Thursday, December 01, 2016

What I Would Do to Help the Timberwolves (There May Be No Easy "Fix" Right Now)

Tom Thibodeau has a 5 year deal to run all basketball operations of the Timberwolves.  He is not going away.  So far he has been far less successful than Sam Mitchell.  That is a bad thing.  In a scarier vein, he has seemingly demoralized Karl-Anthony Towns.  In October, that would have seemed to be nearly impossible to do.  But he has managed.

Thibs' constant screaming and whining at every referee call is not conducive to leading a young team.  He has to learn to limit his bitching and whining to, say, 25% or less of all plays.

Some general thoughts on suggested changes other than that:

1) Karl-Anthony Towns is your #1 player.  He should be announced last at home.  It is a small thing, and a very petty thing, and KAT would never ask for or demand it.  But there is no way Andrew Wiggins should be announced last.  KAT is your best guy, he gets announced last.  Go through the Wolves' advanced stats and see if it makes any sense to say Andrew Wiggins is your star.  Answer - it does not.  Just accept that.

2) Your offense must be focused on KAT.  The Wolves once went 40-42 just absolutely force feeding the ball to Kevin Love.  You can do that with KAT, and KAT is a better passer, better dribbler, and much bigger than Love.  He is not quite the shooter Love was the year he was 2nd team all-NBA, but KAT is 21 years old. 

You can run the occasional stuff for LaVine.  And Wiggy has his moments where he is hot.  But KAT is your best player, recognize that and run stuff mostly for him.

3) You have to have some buy-in defensively.   I honest to god cannot tell what the Wolves are trying to do defensively.  This indicates to me that the Wolves players also do not know the answer.  Allowing Rodney Hood to get to his left hand?  Allowing Boris Diaw to spin to a right-hand hook?  George Hill dribble a full 180 degree plus wheel with his right hand and finish at the rim?  They don't put a body on anyone, and are regularly also outjumped for the ball on rebounds.

If things are so, so bleak, what you need is a sitdown with your club and just a statement of what you are trying to accomplish.  "Guys, today we keep Boris Diaw to zero made hook shots."  "Guys, if you see George Hill get more than 120 degrees dribbling to his right, go ahead and double team.  He isn't passing."   Hayward - make him drive.  Melo 0 same.  Hood - same. 

If your guys cannot even understand or execute these very basic defensive elements, then go to Plan B.  "Guys, what do YOU think you can execute defensively?  Would you like to press?  Trap?  Play some 1-2-2, some 1-3-1?  Is there anything we can run that you might enjoy?  Double all ball screens and rotate?  I mean, the Bucks double a ton and then cut off the next pass - it isn't a 100% faulty strategy necessarily. 

But you cannot send guys out for 48 minutes and leave the crowd saying "what in the hell are we doing?"  Even if your strategy is "wildly double the post and rotate" at least that is a strategy and it should at least take away post-ups.  To steal from Neal Page, Thibs' strategy in 2016 "is a miracle," it seemingly takes away absolutely nothing that the opponent wants to do.

4) Rid Yourself of Rubio and Play Some Combo of Dunn/Tyus  --  I was not a fan of drafting Kris Dunn, but I will tell you this -- Kris Dunn is a REALLY high end defender.  Now, he may be the worst person I have ever seen at trying to run an offense.  His penchant for dribbling to just inside the corner of the free throw line and picking up the ball is unnerving.  But if you played Kris Dunn 20 mpg he would be disruptive defensively and he would kickstart a little offense off deflections and steals and guard rebounding.  He isn't hopeless.

Tyus Jones is a great floor general, and his young teammates seemingly like him and want him to play.  Watch Tyus and KAT on the bench.  KAT talks to Tyus, even when Tyus isn't playing, and it is clearly about the game. 

Tyus will never be a plus defender.  But he is willing to try, and he wants to play and he wants to win.  He is not afraid.  Someone some day will play him 30 mpg and he will do very well in the NBA.

Rubio has become Tom Brookens.  Tom Brookens played 12 years for the Detroit Tigers, had an OPS+ of 83 (100 is average) and yet rolled up roughly 4,000 at bats for the Tigers as an above-average fielding STARTING 3rd baseman.   He was the best they had most years, so he always played.  He just wasn't very good.  Every year the Tigers would have a prospect to try to take his job, and he couldn't displace Brookens.  But Brookens was just not very good.  In fact, for hitting, he was very poor. 

(Notably, in 1984 Brookens was NOT the starter and was made a utility player -- the Tigers won the title.  The next year he returned to third base).

Anyway - my point?  Ricky may have the edge right now over Dunn and Tyus, but if Ricky is your PG, you ain't going anywhere.  And as long as he is around, he will probably be your PG, because he will look better than the young guys you have behind him.

You gotta rid yourself of Ricky.  You are 5-13, you aren't making the playoffs.  Just jettison him for whatever you can get.  Play the other two guys.  In fact, play Dunn and Tyus together some.  Dunn can take on the best guard and Tyus can handle the ball. 

The Spanish National Team still doesn't play Ricky much.  Is there any other coaching staff in the world who knows more about Ricky?  Sorry, Ricky, my daughter loves you, but you gotta go.  Play all of the young guys, let them sink or swim together.

5) Establish Some Sort of Team Identity -- Hey, guys, we are going to go play Minnesota tonight, so be aware that they will _________________.  Our identity when I assistant coached boys was that we would run great set offense and we would run multiple defenses.  Drove opponents crazy.  We weren't athletic or big, and everyone knew it, but you didn't like playing us, and opposing fans LOVED watching us.  (In a state tourney, I had a 6'5" fan from the inner city approach me on the bench and say "are you an assistant coach of this team?"  Sure.  "Let me shake your hand - that is how basketball should be played."  We knew what we were and we played that way.  In 8th grade we were #4 in the state. 

When I coached girls we would press full court then press half court and try to beat you up. We were more athletic than my boys had been.   The word was that we were hard to play against because we fouled all of the time.  We were 6th in the state in 8th grade.

Anyway - the point - you need to "be" something.  If your team has no identity, 97% of the time you will suck.  What are the Wolves?  Well, hey have good young players.  So....Do they run?  No.  Do they press?  No.  Force turnovers?  No.  Do they play fast?  No.

OK - they have a highly skilled big man, SOOOOO....Do they play slow and use the shot clock?  Go post up every play?  Nope.  Play physical defense?  No.  Outrebound you?  No.  Outwork you?  Certainly not. 

If you go across their Team Stats line, the Wolves are not noticeably better or worse than their opponents through 18 games at any significant stat.  I don't view that as a plus.  A team that is a poor shooting team and a great defensive team can win games because it always plays D.  A team that shoots a ton of free throws might win a bunch of games it shouldn't.  A team with great 3 point shooting might not rebound much at all.  But all of these teams have a strength to fall back upon.

A team with no discernible strength has nothing to fall back upon, which is one reason the Wolves are chokers.  When things are going poorly, they cannot say "toss it to _____ he'll draw a foul" or "sure we haven't scored in 4 minutes, but they won't score either."  Or "let's run our pet play for KG where he posts on the left block and distributes."

Anyway - I could go on and on and on.  But those are your basic building blocks.  Start with those, and maybe by the time you are 10-30 overall, you will have a team that can go 21-21 the rest of the way?


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