The Minnesota Timberwolves have lost ground in the playoffs standings, and even though it’s early in the season tonight’s game against the Jazz is a must win.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have already split two games with the Jazz, so breaking the tie is crucial for playoff seeding and it would bring the two teams closer in the standings as Minnesota trails Utah by 2.5 games for the sixth spot in the West.
With a starting lineup of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Jarrett Culver, Josh Okogie and Robert Covington, the Wolves must play fast in transition especially off of defensive reabounds while Gobert is 94 feet away from the basket. Outside of Gobert, the Jazz play a small lineup which will allow the Wolves to finish strong in transition.Culver has already had some highlight dunks in transition this year and he must continue to do that in tonight’s matchup.
In the halfcourt, the Wolves should slow it down and set up the high pick-and-roll with KAT and Wiggins from the top of the key. With Okogie spotting up on the far left corner and RoCo on the right corner, KAT and Wiggins should have enough space to operate in the middle.
Since Wiggins prefers to drive to his right, Culver should be spotted up around the left break meaning the closest Wolf to Wiggins besides KAT is RoCo who is spotting up 33 feet away from him on the right corner. With all that space it would be impossible to double Wiggins on the perimeter unless they leave KAT wide open from the top of the key or RoCo in the right corner.
Royce O’Neale will likely guard Wiggins and Gobert will guard KAT, so Towns is going to have to set screens on O’Neale for Wiggins force the mismatch with Gobert 23 feet away from the basket. If O’Neale switches onto KAT, Wiggins is going to have to drive to the rim on Gobert which gives the Wolves an advantage because Gobert is too slow to defend Wiggins that far away from the basket. At this point, the Jazz can only help Gobert with the wing defender guarding Covington leaving RoCo for the wide open corner three which is a great shot.
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If O’Neale fights over the screen, Gobert is still going to have to hedge on Wiggins and wait for O’Neale to recover which means Wiggins has to pass to a wide open KAT. And if O’Neale uses that strategy, Towns has the option to either spot up for an open three or roll since there is no one inhibiting him from reaching the rim.
This is the best possible scenario for the Wolves with KAT being the best three-point shooter on the team as well as the best at scoring in the post, especially with no one in front of him.
If O’Neale goes under the screen, Wiggins can take the open three off the dribble or pass it to KAT for an open shot from deep if Gobert hasn’t recovered to him yet. Or Wiggins can choose to drive it on O’Neale.
Another scenario involves KAT touching the ball at the top of the key where Wiggins can run around him, fake the handoff, and cut to the rim for a pass from KAT or Towns can drive on Gobert from the top of the key. These different plans of attack in the high pick-and-roll with KAT and Wiggins give them multiple looks to score, and getting Gobert away from the paint is the key to winning this game.
The Timberwolves have two stars that are in the top 15 in scoring, and the only other team with that luxury are the Lakers, who sit atop the NBA. The pick-and-roll between AD and LeBron has been dominating the league while the Wiggins and KAT pick-and-roll has been on mute so far.
It’s time for Saunders to change that.
Since Teague has gone to the bench, Saunders has staggered KAT and Wiggins to make sure that at least one of them is on the floor at all times. Also, all of the different lineup combinations that Saunders thrown out there has hurt the defense because they’ve been unable to form chemistry as a unit.
Saunders should play his starters and then sub an entire bench unit so that the players get used to playing with same lineups and can better understand how to defend the pick and roll together. Defense is all about communication and knowing whether your teammates are going to switch, hedge, drop, or fight through the screen and with all the lineup combinations Saunders is throwing out there it just confuses everyone.
Playing the same five-man lineups would also help their chemistry on offense as teammates can better anticipate where the other players will be and know when someone will cut or where someone will spot up which leads to less turnovers.
Hopefully Ryan Saunders will implement some of these ideas into his game plan tonight in a crucial divisional matchup against Utah.