Acceptance. Complacency. Mutual Understanding.
These are all words that could be used to describe transition basketball in the NBA. We see players push the ball up the floor in the hopes of scoring an easy basket before defensive alignments have been set, but it generally comes through either a series of quick passes, or an athletic ball handler pushing the ball up the length of the court. Rarely do we see players getting assists by rebounding the ball, and hurling it the length of the court to a man who catches it and scores in one fell swoop.
It's understood that, to make that pass happen, you have to have a defensive player leak out either immediately after a rebound, or more than likely before a rebound is even secured. This can leave your defense exposed in 4-on-5 or 4-on-4 situations, depending on if somebody chases the player leaking out earlier.
But what if you have somebody who is so proficient at rebounding, that logic dictates that you should leak out? That you can average a hair over 14 points per game, with your main offense coming from transition basketball of this very ilk?
Then you would have a very dangerous offensive team.
This is exactly what the Minnesota Timberwolves are.
It would be remiss to neglect how wonderful the Timberwolves half-court sets are in this situation. You don't score 40 points at will in single quarters without beautifully timed offensive sets. However, you likely don't score those 40 points without transition baskets either.
Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have shown, at times, that they connect on these full court passes, but it's sporadic and often times involves an incredibly feat of aerial athleticism on the part of one of the two players. The Timberwolves have taken that a step further. They have developed a chemistry so seamless, that Kevin Love can make a court length pass to Corey Brewer, who often times has to take no more than one dribble to convert Love's outlet passes into easy buckets.
So why haven't we seen this before? The NBA, and the game of basketball in general, have both been around for many years. Why hasn't this been done to this level before?
It is this writer's belief that it has to do with the way the game evolved.
We've never had a coexistence of athleticism and fundamentals quite like we have today. In the early days of the NBA, fundamentals were crucial to the game. We didn't see players soaring above the rim at will. Athletic training hadn't come even close to it's peak, so by extension neither had athletes. We have today, with some scientists even predicting that we've reached the absolute pinnacle of human athletic achievement.
When athleticism started making its way into the NBA game, we started to veer away from fundamental mechanics in basketball. Dr. J ushered in a different era, where aspiring professionals no longer wanted to set the best picks, but rather wanted to finish at the rim in the coolest fashion.
Once athleticism was introduced, it never went away, but it took some time for fundamentals to come back en vogue. This is largely attributed to the importation of European players, who spend their youth careers attending basketball academies, where fundamentals are the focus.
We have finally reached a point where athleticism, and fundamentals, are both on display on a nightly basis in a way that we could only dream about in years gone by. They are both valued equally in a way that we have never seen before.
The best way to describe how these two traits exist in perfect harmony is to give you an analogy. Kevin Love is to Corey Brewer, as fundamentals are to athleticism.
The Timberwolves have perfected what a basketball team can accomplish offensively with transition basketball. Basketball is a game of controlling tempo and momentum. More importantly though, basketball, at the professional level, is about exposing weaknesses and making teams pay for those weaknesses. It's about scoring more points. The Timberwolves, with this brand of transition ball, are going to score more points than teams on most nights, and it's because Kevin Love and Corey Brewer took an aspect of the game that was so simple that it was often overlooked, and proceeded to perfect it.