Minnesota Timberwolves: Week One–The Basics


The Minnesota Timberwolves open the season tonight hosting the Orlando Magic, Tip off is at 7:00 p.m. (CST); it’s the moment every fan’s been waiting for. Tireless narratives telling of injuries, face-changes and knuckle-pushups no longer fuel the talk pertaining to the Timberwolves in Minnesota — the team represents hope, now.

Friday the Wolves switch from battling sorcery, to fighting the elements of nature when Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder visit for an early Northwest Division matchup. The teams split the season series 2-2 and neither managed to win on the road last season. Durant is engaged to the Minnesota Lynx’ guard Monica Wright, making him no stranger to Target Center, and though OKC’s Russell Westbrook will be sidelined, still recovering from a procedure done over the offseason, he’s expected to return in time for the remaining three-meetings. Westbrook and Wolves star Kevin Love were teammates at UCLA in 2007. This is a developing NBA rivalry worth watching over the next few seasons.

The Magic opened their season last night with a loss to the Indiana Pacers, 97-87 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Orlando is expected to dwell at the bottom of the Eastern Conference this season despite landing arguably the best player in this summer’s draft, Victor Oladipo. Oladipo scored 12 points last night off the bench, checking into the game accompanied by cheers of those who rooted on the 21-year old former Indiana University Hoosier. Maurice Harkless, Jameer Nelson and Andrew Nicholson also had double-digits in the losing effort.

The health of trio of Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic combined with the arrival of Flip Saunders’ stirred up playoff expectations — though none of the Wolves “Big 3” have any postseason experience. The popular favorite to win the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Clippers, fell at the hands of who TNT’s Kevin Harlin described as the team’s “Hallway Rival,” who were without Kobe Bryant. The Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks and the Thunder, in addition to the teams in L.A., make up the 10 competitors for the eight playoff spots before even mentioning the Wolves’ name. How does a group with no playoff experience handle relatively high expectations?

"“I’ve never been so excited to play some basketball and stop hearing about last year” – Love said during media day, his role of an emotional leader on the court has been apparent at moments during the preseason."

With Rubio at the helm surrounded by spot-up shooting threats Love, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer (from the corner, anyway) and Chase Budinger, when he returns; the offense is going to be heavily dependent on jump shots — a trait of teams who make for easy playoff outs in the opening rounds.

Rick Adelman’s Princeton offense is a thing of beauty, it’s not sophisticated and this season the team has the tools to properly execute a playing style that’s helped their coach win more than 1,000 games over the course of his career. Here’s some of the looks the Timberwolves must execute during late game situations, and if the team plays well enough, the postseason to avoid being just another soft and inconsistent jump shooting team.

Example one. Love, Ronnie Turiaf, Dante Cunningham all begin parallel to the high-post. The shooting guard, Martin, starts on the near end of the floor and will use a screen set by Love to get enough separation from his defender to catch a pass from Rubio.

On the nearside, Love sets up to screen Caldwell-Pope, who is guarding Martin

Martin catches the ball and squares up at the ark

When Martin catches the ball in this area the defender, who in this example is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, must respect the veteran shooter’s ability to knockdown the three-point look. Martin is 38 and-a-half-percent career shooter from downtown. Using another Love screen to drive into space on his left will leave a larger defender (Greg Monroe) on an island against a seasoned scoring threat. If the defense does not switch, Martin has an open lane to the basket for a layup or kickout to an open shooter. “K-Mart” would travel on this possession, but this how Wolves will often start half-court sets.

Pekovic sets-up as a second screen behind Love

Here ‘Pek’ joins the fun as a second screener, Martin now may attempt to curl around the Montenegrin center.

Martin goes back to Rubio knowing he’s caught the ball and isn’t in the best position to create

Rubio would quickly give the ball back creating a similar look than that of picture two against the Pistons.

Similar to picture two, Martin and Love are provided spacing for a screen and roll, pick and pop or an opportunity for dribble penetration to the left of the basket.

We should be seeing a lot of scenarios early on this season because it creates a simple and high-percentage chance at two, or even three, points.

Love has now caught the ball in the post with 4.1 seconds remaining on the shot-clock, he must either make a strong move to the basket or attempt a fadeaway either from the lane or fading toward the baseline.

Love opts for the turnaround, fadeaway jump shot and hits — two points for the Wolves

“Mr. Double-double” and the Wolves are lucky on this position, the following shot-charts show why this is a high-percentage set.

Martin’s shot chart from last season

Love’s heat chart from the 2011-2012 season

This specific two-man set with Martin and Love is one of many ways Adelman’s offense finds ways to score points, but the Timberwolves will also look to get up and down the floor in transition this season. Last season the Wolves played at the league’s 11th fastest pace (number of possessions a team uses per game) and with a healthy Rubio — that number is likely going to increase. However; if the team approaches a playoff birth — Adelman may need to adjust his game plan accordingly, which he’s certainly capable of doing.

It’s the first week of a long season and the best way to evaluate this team’s success will be day-by-day, game-by-game. There will be struggles, problems that the coaching staff will address but it will ultimately come down to players executing — especially in late games and, who knows, maybe into the postseason; for now the Wolves are 0-0 and look to gain their first win against the Magic tonight.

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