Despite the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 103-99 victory over the New Jersey Nets, the young Wolves are a team playing for the future and not the present.
They struggle to run the triangle, employing some of the preliminary speed cuts after throwing the ball in the post, and using the two-man game on the weak-side of the triangle to post Al Jefferson.
Still, the roster is more conducive to drive-and-kick basketball as opposed to the jump shooting necessary to run the triangle.
Because of this, it will be interesting to see how coach Kurt Rambis responds to his team’s skill set. Will he tweak the triangle to allow more screen/roll and isolation action, or will he stay tried and true to geometric principles?
No matter how much the T-Wolves struggle, Rambis will remain on board for another year as his team adjusts to the nuances of his offense.
Let’s see which other Timberwolves have futures in Minnesota.
Al Jefferson is a bear in the pivot—13-23 FG, 1-2 FT, 7 REB, 3 BLK, 27 PTS.
Because of Jefferson’s massive upper body, he creates all sorts of space for his feathery right hooks and duck under counters. He’s also expanded his game exponentially where he now has an extremely quick and reliable short jumper, a myriad of convincing ball and shot fakes, and expanded range on his jump shot.
He even knocked down an 18-footer!
Jefferson isn’t an exceptional passer, but didn’t force passes into traffic and recognized where the open man was after being doubled—hence his four assists and no turnovers.
If AJ blocked three shots on defense, they were shots right at him that didn’t require much lateral movement or jumping. Jefferson did work hard on Brook Lopez and held him to 2-8 shooting, but Lopez’ own ball fakes vexed Jefferson and coaxed out the majority of his six fouls.
Still, there’s no doubt that Jefferson has an All-Star caliber offensive game. As he continues to improve his passing and learn the triangle, he could become a passable equivalent of Shaq when the Big Diesel played for the Lakers.
Even defensively, Jefferson has made strides to the point where he’s now a passable defender.
Jefferson will be even more of a force when he plays with teammates that can create the spacing needed for AJ to work down low.
With such a poor shooting team around him, defenses simply collapse on him and force his lesser teammates to hurt them from the outside.
In this case, it’s up to the T-Wolves players to improve their jump shots, or for management to surround Jefferson with a few more shooters.
Johnny Flynn used his creativity with the ball to dazzle—9-19 FG, 3-4 FT, 1-5 3FG, 5 AST, 3 TO, 4 STL, 22 PTS.
Flynn is lightning-quick, can drive with either hand, and is an acrobatic finisher under the basket. He consistently got into the paint and made the right decision in the shadow of the basket.
Flynn’s jump shot needs to be more dependable—1-5 3FG—and he needs to speed up his decision making.
Many times, Flynn would dribble away instead of making passes that imitate the various defensive responses and offensive triggers that operate the triangle.
Also, Flynn refused to give the ball up after a steal late in the game with a teammate well ahead of the pack and Devin Harris a half-step behind him. Instead of getting a layup, Flynn was fouled and missed a free throw that could’ve been costly.
Flynn also forced several shots and drives.
Flynn’s defense relies totally on gambling, but he has quick hands and his steal of the careless Harris pass mentioned above was instrumental in Minnesota retaining their lead.
Give Flynn time to speed up his decision making, to learn the triangle, and improve his jump shot.
If he’s not a classical triangle point guard, he’s too talented to give up.
Kevin Love vacuums up rebounds—16 REB—has great hands, is an exceptional passer—4 AST, 2 TO—and is an accurate mid-range jump shooter.
However, he’s a non-athlete and has trouble finishing around the basket because of it, missing four layups.
It’ll be difficult for Minnesota to play effective defense with both Love and Jefferson in the front court because the team has no athleticism to provide weak side help.
The Wolves simply need good basketball players so Love’s a keeper for now, but as the team improves, he may have to be dealt to shore up the weaknesses of having too landlocked players in the frontline.
Damien Wilkins cut well, knocked down his short and mid-range jumpers, and sank two free throws late that helped put away the Nets—5-11 FG, 1-4 3FG, 3-3 FT, 3 AST, 1 TO, 14 PTS—but lacks three-point range and isn’t a difference maker.
He’d barely be a rotation player on most other teams, and doesn’t have any long term future in Minnesota.
Corey Brewer ’s reputation as a defensive stopper is a fabrication.
He’s totally mesmerized by the ball to the point where simple give-and-go’s leave him eating dust. His three turnovers in the game were a result of a sloppy handle and a high dribble that he hasn’t corrected since his college days at Florida.
Brewer also lacks range on his jumper.
His effective numbers—7-11 FG, 17 PTS—were a result of athletic baseline cuts, an accurate short-range jumper, and a nifty lefty layup late in the game that effectively closed out the Nets.
If Brewer has a future in Minny, it’ll be as an up-tempo sixth man off the bench.
Nathan Jawai is a ballerina shaped like a bowling ball—1-3 FG, 4 REB, 1 TO, 2 PTS. His offensive game is very crude, but he did show an ability to guard the post effectively. He’s an interesting long term project.
Wayne Ellington snaked along the baseline for offensive boards, finished at the paint, and was accurate from the midlands—3-6FG, 7 PTS. He’s also a keeper.
Sasha Pavlovic doesn’t want to be in Minnesota and played like it, jacking up two awful shots in three minutes—0-2 FG, 0 PTS. He’s an absolute goner.
Brian Cardinal picked up three fouls in just over a minute. He too is a goner.
Ryan Hollins made some clever passes—3 AST, 1 TO—and is the team’s only weak-side shot blocker. A keeper as a backup center.
Ramon Sessions is a drive-and-kick guard with nobody to kick it to—1-2 FG, 2 AST, 2 TO, 2 PTS.
Without the driving lanes he saw in Milwaukee, Sessions has struggled creating for himself and others in Minnesota.
He also makes fundamental mistakes, like jumping in the air to pass, and buying shot fakes on defense. No wonder only Minnesota offered him a contract as a restricted free agent last offseason.
Sessions needs to escape the triangle and play on a team with three-point shooters.
However, unless Ricky Rubio migrates over to the United States, Sessions is Minnesota’s only backup point guard. Because of that, he’s a keeper, but only until Rubio comes over, if he comes over at all.
Overall, the Timberwolves need many things:
- Patience to learn the triangle
- Athletes in the frontcourt
- Three-point shooters at every position
- Wings who can create their own shot
- A defensive-minded backup point guard
- Antacids for Kurt Rambis
However, with Jefferson, Flynn, and maybe Love and Brewer, the Wolves have a respectable core going forward.
Until the talent level around that core is upgraded though, the Wolves will be a bottom-feeder.
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