Timberwolves Early Season Defense

At the end of the sequence, Teague is frantically chasing after Klay. It’s far too late now, but it wasn’t his man to begin with. Jimmy Butler has his back turned from Klay, looking towards Steph, but Teague is right by Curry. They wouldn’t switch if they didn’t have to, since Teague is undersized and ill-equipped to guard Klay; even Butler struggled and he’s considered to be one of the best  on-ball defenders in the entire league.

Jim Barnett, Golden States color commentator, was saying that he thinks Teague is a better defender than former Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio because Ricky went after steals, didn’t commit to solid positional defense. Jimmy seems to be focused on passing lanes a bit, too. Just stay with Klay.

I get that trapping players on the baseline is part of Thibodeau’s strategy but half of the floor is wide open with too many playmakers on GS. They’re more likely to give Golden State an open 3 than to force a bad pass or turnover.

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Looking at this still image here signals some immediate alarms: both Teague and Butler are facing the opposite direction of Klay and Curry, the two deadliest 3pt shooters possibly in NBA history. Teague was anticipating that Andre was going to drive to the middle of the lane and so he slid over a few feet to help.

Curry is still his man, though. Butler sees Klay running below the basket and basically just shrugs and doesn’t move, meaning that Teague is now supposed to switch onto Klay and cover half the space of the court in time to contest a man with the fastest catch-and-shoot release in the league. Good thinking, Jimmy.

These were the sort of scenarios that Butler was supposed to help the Timberwolves with. They currently have a defensive rating of 110.7, 27th worst in the league. Instead of being glued to Klay, shutting him down as best as he could, Butler spent most of his energy chasing after passing lanes or shirking his responsibility to his assignment.

The off-ball movement by Klay is simple and straightforward, but the array of passes that lead the ball to him was pretty incredible. A key pass could easily be missed due to the speed of the sequence. Andre doesn’t end up driving as Teague expects, hedging slightly in the middle, but instead spots Klay running on the baseline and passes to Draymond to the right, closer towards the top of the key.

Andre leaves the corner immediately after passing the ball to Draymond, bringing the man that’s defending him along with him. If Andre would have held onto the ball and stayed in the corner, it could have ended with a short pass and Andre’s defender sliding over to cover Klay, preventing or at least getting a hand up for the shot. Andre clears the area.

Draymond understands what Andre and Klay are doing and whips a pass to the corner and bang – a perfect 3, all net. It happens in just under 5 seconds, from when Klay is standing in the 3pt line in the left corner to when the ball is released from his hands on the right side of the court. Jimmy remains on the left side of the court. These mistakes are what Golden State builds so many wins on. They’re just too good to be ignored; they require you to focus or else. Some credit should go to Curry just for being Curry, as Butler seemed overly concerned with his location rather than Klay.

Two problems with the situation below: Wiggins, standing to the left hesitantly, and Bjelica, standing directly beneath the rim, are staring over at Draymond, who’s standing alone at the top of the key. Draymond only makes 1.3 threes per game on average. He’s a streaky shooter and doesn’t really like to shoot, prefers to be the playmaker for the other shooters. He doesn’t need or deserve the attention of two defenders standing in space.

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Wiggins slides down a couple of feet and pops back out towards Draymond, as if Javelle McGee would ever think to turn around and pass it back to Draymond. McGee is a one note rim-runner: he’s going to dunk the ball. Teague and Deng on the right are in position to move over and contest McGee at the rim. Deng is a lengthy center, fully capable of performing such a task. Teague had just helped to double-team one of the leagues best ball handlers.

McGee can be trapped easily, broken down, a quick strip of the ball and the Wolves are off on a fast break. Teague just stands and watches and Deng takes too long to turn his head. Wiggins halfheartedly slashes his arm towards McGee, doesn’t get any ball and retreats back to the 3pt line. Bjelica is still under the rim. If he would’ve read the situation properly, instead of looking over at Draymond, he could have seen that Curry had to pass it to McGee.

Knowing this, Bjelica could have positioned himself outside of the restricted zone and set himself up to take a charge. Bjelica isn’t a shot blocker by any means, but of all the options he could have went with, he decided to take a couple steps back and look up at McGee slamming down an easy dunk.

These quick decisions on the court should be a major focus or concern for the coach, especially for one who is so famous for his defensive strategies. Instead, Thibodeaus young team doesn’t have the mind-reading instincts that a coherent defense can produce. They don’t play off each other or pay attention to each others movements. They didn’t communicate at all when McGee had the ball at the elbow staring down all of them and the rim before him.

Golden State re-invented the way teams defend, though most teams don’t have the talent to even slightly mimic their sets.  They are all connected on a five-man weave made of string: when Draymond jerks left to the baseline, Klay immediately jerks right to cover the 3pt line where Draymond had just departed from.

They are an efficient defensive think tank, making decisions as a group, helping each other and rarely being completely beat off of the dribble. The Wolves hit Golden State early with their young star center, Karl-Anthony Towns, through a pick & roll set at the elbow with Jeff Teague.

They had success doing these screen options, Towns is there most consistent scorer, and yet they barely returned to the play. They did it again to start the 3rd quarter, appropriately taking advantage of the older, flat-footed Golden State center, Zaza Pachulia. Towns scores and is fouled by a ham-fisted Zaza. Most coaches would go right back to that play the next time they’re down the floor. If it works, keep doing it until the other team figures out how to make it not work. Right?

They couldn’t identify the weakness in Golden States defense, which doesn’t bode well for their awarenes of their own defensive shortcomings. It has been a dissapointing start to the season for the Timberwolves, their franchise imbued with new star talent, jerseys, and a colorful new court design. But all the toys can’t cover up their sloth-like defensive performances. They need to improve fast if they want to make the playoffs.









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