FanPost

System Teams

With a lot of the Wolves' moves this offseason not necessarily making sense outside the context of fitting a specific system, I thought it'd be worthwhile to go over exactly what that has meant and currently means for the roster that's been assembled to this point. For the purposes of this discussion, I'm going to take as given the Wolves' desired system to be "an uptempo team that transitions into a passing and cutting offense when easy transition baskets aren't available."

In a sense, no system is static; all make adjustments when it comes to the best players on a team. The most famous examples would have to be the teams Phil Jackson has coached with the triangle offense; Jerry Sloan's motion-based pick-and-roll offense and physical defense; the Spurs' physical defense and inside-out offense (whether by post-ups or dribble penetration); the Pistons' physical defense; Don Nelson's small-ball, mismatch-based offense; and Mike D'Antoni's quick-shot offensive philosophy. Obviously, some of these have been more successful than others, but with the exception of the year the Spurs tanked to get Tim Duncan, the teams that have an established system have more regular-season success. Even last year, the untalented, young Knicks and injury-ravaged, extremely-young Warriors finished above 25 wins.

Here are the advantages I see with having an established system:

1. Greater chance of success with/without a superstar: Because there are around 5 guys in the league who fit that category at any given time (right now, it'd be Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Howard, Paul, and Durant), teams who don't have one usually must choose between building a team around the best players or having a system that works best for those players. Take, for example, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley. It's debatable which was the better player, and neither were as good as Jordan, Magic, Bird, or Olajuwon, but it's not even close which one was more successful: Malone's teams made the playoffs in every season of his 19-year career, the conference finals 4 times, and the NBA finals twice, despite the fact that his teams weren't loaded with talent. (For proof, look at the careers of some of his teammates with and away from the Jazz). Meanwhile, Barkley's teams made the playoffs in 14 of his 16 years but made the conference finals 3 times and the NBA finals once, despite him being at times on teams with Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Kevin Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and Scottie Pippen. I'd say the main reason why is because of Jerry Sloan and the Jazz system. Barkley played with far more talent and had less team success.

2. It's easier to find role players when a team is looking for specific skill sets. It goes beyond "need a PF" or "need an outside shooter." Teams can narrow it down to "need a spot-up shooter who can guard 2 positions" or "need a mobile big who can guard the pick and roll and make 18-footers." Role players are much more effective when they know exactly what they should and shouldn't do, and it's easy to tell which guys fit one system better than another.

3. Systems require teams to play with discipline and focus. Every season there are games that are won by the less-talented team because they were more into the game on that night. When a system is in place, it allows players to zone in on their role and focus on playing within boundaries. In addition, it can make for more consistent role players because those guys know that if they're not playing hard and doing what they should, there's other guys to take their place. The 01-02 Pistons are a great example of this. Their starting lineup that year was Chucky Atkins, Jerry Stackhouse, Michael Curry, Clifford Robinson, and Ben Wallace, with only Robinson replacing Joe Smith in a lineup that won 32 games the previous season. Because of their discipline and focus brought on by rookie head coach Rick Carlisle's system, the team won more games than they did in all but one of Grant Hill's years with the team (back when Hill was a perennial All-Star and All-NBA second teamer).

4. Systems allow teams to replace non-star players more easily when their desired salary exceeds their value or they get injured. The Jazz didn't lose a step when they lost Matt Harpring and Ronnie Brewer last year, and they probably won't lose one with the defections of Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver.

How does this apply to the Wolves? It really depends on 1) whether the players buy into the system, 2) whether they fit it, and 3) what defense accompanies the system and how effective it is. On the surface, it's pretty clear the personnel is better suited for an uptempo style than it was last year: Martell Webster is an athletic upgrade to Damien Wilkins, and Wesley Johnson is a huge athletic upgrade to Ryan Gomes. Consistency is important, though, because this team's lack of a top star makes them look more like the 01-02 Pistons than any other team and because consistency is important in a league where less-talented teams can steal wins from more-talented teams taking the night off. But even if this team is young and lacks high-end talent, there is potential for growth. With the Pistons example, Atkins gave way to Chauncey Billups, Stackhouse to Rip Hamilton, Curry to Tayshaun Prince, and Robinson to Rasheed Wallace. Maybe that team didn't win more than 1 title, but they made the conference finals 6 years in a row.

I guess my overall point is a that a team who executes a disciplined system can have success if they make good personnel choices, don't become overly attached to players who aren't All-Stars, and look for every opportunity to upgrade personnel. I'd say that such a team has a greater chance of success than a team that drafts BPA even if that player doesn't fit and won't become a superstar or even an All-Star. If Karl Malone needs a good system, most good players in the NBA do.

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