Beyond Witt's End: the Frustration Post

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This, boys and girls, is a 2-3 zone.  It's one of the very first defenses you learn when you start playing organized basketball.  After man defense, it's probably the easiest defense of all for young players to grasp.  To your Minnesota Timberwolves, it's kryptonite. 

For those of you who can remember all the way back to the overtime loss against the Golden State Warriors, this is the 2nd time this year the Wolves have been flummoxed by the most basic of basic zone defenses. 

Let's go to the coach's clipboard for some advice on attacking the dreaded 2-3 zone:

My 7th graders were really having difficulty playing against the 2-3 zone, which we seem to be running into frequently in youth tournaments. If you find your team in a similar situation, I think this article will help.

...

First things to stress to the kids: you beat the zone by quick passing and movement, and avoid unnecessary dribbling (which allows the zone to recover). Dribble only to penetrate a gap, or improve a passing angle, or to get out of trouble. Offensive rebounding is very important since the zone defenders do not have clear-cut box-out assignments (as in a man-to-man).

...

Here’s an option where we can attack the zone straight up the middle, by passing, not dribbling.

...

In the end, the entire system is very easy for them to understand with very few rules.

Low post rules:

1. Run the baseline and always be in ball-side short corner when ball is on the wing.
2. When the ball is at the high post, duck under the zone into the paint for the pass down low.
3. Offensive rebounding

High post rules:

1. Move with the ball... always point toward the ball. Ball at point, be at the FT line. Ball on the wing, fill the hula hoop just below the ball-side elbow. Ball in the corner, cut down to the low block.
2. Look to score, or pass inside or opposite wing.
3. Offensive rebounding

Wings rules:

1. Look to penetrate from the wing, and make good passing decisions, avoid too much dribbling.
2. Look for the shot, and when the high post is at the elbow, the opposite wing drops down into the gap on the weak-side.
3. When high post dives to low block, the opposite wing slides into the high post or ball-side elbow area.
4. Offensive rebounding

Point rules:

1. Keep the ball moving, with little dribbling, except to penetrate or open a passing lane.
2. Look for opportunity to dribble and split the two top defenders, and if they collapse, dish out to either wing.
3. Responsible for staying back (on top) to prevent the fast break.

Here's the Minnesota Timberwolves approach to the 2-3 zone: dribble, dribble, dribble.  Dribble, dribble, dribble.  Bad angle, dribble.  Screen, bad pass, rushed shot, out of place rebounders, New Jersey scores in transition. 

At one point in the 3rd quarter the Wolves ran out a 3 guard line up against the nasty New Jersey zone. One would think that a rotation with 3 professional guards would be able to foster ball movement, create driving angles, attack the middle of the zone, and so on and so forth.  Nope.  Apparently this is too much to ask for our Beloved Puppies Zombies.  Minnesota's trio of backcourt bombers simply dribbled around jacking up all sorts of ridiculous shots that, believe it or not, allowed the 2-3 zone to sag even further into the paint.

It was somewhere around the 10th or 11th New Jersey three pointer where I officially became a Randy Wittman sympathizer.  I was reading Jerry Zgoda's game wrap at the Strib's site when I became a full-on apologist:

Afterward, Wolves guard Randy Foye lamented his team's lack of effort after they lost their fourth consecutive game and ended a three-game Eastern trip.

"That's a team we could beat, if we had played hard for 48 minutes," Foye said. "When we didn't want them to score, they didn't score. We still could have gave the effort. We didn't, not at all. You've got to bring it. You can't use three games in five nights [on the road] as an excuse. We're all professional players. We've been through this before."

I don't even know what to say about this.  Is he serious?  Randy, come back to us.  Step away from the light.  Just like he was there to dispel the ridiculous 42 win nonsense, Witt was there for a hefty dose of reality:

"The effort is there," said Wittman, whose team had 17 assists and 16 turnovers.

"It's about staying with it. We go through too many lulls offensively that zap our energy a little bit. We've got to bounce back tomorrow. That's the good thing about the NBA."

I would like to point our readers to a Wages of Wins article about Sam Mitchell's ouster in Toronto.

“If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”

This quote - from Bill Parcells - essentially summarizes the problem facing all head coaches who work under a general manager.  The coach is responsible for the outcome of the dinner, but the general manager buys the groceries.

...

So was it the cook or the groceries?  Certainly Colangelo - the general manager buying the groceries - would like to believe the problem was Mitchell.  Unfortunately, I think the data suggests there isn’t much wrong with Toronto’s cook.

