout that wasn’t a blowout, let’s actually recap instead of me just rambling for 1,400 words about Pauly D from Jersey Shore or something along those lines.
There’s something bigger coming down the pipe from me on this Wolves’ defense soon, but as of right now, I’d like to initially spotlight the early defensive problems with the Wolves in this game. As I mentioned above with the Wolves’ big men and transition defense, the execution of being in position and getting in the way of guys wanting a direct path to the hoop wasn’t exactly there in the first few minutes of the game. It started out with four players worrying about Wall dribbling up the court while nobody thought, “Hey, I’m one of the tall guys out here; I should go protect the basket.”
As you can see in the picture below, you’ve got all eyes on Wall like he’s Tupac and nobody paying any attention or communicating that there’s a 6’10” guy flying down the left side of the floor unabated.
Wall is one of the few players in the NBA that can have a disadvantage or a tie in the numbers during a transition moment and still have the huge advantage. It’s not just his speed either, although that is a great weapon for him at his disposal. His ability to finish acrobatically around the rim while always having his eyes up and looking for teammates just make him a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” type of problem for opponents. It sounds so simple but his ability to dribble at full speed with his eyes up and surveying the best course of action like he’s Nicolas Cage in the movie “Next” sets him apart from most NBA players.
On the very next possession, we saw the same problems matching up in transition. Gorgui was late coming down the floor and Young was looking away from the basket to find a big man to throw a body on. The Wolves actually have five players in the half court, compared to three for the Wizards, and yet nobody has decided to get in the way of Marcin Gortat.
I’m not going to say it’s “lazy” transition defense because that seems to imply that the Wolves’ players didn’t care about the outcome or the effort to affect the outcome. I don’t think that’s what happened on these possessions. I think it’s important to notice that this is a very unaware defensive effort by the Wolves. You can understand it a little bit from Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine because they’re 19-year old rookies. They’re also assigned to stop the ball in transition and not necessarily be the big man protecting the rim.
For veterans like Corey Brewer, Thad, and Gorgui, this is unacceptable defensive awareness this early in a game. There wasn’t much of a scramble and the Wolves were instantly put out of position. I’d like to think Ricky Rubio fixed a problem like that because his communication skills are incredible when it comes to organizing both ends of the floor. I think there’s also an effect of bad offense (which will happen when you don’t have point guards on the floor) begets a lot of bad defense, especially with such a young team.
There was also quite a bit of freelancing on defense with guys gambling at inopportune times and giving space to the wrong players. Either the scouting report heading into the game was wrong or it was ignored or things just went bad on that end of the floor. Brewer learned early on that leaving Wall on the perimeter like he’s Josh Smith was a no-no. Again, very early into the game when the Wolves just didn’t have any resistance, Brewer was playing so far off Wall that you almost wondered if he knew he was defending Wall.
Brewer is in the paint here, almost like he’s doubling Gortat in the hopes of not getting stuck on a possible pick-and-roll with Wall. Wall being a maestro of the pick-and-roll is intimidating but not to the point in which you’re staying off of him in a way that doesn’t allow you to properly defend a 3-point attempt if Wall chooses to pull the trigger.
He eventually does pull the trigger on this possession and knocks down the 3-pointer. I know Wall isn’t exactly Steph Curry out there, but he’s more than capable of knocking down a 3-pointer at this stage in his career. Also, I hate this strategy of playing far off a great passer because you give the player full vision of the floor. Yes, their speed can burn you but you’re also supposed to have help behind you if that happens. Wall took advantage of these confused moments all night as he tallied 21 points and tied his career-high of 17 assists.
You have to give the Wolves credit though. They fought back and made a game of it until midway through the fourth quarter. Thad Young made up for his mistakes on defense to lead the team with 29 points. Shabazz Muhammad had another big game off the bench with 21 points on 9-of-17 shooting. You had two forwards being aggressive on a team that wasn’t very aggressive at all. And perhaps, that’s my issue with this Wolves team during these injury-riddled times right now.
I believe that Flip Saunders is teaching them (especially the young guys) the way he wants them to play basketball. Work for good shots, take care of the ball, and put yourself in a position to win with effort and athleticism. I agree with those points, but you also don’t see this team really taking chances outside of random acts of hustle. The Wolves turned the ball over just 10 times but they also only had 17 assists (eight coming from Zach LaVine). The Wolves only took eight 3-point shots and made three of them. Rasual Butler had four 3-pointers by himself for the Wizards and carved up the Wolves’ defense in the fourth quarter.
I’d love to see more organization on the court, but that’s probably asking a lot with a 19-year old rookie point guard and no real consistent scorers on the floor. I wouldn’t mind more turnovers from the Wolves (13th in turnover rate) if it meant they were smart risks attacking the basket. You see flashes of these feats from Minnesota at times and I don’t mind the losses piling up. The Wolves could use another young big man and this upcoming draft is full of elite prospects at those big positions.
You just want to see more of a semblance of this team knowing what they should be doing out there. We saw the effort to almost make up for it in Washington D.C. but we didn’t see enough organization to see it truly matter. At least, I got to table some blowout recap ideas for another day.