A Sum Less than its Parts
Squint and the Minnesota Timberwolves have a deep roster chock-full of players who can step up and contribute. This may be particularly important if players are forced to miss time due to COVID-19 infections. The Wolves are deep at nearly every position, but, of course, the problem could be that none of these players are particularly good.
Last season, we would see Jake Layman or Keita-Bates Diop get hot from deep, Josh Okogie flying around on defense, and Naz Reid hitting a few threes in a row, and the Wolves looked unstoppable. Then we would look up a week later and the Wolves had gone 1-4 over the span.
A Dynamite(d) Duo
With the addition of D’Angelo Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns finally had a running mate to run high pick-and-rolls with. A star who can create and make his own shot, while feeding the big man inside and on the pick-and-pop. While the two only played one game together last season, their theoretical synergy on offense could be dynamic. It doesn’t hurt the two are friends off the court.
However, it could also be terrible. In the few games Russell and Towns have played together, there has been little synergy between the two. It is possible that their games are not complementary, as Russell excels with a rim runner as the pick-and-roll partner who can put pressure on the defense and allow Russell to operate from the top of the key through the mid-range, slithering between defenders.
Towns rarely rim runs and often fails to set effective screens. He is better popping from the pick or slipping the pick entirely, but while that is happening Russell is dribbling around the mid-range area, as he often fails to pressure defense by himself. Russell also spends a lot of time with the ball, time that the ball does not find itself in KATs hands in the low or mid-post where he can facilitate as double-teams come.
The defensive pairing of the two is as bad as advertised and if their offensive skill sets make each other worse, the Wolves could sink fast.
Making KAT Look Bad
After five years, we have a good handle on what KAT is good at on defense and what he is bad at. One-on-one post defense where he walled up? KAT is great. Switched onto a guard on the perimeter? He can handle himself as long as he does not get too overeager and foul.
But put KAT in a high pick-and-roll with a rim-running big and downhill guard? There is two easy points. Have KAT fight against massive bigs for 30 minutes a game? KAT often gets into immediate foul trouble.
The Wolves system is almost built to expose KAT’s deficiencies as a defender. While the team has Okogie and Culver to guard the point of attack, teams can seek out Malik Beasley and Russell and force them onto a guard and then run the action with KAT as the defender. The Wolves are also asking KAT to serve as the lone big man on the floor, inexplicably waiving the only other good frontcourt defender just before the season begins. The Wolves just waived their one defensive option in the frontcourt.
The Wolves ceiling is only as high as KAT’s defense takes it. But, by forcing that ceiling without any help, the Wolves may be asking for the house to come crashing down.
The Wolves want to win their way, with a five-out offense with multiple guards and rangy wings. But they might play away all their hands while waiting for the perfect moment, finding that the foundation has crumbled around them while they were busy making their five-year projections and forcing all the square pegs into the round holes. Or, upon finding a square peg, tossing it aside and hoping to find a better piece in the indeterminate future rather than sanding down the edges of the rigid system.
Bahamas here we come!