With Kevin Martin on board as Minnesota's primary wing scorer, the Timberwolves finally have a piece they have sorely lacked. Ricky Rubio is a great point guard; Kevin Love is arguably the game's premier power forward; Nikola Pekovic is a beast in the post. And now, Martin's presence adds some perimeter scoring.
Are the Wolves championship contenders? Probably not. But there's a nucleus of players—only Kevin Love's free agency in two offseasons threatens that core—and a consistency in structure with Rick Adelman's offense.
The addition of Kevin Martin only augmented that consistency, as Martin has played for Adelman before in both Houston and Sacramento. He knows Adelman's corner offense—a variation of which most teams use—in and out, and his high basketball IQ and excellent jump shooting are especially valued in this system.
The offense begins with high post elbow entry to a big man. In Minnesota, this means Rubio dumping the ball into Love. Rubio then cuts to the strong-side corner and a wing on the strong side sets a pindown screen for Rubio. He then curls off the screen for a dribble handoff or rejects it and cuts backdoor.
Here are a bunch of good examples of the corner offense Minnesota ran last year:
The Golden State Warriors run their own variation, known as their "split game," which only has a slight twist. Instead of the point guard cutting to the strong-side corner, the strong-side wing player is already in the corner. Golden State, therefore, flips the script and has the 1 set the screen for the wing.
Tex Winter's triangle offense has similar strong-side principles. The idea, in both cases, is that a cluster of players cutting, screening and weaving will eventually open something up. And with a strong passing big making decisions at the elbow, he's able to see through the clutter and make the right decision.
In Sacramento, Vlade Divac and Chris Webber—two of the better passing bigs in NBA history—anchored one of the most explosive offenses of the past 20 years in that system. In Minnesota, it's Love.
But Minnesota's traditional corner offense exploits every facet of Martin's game as well.
Part of the genius of the corner offense is that it does not require great shooting on the strong side. The quick action leading to dribble handoffs, pick-and-rolls, backdoor cuts or whatever else usually opens up a lane to penetrate.
Weak-side shooting, however, is a must. If the strong-side play is shut down with help, it's the job of the weak-side shooters to make the helpers pay. Martin is certainly capable of fulfilling this role, but his ability to come off screens and slash to the rim adds another dimension to Minnesota's action.
Here, the Timberwolves use two misdirections before the real focus of the play unfolds. It starts with what looks like a corner setup: Martin on the wing, J.J. Barea entering the ball into Love at the right elbow and Corey Brewer cutting baseline to clear out. The three-man game—elbow, wing, corner—with two weak-side players.
Except Barea reverses course and enters the ball into Kevin Love at the left elbow, cutting to the wing. Brewer slips across the baseline, shifting the corner play to the left side. The right side, then, is now the weak side. Or so it seems.
Pekovic turns to set a screen for Martin, who fakes inside and cuts outside, catching the pass from Love and knocking down the shot.
This is not to say that Martin can't get in on the regular corner action. Here, Rubio enters the ball into Love at the high post before setting a pindown screen for Martin.
This directly leads into a dribble handoff with Love—the equivalent of a staggered pindown—and frees up Martin for an open three-pointer.
Notice the split-second chaos. As the Brooklyn Nets defenders try to sort themselves out, choosing between switching, hedging or fighting through, Martin slips away from the defense. This is why the corner offense, when executed properly, can be so destructive.
Martin has also gotten into the habit of posting up this season, a new wrinkle to his game previously unseen in years past. In fact, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required), 8.8 percent of his possessions this season have ended in a post-up.
Minnesota is even running sets for this aspect of his game, which both shows their confidence in him as a post-up player and that it's something he actively worked on this past offseason.
But again, it's out of the corner system. This time, it's Brewer, the 3, at the elbow, and Martin in the post ready to jump out to the corner. Except Love pops up off a Pekovic pindown on the weak side, and Martin follows the same path. When Love catches the ball on the right wing, Martin is now in the post on the right side.
Adelman's corner system is all about freedom and creativity. While there are certainly parameters of movement and starting points for the system, it's more of a read-and-react style. Because Martin is such a versatile offensive player, Adelman is able to plug him into any part of the offense seamlessly. And thanks to his high offensive IQ, he's able to handle multiple roles with ease.
But more than that, he's able to put the ball in the basket. This is a skill Minnesota has sorely lacked on the perimeter, whether it's shooting or dribble drives. Often times an offensive set breaks down, there's an opportunity transition or it's late in the shot clock and someone needs to score. Martin is the man for the job, and it's a role he has fulfilled for his entire career.
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