When the Wolves first traded Thaddeus Young for Kevin Garnett, there were plenty of critics who didn't like the deal because they believed Minnesota had sent away a player who was useful for a player who wasn't.
They were...and are....wrong.
We looked at how Kevin Garnett is still a top rebounder and defender earlier. He's still averaging 12 rebounds/36 minutes, and still ranks in the top 20 (if you remove the minutes played qualification) in a number of defensive categories, including defensive rating, defensive box +/-, and defensive RPM.
But that's all statistical. So if you don't care for the numbers, believe your eyes instead.
11:08, 1st Quarter versus Washington:
Nene crosses the lane to space the floor. Garnett follows him and contests his shot, forcing a miss.
The rebound bounces out to Garrett Temple. John Wall gets it back to Nene in the post. Garnett stands Nene up, forcing him to shoot over the top, allowing KG to block the shot and collect the rebound.
9:25, 1st Quarter versus Washington:
Garnett gets switched onto Marcin Gortat, and notices Pekovic is fronting Nene in the post. When Wall goes for the pass over the top, KG runs over to make the double team.
Because Garnett was able to see and move into the double team before the ball reaches Nene, the ball is instantly trapped and Nene turns it over on a 3 second violation.
9:00, 1st Quarter versus Washington:
Garnett shows hard on the pick-and-roll, preventing John Wall from getting into the middle of the floor....
....then takes the angle on the switch back and keeps his hand up, also preventing Wall from getting the ball to Nene on the sideline.
Garnett then directs Pekovic into the lane....
....causing Otto Porter to pull up short for a long jump shot...
....which airballs straight into KG's hands.
4:05, 2nd Quarter versus Washington:
Garnett sinks off the pick-and-roll, denying Otto Porter's driving lane and forcing him to give up the ball.
KG then leaves Nene to help Pekovic deal with the mismatch and contain John Wall, cutting off the crossing pass. Wall is forced to back the ball out to Porter, who misses the long 2.
3:25, 2nd Quarter versus Washington:
Pekovic gets switched onto Wall off the pick-and-roll. Garnett leaves Nene again to help Pek contain the drive and force Wall into a tough jump shot.
Gortat grabs the rebound and throws it back out. Garnett steps into the lane to stop the ball again...
...then jumps the passing lane, causing Nene to mis-handle the pass and forcing him out of post position.
Garnett then crowds Nene, giving Kevin Martin time to bring a double team and force a turnover.
2:00, 2nd Quarter versus Washington:
Garnett stops the ball in transition....
....then switches off to Gortat, forcing the ball to keep moving along the arc.
KG again contains the pick-and-roll, then jumps the passing lane....
....resulting in a pass thrown far too high for Gortat to handle.
0:55, 2nd Quarter versus Washington:
Garnett steps into the lane to stop Gortat's drive.
He then contests Nene's shot....
....and sinks back into the paint quick enough to grab the rebound.
0:06, 2nd Quarter versus Washington:
Garnett leaves Drew Gooden and steps out on Wall, stopping his dive off the pick and forcing him to give up the ball. Wiggins closes out on Temple, who swings the ball to the corner.
Garnett then rotates all the way back to Gooden and gets the block.
Poor Drew Gooden. All these years and KG's still stealin' his cookies.
5:00, 4th Quarter versus Washington:
Garnett again steps out to contain the drive and force a bad shot.
He then tightropes the baseline to grab the rebound.
4:30, 4th Quarter versus Washington:
KG sticks with Wall off the pick after Rubio trips over Nene...
...so closely that he forces Wall to actually give the ball up.
Notice how Martin stepped out to Nene, as he's the primary target for Wall to pass to. If Wall tries to throw to the corner, he'd have to go over the defense, giving Martin time to run back. Garnett can get anyone to play defense!
He then sticks close enough to Wall to close out if he needs to, but sinks far enough in...
...to help Rubio deal with Nene.
3:25, 4th Quarter versus Washington:
Seeing that Gortat is trapped in a double team, Garnett shades to the baseline to take away the pass underneath. Gortat's only option is the guy KG left open,Kevin Seraphin, further out.
Garnett closes on Seraphin....
...and bullies him into a terrible shot attempt.
2:20, 4th Quarter versus Washington:
Garnett bodies Seraphin early, keeping him from establishing paint position.
He then jumps the pass and lifts it out of Seraphin's hands.
Then screams NO at me and Tim Flaklis.
11:25, 1st Quarter versus Memphis:
Garnett bullies Zach Randolph out of paint.
Without position and no driving game, KG is easily able to force him to take a long jump shot, which barely hits the rim.
10:00, 1st Quarter versus Memphis:
Garnett realizes Jeff Green is alone in transition and stops the ball by 'triangulating' him in the defense.
He then forces Green to the sideline (classic trap move; exactly what you want to do on defense)....
...which does indeed result in a trap and Green turning the ball over.
8:55, 1st Quarter versus Memphis:
Wiggins gets switched onto Gasol, leaving Marc with a huge mismatch advantage. As he drives into the middle, Garnett pins Randolph behind the hoop, eliminating him as an option for a pass....
...then steps up to contest Marc Gasol's hook, forcing the miss.
8:40, 1st Quarter versus Memphis:
Garnett tries to warn Dieng that Mike Conley's going to pass over his fronting defense.
Conley gets the ball over anyway, but Garnett is waiting on the baseline.
KG and Dieng stop Gasol with the double team...
....causing him to throw the ball straight to Ricky.
8:20, 1st Quarter versus Memphis:
Garnett bullies Randolph all the way out to the three point line.
He then harasses him as he tries to turn the corner....
...until Randolph loses control of the ball, and it ends up with Ricky.
7:50, 1st Quarter versus Memphis:
Garnett again forces Randolph out to the perimeter, making him put the ball of the floor to get a shot off.
Because that's not Randolph strength, he shows the ball way too early on the drive and KG has an easy time swatting it away.
This is the kind of coordinated, competent defense the Wolves have not played in years. Arguably since Garnett left.
KG not only still plays excellent man-to-man defense, he's also giving the Wolves' team defense a huge boost. As in, they actually play team defense now. Garnett may not have the quickness he used to, but he's still got the wingspan of a Pterodactyl, along with perfect anticipation, timing, and communication. When you watch the game closely, you realize that many of the best-looking defensive plays the other Wolves make...Rubio steals, Wiggins contests, Pekovic rebounds...actually start with Garnett doing the dirty work.
Notice how several of these plays are consecutive defensive possessions, particularly the start of the Memphis tilt. That's the effect Kevin Garnett has on a team, and why he's still rates as one of the league's most elite defenders, even at 38 years old.
This is tangible impact on the game. The sort that, quite frankly, Thad Young was not making. Garnett returning is most definitely a fantastic homecoming fairy tale, but make no mistake - KG isn't just here to sell tickets and mentor the kids. He can still play the defensive end of the court at an elite level, and here's your proof.
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