Defense Has Been The Key To Both Wins
Timberwolves record on the road during the 2014-15 season: 9-32
Timberwolves record on the road through the first two games in 2015-16: 2-0
The Timberwolves defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in a late-night thriller on Wednesday by a final score of 112-111. Then, the Wolves defeated the Denver Nuggets on Friday evening by a final score of 95-78.
So what’s changed?
Ricky Rubio has been playing something resembling the best basketball of his career through the first two games of the season. Kevin Garnett and Tayshaun Prince have set a defensive tone that the rest of the team has followed. Karl-Anthony Towns has been the rim-protector that Wolves fans have begged for over the past four seasons and to be honest, it doesn’t hurt that the Timberwolves played against two opponents that aren’t very good.
Last season, the Minnesota Timberwolves played their best defensive game of the season against the Washington Wizards — also the first game Kevin Garnett played with the Wolves. The Timberwolves held the Wizards under 80 points in that contest.
Kevin Garnett has played in seven games since his return to the Minnesota Timberwolves dating back to last February. In two of those games, the Wolves have held their opponent to less than 80 points twice – the Denver game Friday evening and the Wizards game from last season.
Kevin Garnett is not the same player he once was defensively, but I would argue that he is still one of the best pick-and-roll defenders in the NBA. Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, Tayshaun Prince, and Karl-Anthony Towns all understand defensive concepts and it’s been a treat to see as the Wolves have been horrible defensively for a long time.
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Against Los Angeles the Wolves struggled to defend without fouling but still managed to hold the Lakers to just 37 percent shooting in the game. On Friday, the Nuggets simply struggled all game to find offensive rhythm.
The Timberwolves still have their defensive woes at times, especially when the bench enters the game, but the Wolves are finally playing help-the-helper defense.
Karl-Anthony Towns has been nothing short of phenomenal through his first two games. Against the Lakers, Towns scored 14 points and had 12 rebounds. Against Denver, Towns put up 28 points and hauled in 14 rebounds.
Towns has shown the ability to dominate offensively and he’s only nineteen years of age. He’s has been patient, but aggressive. He even be the best dribbling center in the NBA and he has used that skill to score in a variety of ways.
This move right here is advanced. This is not rookie-like whatsoever.
Towns has been doing things similar to what Kevin Garnett was doing in his prime. It seems to be a fact that Towns is more skilled (or, at least, less raw) as a rookie than Garnett was as a rookie.
Karl Anthony Towns is a nineteen year old rookie playing like a 26 year old veteran. There will be some tough nights for Karl for sure, but Karl has taken the Timberwolves offense and defense to another level.
Rubio has shot the ball with confidence and is the biggest reason why the Timberwolves defeated the Lakers on opening night. Rubio came off the pick-and-roll and canned jumpers at the elbows all game long.
Rubio didn’t shoot the ball as well against the Denver Nuggets, but Ricky’s shot still looked confident. Most of his jumpers against Denver rattled in and out, and that’s better than you would think. “Good” and “bad” misses do exist, especially in the mind of a player who’s struggled with confidence throughout his NBA career.
Ricky Rubio doesn’t need to shoot like Stephen Curry; he only needs to give off the threat to defenses that he can shoot the ball somewhat efficiently. If Rubio continues to provide a scoring threat for the Timberwolves, then defenses will not be able to sit in his passing lanes and there will be much more spacing for Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
In this highlight video against the Lakers, look how the defense guards Rubio on the pick-and-pop at the 1:15 minute mark. Rubio made some shots so it forced the player defending Rubio to go over the screen instead of under which meant the player that was helping in that situation, had to stay in the paint or else Rubio would have had a wide open lane for a layup.
As a result, it left Nemanja Bjelica wide open for a three point field goal.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are much better with Ricky Rubio on the court, and there are plenty of statistics to back that up. Of course, Zach LaVine is a shooting guard forced to play the backup point guard position, skewing those numbers just a bit. The offense has absolutely no flow with LaVine at the point guard position because it’s simply not the best place for LaVine to succeed.
Basically, LaVine has to play the backup point guard role to get minutes based on how the starting lineup is set. Kevin Martin will get minutes because he can score, so LaVine has to play point guard to get minutes.