Two games into the NBA Finals last year we were already crowning the Warriors as victors. They had thoroughly demolished the Cavaliers in the first two games and it seemed like the Cavs had no real recourse or strategy that would be effective enough to overcome the better team.
Of course, this ended up being not the case as the Cavaliers accomplished one of the more improbable runs in Sports history. It is hard to expect the same to happen this year, especially due to that fellow named Kevin Durant who is making quite the difference in this year.
Yet, it is always interesting to watch the two very best teams in the NBA square off against one another to examine how the level of play at the very highest level could potentially impact our thoughts about the Timberwolves. All sports leagues are copycat leagues, with many teams attempting to ape the success of the recent champions, whether that is through play-design, roster construction, or drafting players who look like they might better fit the new-wave of play.
Centers have gotten completely played out of the series
This trend somewhat began last year, with the Warriors unlocking their “lineup of death” by moving Draymond Green to center and Harrison Barnes to power forward in order to be able to push the tempo, space the floor, and essentially run teams off the floor. The Cavs were able to respond to this by having Tristan Thompson play full-time Center. A lot of teams have copied this strategy this year. Portland and Denver have both moved small forwards to power forward and Dallas was able to mount a semi-convincing playoff run by moving Dirk Nowitzki to center.
Teams were finding that they were able to win the offensive battle by simply eliminating the center position. This has been pushed even further, in the last game for example, when Kevin Durant was playing spot-time at center. Not to mention, Tristan Thompson has essentially been played out of the series and Kevin Love has been playing some time at center as well. The rest of the true centers on both rosters can only be played for extremely small stretches, as they are simply too vulnerable on the open court.
Now, every team is not able to do this. It is an extremely specific skill set that allows players to play up a position, but teams are becoming cognizant that, from a cost-benefit analysis, it makes more sense to flood the floor with playmaking, rangy players that can shift positions rather than holding onto previous NBA archetypes. The Timberwolves are one of the last teams in the NBA to really be using a dual big approach and it will be interesting to see their plan in the offseason if they want to change this.
Two-way players are essential
Flip Saunders is nodding is head somewhere. The Warriors look so utterly dominant against the Cavaliers because they have multiple players in Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant who are effective on both offense and defense. The Cavaliers are struggling to find the right rotation simply because their players are too one-dimensional. They need Kevin Love’s offense, yet he is outmatched on defense. They need Iman Shumpert’s defense, but the floor shrinks due to his limitations on offense.
This speaks directly to the unabashed support for Andrew Wiggins, who is certainly the Wolves most (non-Spanish Unicorn) polarizing player. However, the Wolves need Wiggins to be good and it is worth the bet simply because the gap between the wing players who reach the star level are the most important players in the NBA. Paul George, Jimmy Butler, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Gordon Hayward are the fulcrums that NBA free agencies revolve around. The gap between the top tier wings and the 3-and-D wings of the World is immense, as the best of these players are what the NBA is designed around.
Pick-and-rolls are devastating when used correctly
The go to move of the playoffs has been to find the opposing team’s worst defense player and put the in a pick-and-roll. The Wolves did not do this during the regular season, but did force Andrew Wiggins to handle a lot of crunch time duties involving a Wiggins-Towns pick and roll that was, let’s just say, not always effective.
But the idea is important. The Wolves need to be able to run these sort of sets in the late game in order to get better shots. Wiggins has been improving his pull-up threepointer in the last year and if teams start respecting that, he will have a lot more room to operate out of the pick-and-roll. Theoretically, a Wiggins-Towns pick-and-roll should be putting immense stress on the defense. Right now, their lack passing skills and spacing around them make this more challenging, but it is a play set that we should be seeing a steady diet of throughout the next year.