The Minnesota Timberwolves have made a lot of changes this offseason. In fact, the only major pieces left from last season are Kevin Love, Jonny Flynn, and Corey Brewer. Some of last season’s bench players are still around in Ramon Sessions (though perhaps not for long) and Wayne Ellington, but by and large, this is an all-new Minnesota club.
We already know how they want to play on offense. Kurt Rambis’s triangle system emphasizes athleticism, moving the ball up and down the court quickly. It relies on high-percentage shooting from the wings, combined with enough play in the low post to keep opponents honest.
However, perhaps the biggest change that Wolves fans will see this season will be in the defense department. The Wolves had difficulty last season in that area, specifically in perimeter defending.
This season, however, that will change.
With the pieces Minnesota has added, they will look to exploit defensive mismatches as often as possible in several key spots, at shooting guard and small forward.
Let’s first examine the possibilities at the two-guard. Picking just one starter here is a difficult proposition, so we’ll go through what several of the potential wing guys bring to the defensive side of the ball.
First up is the fourth overall pick in last month’s draft, Wesley Johnson. If Rambis wants to create a big mismatch at the shooting guard spot, he need look no further.
Johnson’s size makes him a natural small forward, but his ability to hit long shots gives him the tools he needs to play out of position and play well. His wingspan is quite large for a wing player—he reaches 7’0”. This gives him the tools to seriously alter an opponent’s ability to shoot from distance.
Johnson’s speed, another trait that the majority of scouts have lauded, will help him as well, allowing him to keep up with the speedy shooting guards in the league. Additionally, Johnson has been described as having great court vision. Put simply, this means that he ought to have the foresight not to get caught out of position, especially in transition defense.
As already mentioned, if Rambis wants a defensive mismatch at the two-guard, Johnson could easily find himself a starter there.
Rambis may also look at last season’s starting shooting guard, Corey Brewer. Already known as a defensive specialist in the league, Brewer’s offensive game actually got a great boost last season in the transition from the system under Kevin McHale’s regime to the triangle.
Brewer’s points per game production took off last season. He had averaged 5.8 and 6.2 PPG through his first two seasons in the league, but he finally got comfortable with his jumper last season, shooting 43.1 percent from the field en route to averaging 13 points a night.
Brewer’s defensive abilities have seen him facing some of the best players in the league, and his experience would also be a plus. Brewer stands 6’7” and would also have a height advantage over some of the league’s shooting guards. His ability to rotate between shooting guard and small forward may also help in the transition.
Martell Webster, acquired by the Timberwolves on draft night, brings many of the same qualities to the defensive table that Brewer does. His size, especially if used as a shooting guard, will help create the defensive mismatches than can help the Timberwolves stem the flow from the perimeter.
The Wolves create an instant defensive mismatch at the small forward position if they start former second overall draft pick Michael Beasley in the 2010-11 season. Beasley is between 6’9” and 6’10” and came to the Wolves from Miami for little more than a song in the wake of the signing of the “Miami Thrice.”
Beasley’s size makes him a very interesting potential starter for the Wolves. When defending against the league’s small forwards, Beasley’s size could make him an instant deterrent. His speed, too, will help him, just as it would help Wesley Johnson. It makes him significantly less likely to be caught out of position, especially in transition on the court.
His athleticism doesn’t hurt, either, especially when considering how it will, and already has, helped him crash the boards. His wingspan, slightly over 7’0”, could yet again help him in defending small forwards. Certainly that wingspan will help him to block some shots when being driven against in the paint.
Beasley actually said in his introductory press conference at Target Center that he was comfortable playing as a small forward, defensively speaking. He also said that he was more than willing to fit into the system, meaning that he’ll adapt and play however Rambis would like. Having a player of Beasley’s size who is willing to play wherever he is needed on the court will be a big help, defensively.
In short, the Timberwolves have amassed quite a collection of players that will help shore up their defense. By creating mismatches on the court, the Wolves will be able to force teams to alter their attack, moving out of their comfort zone, and perhaps giving Minnesota the break it needs to shut down high-powered offenses in the league.