Life is good, friends.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are playing some of their best ball of their season and are in the thick of the playoff race with opportunities to rise even higher. They employ Kyle Anderson. Karl-Anthony Towns is back. All things to make us all smile in a roller coaster of a season that has somehow transformed from bad to injury riddled to cautiously optimistic to apocalyptic to remade to now, where we have crept out of the National Media bomb shelter after the supposed worst trade ever for Rudy Gobert and facilitating a La-La-lambasted D’Angelo Russell homecoming that we get to experience genuine praise.
No, the 2023 Timberwolves are not this decades iteration of the oft compared, never replicated 2004 Detroit Pistons. But maybe, just maybe, the comparisons created by first hand viewer and personal hero Rasheed Wallace can be a path for the Wolves moving forward.
To begin with, comparing Ben Wallace and Gobert is about as easy as a good fried egg (sorry, Ted Lasso has me saying some crazy things). Both are multiple-time Defensive Players of the Year and likely the best rim protectors of their generation that were also both incredibly specialized. As co-host Rob Perez says, “outside of five feet, Ben was a liability.” Gobert has improved miles as a passer on the short roll this year, but his offensive game is still two-dimensional at best.
This is why the concept of Towns needing to be the “complement” is so fascinating. KAT is, at worst, the second best player on this team so asking him to take a smaller role to help Gobert seems insane. And yet, here’s one of the most ahead-of-their-time players of the last twenty five years advocating for it.
Let’s dive in to the strategies suggested and the potential hope they could bring. It’s time to investigate the technical.
The first thing Sheed brings up was Ben’s impact on the offensive glass. Wallace averaged a staggering 3.9 offensive rebounds per game in his first stint with the Pistons. While he never averaged double digit shot attempts, it was these extra touches for the team that alleviated the struggle of being an offensive non-factor outside of the restricted area. But, this is not just a question of numbers. Despite his era-abnormal 6-foot-9 height, Big Ben was known for his outstanding core strength and physical prowess on both the offensive and defensive glass. Quite simply, he was a grinder on the court, and that meant every effort was made when he was engaged.
While Gobert’s physical measurements far surpass Wallace, with their wingspan being separated by nearly a full Subway sandwich, this has been the exact element that Wolves Head Coach Chris Finch has replicated. Gobert was brought in to fill a rebounding need on the defensive end after a disastrous showing in last year’s series against the Memphis Grizzlies. Gobert is matching his career average of 3.3 offensive rebounds a game, but is all the way up to 4.3 in his last ten games. In fact, Rudy had six on Wednesday against a Phoenix Suns front court that is by no means lacking size and added five last night against the Los Angeles Lakers. Continuing to get Gobert going on the offensive glass could quickly increase opportunities for a half court offense that needs to find a way to get easy points.
It is also here where I need to mention that Wallace refused to rebound if he didn’t get post touches while on the Chicago Bulls, so getting some touches for your low man doesn’t seem like the worst idea, especially if they can generate them through sheer effort.
High-Low, Try to Flow
While attacking the glass will largely be done by Gobert in the paint, this point depends on KAT. As Sheed explains it, attacking a four-out defense, a common look the Wolves face, now comes down to KAT’s ability to pass and shoot and, crucially, his ability to find balance. Towns should be launching threes all game with how this team plays, but his post game has yet to make a huge appearance since returning from injury.
Considering the clogged lanes of the early 2000s, this may be a look that could struggle today, but keeping Gobert in the dunker’s spot while KAT attacks his forward matchup would be a way to diversify the offensive approach. I, personally, am not fully on board with this approach, as KAT faces doubles enough as it is, but if Karl continues to improve as a passer, or even returns to his early season showings, this could certainly provide a matchup nightmare.
In Sheed’s words, “Who are they gonna go against in the playoffs that has a seven foot center and a seven foot power forward? That’s their advantage.”
The Other Guys
This is where we get into the fan fiction.
Part of why I am so intrigued by this comparison to the Pistons is because it doesn’t end at the big men. While Jaden McDaniels’ offensive workload seems considerably larger than that of Tayshaun Prince, the defensive comparisons are there for two skinny, lanky, Gumby-like wings. Ant and Rip Hamilton aren’t the best comparison, but there is something there on the defensive end, where Edwards is growing into being a stout stopper. Most notably, those ‘04 Pistons were led by Chauncey Billups, who managed the ship and kept everyone balanced and on point while adding his own flare when necessary. Sounds a whole lot like Mike Conley to me. There’s other little comparisons here and there (Wolves legend Darko Miličić and Luka Garza are both misused bigs who can offer a lot to whoever can tap into them), but the main issue comes in era.
That’s where the comparison falls apart. The Wolves are not going to run a post centric offense. Even with two seven footers, the aforementioned high low game leaves two players who aren’t the best in close quarters among five pursuant attackers. These solutions are situational, but looking at pairing like Sheed and Ben should be how the Wolves manage and grow their own supersized pairing. How about implementing some old school Kevin Love - Nikola Peković off ball screens? What about some continued inspiration from the DeMarcus Cousins - Anthony Davis pairing that Finch helped coach?
There is inspiration everywhere. While Sheed may not have the answers, he has the process. And that is more than half the battle.
Both Sheed and Rob couldn’t help themselves but glow about Naz Reid. The former LSU star is getting more and more shine, and no one deserves it more. After lauding the former Jelly Fam member, Sheed compared the contract situation to his own in Portland. According to Wallace, Naz may not be around for much longer.
Here’s the clip: