By: Tim Parochka
I am an honest writer and an honest person and I have no issue admitting when I'm wrong and when I'm right. I typically don't write articles breaking down the reasons why the Minnesota Timberwolves' do this well or are struggling with something else because I do not find it interesting. I can watch videos of a Timberwolves offensive or defensive possession and break it down because it's easy for me to do but I don't find what's easy, interesting.
But here I am with an explanation as to why the Timberwolves' defense stinks and it'd be unfair if I didn't share the information.
Being a good defensive team involves three principles: 1) Communication. 2) Basketball understanding or IQ. 3) Work ethic.
You must be a good communicator and being a good communicator is a part of having appropriate basketball understanding so that's why #2 is included. It's becoming increasingly clear that the Wolves lack communication and IQ defensively. I will not criticize them on their work ethic because they appear to be working hard.
This play below illustrates exactly what I'm speaking of. Nemanja Bjelica is guarding Frank Kaminsky and Kaminsky decides to drive into the paint and easily scores an uncontested layup. This should never happen and it occurred because Bjelica and Aldrich lacked communication.
It would have been easy for Bjelica and Aldrich to "switch" because it's a power-forward, center swap. Instead of communicating, Bjelica freezes while expecting Aldrich to switch without hesitation. Aldrich hesitates and works hard to recover but Kaminsky gets an easy basket.
You can see other examples of this in almost every Wolves' game and it's a basic defensive principle which derives from communicating.
This illustration is another form of lacking communication and IQ.
Carmelo Anthony receives a ball screen on the top and Rubio recognizes this and checks the offensive player rolling toward the basket so Karl-Anthony Towns has the appropriate time to help Wiggins on the screen and recover to his player. If Rubio did not do what he did, the "roller" would have had an easy basket.
However, Gorgui Dieng and Ricky Rubio do not communicate on who's going to help "the dive" from the rolling big man. Both players are putting themselves in a position to help but Gorgui Dieng doesn't recognize that he's guarding a stretch four, Kristaps Porzingis.
I put this defensive mishap on Gorgui Dieng because Gorgui should have recognized multiple things. 1) That Rubio checked the rolling offensive player and 2) he was guarding an outside shooter, Porzingis.
In the second picture seen below, the rolling big man who isn't much of a threat offensively, has attracted the attention of Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng while Porzingis receives a pass for a wide open three.
In this seris of "how not to play team defense", Zach LaVine makes an appearance.
In th video, watch Zach LaVine. You'll notice that he doesn't move and it results in the easiest basket in NBA history.
Shabazz Muhammad plays correct defense - I can't believe I just said that - and forces the ball-handler to the short corner which forces Gorgui Dieng to show help. It's now Zach LaVine's turn to make a rotation and take away the pass to the rolling big man.
This play is begging for team defense and it shows a lack of understanding from LaVine. In the picture below, the arrows indicate the movements the players should make. LaVine should take away the pass to the rolling center, thus, forcing a much further and difficult pass from Joe Ingles to Rodney Hood on the wing. Then, it should result in Kris Dunn rotating to the player Zach LaVine was guarding.
It's a classic case of "help the defender" defense.
Wide open layup.
It is defensive possessions like the ones illustrated above that has made Tom Thibodeau lose his mullet formed in 1989. It's defensive possessions like the ones illustrated above that has the Timberwolves' 6-14 in a year where there was a lot of hope.
The Wolves give up 105.6 points per game which isn't last but it's far from elite and Tom Thibodeau prides himself in being a defensive first team.
The Wolves' are young and there's still plenty of time for them to improve their communcation and defensive knowledge. I expect the Wolves to be an elite defensive team in the near future because they have the head coach, appropriate work ethic and athletic wing defenders to be one.
Sadly, it's been the same narrative for the last twelve years.
It'll take time.