The Minnesota Timberwolves dominated Maccabi Haifa on Sunday evening in what was their first win of the preseason. Let’s talk takeaways.
The Minnesota Timberwolves dropped their first two preseason games on the road at Phoenix and Golden State and returned to Target Center for their lone home tune-up tilt.
It was a walk in the park, as the Wolves outscored Maccabi Haifi by a 34-14 margin in the second quarter to pull away and win easily.
The Wolves starters only played in the first quarter and were all phased out by the start of the second frame, with the Wolves leading 33-25 at the time. Jarrett Culver‘s 24 minutes were a team high, and outside of Jaylen Nowell‘s 22 minutes nobody on the team played more than 17.
For the first time this preseason, two-way player Jordan McLaughlin saw the court, as did training camp invitees Jordan Murphy and Lindell Wigginton. Several players had a chance to run the point, including combo guard Tyrone Wallace, who is still fighting for a roster spot, McLaughlin, and 16 minutes from Shabazz Napier.
The Warriors’ win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in Thursday night’s preseason game was far too easy, and the Wolves’ new offense clearly has a ways to go.
Preseason games shouldn’t get headlines like the above, since the score doesn’t matter. But that’s exactly what happened.
One could argue that on paper, the Minnesota Timberwolves should have won this game due to a superior starting lineup.
When your starting center is Karl-Anthony Towns and the other team starts Marquese Chriss, you should win. Chriss is a 22-year-old fourth-year player that has already played for three teams in three years, and it’s fair to say that he’s been a disappointment.
Of course we hope for the best for Chriss, but good feelings aside, it’s a matchup that Towns should dominate. Instead, the Wolves All-Star had a team-worst plus-minus in 22 minutes.
In reality, Towns could’ve dominated if he was fed in the post but the Wolves obviously wanted to work out of the perimeter. This is a new modern style that the Wolves are adopting, and win or lose, they must work on it this preseason.
The Warriors are playing roughly same style, but of course it doesn’t look anything like the Wolves’ offense at this stage. Just looking at the box score one can conclude that former MVP, Stephen Curry, just got hot and won the game and the Wolves’ defense just didn’t step up. But that just part of the story.
Steve Kerr runs a motion offense which puts pressure on the defense not only north to south but also east to west. The key to that offense is getting multiple screens in the same possession. In a north-to-south scenario, the ball-handler will get a screen which allows him to drive towards the rim and force the switch on a slower big man while the screener rolls hard to the basket, giving the ball handler a lob passing option.
In the Warriors case, D’Angelo Russell is very good at finding the roller for lobs and even though he isn’t the best at scoring at the rim, he has a floater and great court awareness to find open shooters or cutters. Simultaneously, Draymond Green will often set a screen for Steph Curry who doesn’t have the ball to sprint around the perimeter allowing Russell to find him for a wide open 3-point shot.
This type of east-to-west action is extremely effective, mostly notably because Curry is a great shooter but also because it forces the two defenders to communicate. If they don’t, not only could Curry hit a 3-point shot but Green could also have an easy cut to the rim or be wide-open for a 3-point attempt himself.
In the Wolves’ case, the offensive sets similarly on the perimeter but often they’ve been setting less screens and the ball-handler is forced to break down the defender all by himself and drive to the rim while the other four players stand behind the 3-point line hoping to get a pass. Sometimes, if the ball-handler draws a double team, then a cutter has the green light to get to the rim and become a passing option.
The problem with this offense is it puts a lot of pressure on the ball-handler to beat a good perimeter defender in isolation and only one defender is working hard while the other four are standing and resting because no other offensive player is doing anything. And, over a 48-minute game, the opposition has some opportunity to rest on defense while the Wolves have to work extremely hard not only defending the point of attack but also navigating multiple screens, chasing open 3-point shooters, lobs at the rim, and reading screeners and anticipating cutters.