There is obviously a lot going on behind the scenes with the Witt and his players.  You can see the frustration on their faces at this point in the season and there are numerous accounts of things moving towards a change being necessary.  However, the problem with OBPs isn't the cook.  Witt could be fired on the plane ride home and it wouldn't change the fact that this team is starting Kevin Ollie at the point, and as of 1 game ago featured Jason Collins as its starting center.  Giving Witt some more free time to watch his kid play college ball doesn't magically make the centerpiece of this team someone who can actually play functional two-way ball.  Exactly what is Witt supposed to do at this point?  The Wolves now have been dismantled twice by an honest-to-Pete basic 2-3 zone.  In both cases, they simply didn't have the personnel to counter their opponents' move to one of the simplest defenses on the books.  Someone please tell me what else I should expect when the squad trots out Sebastian Telfair, Rashad McCants, Randy Foye, a misused Kevin Love (was he once set up in the middle of the zone?) and Craig Smith against a 2-3 zone.

Speaking of Shaddy, I've had it with this clown.  At one point in the 2nd quarter he jacked up a shot from the left corner which missed its target and instead of following his shot or hustling back up court, he kind of twiddled his thumbs while complaining to no one in particular while one of the all-time ugliest 3/4 court outlet passes sailed over his head to a wide open Vince Carter who slammed it on home.  While moping around on the offensive end in the 3rd--a point where it would have been nice to have a perimeter proficient guard moving around to open space--he never once worked himself into a position where he was squared away for a catch and shoot.  He never once rotated to open space.  In the 3rd he managed 2 shots in 6:37 of court time against a zone.

Once again, this game was unavailable on League Pass--a service I have paid for to watch the Wolves on my computer since I am out of their local broadcast network.  Once again, the game was preempted for local college sports on the team's radio affiliate.  Why am I paying for League Pass when I can stream it for free from a European site?  I've written the folks at League Pass to ask them why I have to pay for a service that doesn't give me the product I paid for and I've received no response.  I think next season I'll simply steal the feed instead of paying for garbage.  Do not buy League Pass if you actually want to watch basketball games.

As you can probably tell by the tone of this little post I'm somewhat frustrated with this team.  Actually, that's not completely true.  I am more frustrated with myself for playing the Charlie Brown to Papa Glen/the Iron Ranger's Lucy.  I bought what they were selling and I've been burned yet again.  The football has been pulled away and I should have been smart enough to see it coming.  I shouldn't have bought into the Love trade (even though I think he's a fantastic player) because it's just more of the same.  I shouldn't have talked myself into believing that this was anywhere near a 30 win squad because it's run by the same group of clowns who gave me 22 wins last year.  This is the most frustrating thing of all about being a Wolves fan: feeling stupid for believing it would be different if you gave them just one more go at it.  There's no direction.  There's no blueprint.  There's nothing but a bunch of jokers flying by the seats of their pants with zero accountability. 

So what if they fire Witt.  They'll still have McHale, super-wizz GM Rob Babcock--he of the Rafael Araujo at #8 fame-- and the can-someone-please-explain-how-he-is-qualified Fred Hoiberg waiting in the wings to blow even more draft picks and free agent money for a year where they'll be unable to land anyone but an overpaid and over-the-hill MLE player. 

I am in no way, shape, or form saying that I'm going to stop watching the team.  What I am saying is that there will be no more flailing at footballs.  This is a terrible team with terrible personnel built around a guy who can't play at one end of the court.  There's no way to dress this up.  Big Al may be a fantastic guy and a great member of the community but he's Zach Randolph with a brain and some class.  I feel like a heel for even entertaining the idea that he could be a cornerstone-type player.  He's the only decent piece the team received in the KG deal and this is what drives 90% of the fan allegiance to his game.  The KG deal with Boston probably only went through for 3 reasons: McHale's BFF is the Celts' GM and the trade allowed McHale to get a do-over on the pick owed in the Wally trade (they just had to have Marcus Banks, remember) as well as ensuring that the team would not immediately lose the 1st rounder owed to the Clips due to the Marko Jaric trade (which is still owed BTW).

The front office of this terrible squad has a long history of not only making bad decisions, but making ones that do the greatest amount of damage to the team.  This squad doesn't need a little tweak here or there; it needs a massive overhaul, from the front office to the on-court personnel.  Change needs to happen and it needs to happen now....starting in the front office.

BTW: for those of you interested, here's the Four Factors from last night's game:

MIN 87.0 96.6 44.1% 35.3 20.5 19.5
NJN 129.9 62.2% 28.4 24.2 13.8

New Jersey went on runs of 20-5, 17-6, 13-7, 9-0, and 15-6.

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