Kerr’s offense simply puts his players in favorable position to succeed, and outside of Green, Curry, and Russell, this looks like a team filled with G Leaguers, at least on paper. Yet rookie Jordan Poole, who most believed was a reach with the No. 28 pick, ended with an efficient 19 points in 21 minutes and Chriss looked like a legit starter.
Once again, Kerr has designed a genius offense and added top talent to his roster. At least as of right now, it appears possible that the dynasty might just continue despite the free agent departures and injuries.
On the bright side, this is only a preseason loss and Ryan Saunders and Pablo Prigioni have amassed pages of notes on what a championship-caliber offense looks like and it all starts with setting more screens.
Speaking of screens, Naz Reid really impressed with how he screens and rolls to the rim. In only 17 minutes he ended up with five offensive rebounds and got himself 14 easy points at the rim.
Yes, Towns is the most talented center in isolation but against championship-caliber teams you need more than just talent. Sometimes you just need to bring brute physicality and hustle and open up the offense just by setting good screens for your teammates, and Naz Reid led by example in this meaningless game.
If Saunders doesn’t incorporate more screens to open up easy opportunities for his players, it’s tough to see a happy ending for the Wolves this season despite a solid roster. Josh Okogie, Treveon Graham, Andrew Wiggins, Jarrett Culver, Robert Covington, and Jake Layman are all capable screen-setters away from the ball which would open up easy cuts to the rim and uncontested 3-point shots. That’s huge for this team, since only Towns and Covington have proven that they can hit a contested 3-pointer.
As far as cutting to the rim, you don’t need to wait for your defender to look away to cut, but can force it by setting a screen. That’s one of the main differences with the Warriors: they force the defense to react to their action and not the other way around.
But, it was a preseason game, and Kerr and the Warriors are certainly further along in their offense than Saunders is in implementing his. Here’s hoping that things look much better come Oct. 23 in Brooklyn!
There wasn’t much to take serious note of in terms of how the team played on either end of the court given the blowout nature of the game, but let’s take a look at some individual performances and a continuing trend surrounding the team.
1. The 3-point barrage continues, and it was more accurate
Clearly, the Timberwolves will be shooting many more 3-pointers this year. That takeaway isn’t necessarily a surprise, but instead, it’s the gradual improvement that they’ve made over their three preseason games.
In Phoenix, the Wolves shot a horrendous 8-for-39 (20.5 percent). Against the Warriors, the Wolves were just 14-for-49 (28.6 percent) from beyond the arc. But on Sunday evening against Maccabi Haifa, the Wolves knocked down 14 of their 36 long-range shots, a 38.9 percent clip.
Robert Covington, Andrew Wiggins, Treveon Graham, and Jake Layman each had two made threes, and nobody else had more than one.
2. Jarrett Culver’s aggressiveness
Culver’s numbers weren’t as eye-popping as they were in his first couple of preseason appearances, but he was absolutely aggressive and impressive on offense.
Culver routinely was able to get downhill and head to the rim. There were multiple nice finishes in the paint as part of a 5-of-9 shooting night with four assists and three rebounds. His only four misses were from beyond the arc.
3. The wing rotation
Again, there isn’t anything to truly glean from the wing rotation in terms of minutes allotment, as head coach Ryan Saunders distributed minutes extremely evenly across the board. But some of the groupings were certainly notable.
Graham started his second consecutive game after Layman started the preseason opener in Phoenix. He’s probably the most well-rounded player that will be jockeying for playing time alongside Culver, Covington, and Wiggins.
Layman had a strong stretch off the bench, including a nice block on defense that turned into a big dunk in transition off a long pass from Napier. Nowell, this year’s second-round pick and probably the fifth or sixth-man deep in the wing rotation, saw heavy playing time and showed a nice scoring touch.
Next up, the Wolves will head to Indianapolis to take on the Pacers on Tuesday night before wrapping up the preseason on Thursday in Milwaukee.