Minnesota Timberwolves: 3 key takeaways from Wolves in preseason

Head coach Chris Finch of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)
Head coach Chris Finch of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images) /
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Minnesota Timberwolves, Karl-Anthony Towns
Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

Takeaway No. 2: Minnesota Timberwolves’ new-look defense

The Wolves’ defensive issues over the past several years have been well-documented, and everyone knows that the roster has the firepower and versatility to be a top-10 unit, and potentially one of the very best scoring attacks in the league.

Put simply, the defense will be the difference between a win total in the 30s and a trip to the playoffs. While much of the roster remains intact from last year, the defensive coordinator is new and so is the scheme. And, don’t forget — most of the roster is intact, but veteran newcomers Prince and Beverley will add important elements to the team that did not previously exist.

First, the defensive strategy. Instead of playing a drop scheme as they did under former defensive coordinator David Vanterpool, the Wolves will be asking the defender guarding the screener to play at the level of the screen.

Basically, instead of asking their big (often, Towns) to drop into the paint in an attempt to help contain dribble penetration and take away passing angles, the Wolves will ask him to play at the level of the screen, which should prevent wide-open jumpers from the ball-handler and successful short rolls from the screener.

In the new scheme, the Wolves will often have a weakside defender “tag” the roller and they’ll ask their defenders to “X-out”, which basically means that they’ll scramble to cover each other’s perimeter assignments. That gives them the best possible chance to contest any 3-point attempts once the ball is swung around the arc. The low defender, who didn’t carry as much responsibility in the low scheme, will essentially be tasked with stepping up to cover for the big guarding the action on the perimeter.

Of course, this scheme requires 1) plenty of versatile defenders who are ideally long and athletic, and 2) consistent sustained effort on the defensive end of the floor. Both have been issues in recent years.

But this year’s roster includes Beverley, who is a three-time member of the All-Defensive Team and was recently one of just six players across the league who earned votes from NBA GMs as the league’s best perimeter defender. It also includes Prince, who, when healthy, can guard at least three positions and is an intelligent defender who has been in multiple schemes on largely successful teams.

Don’t forget about long, athletic second-year forward McDaniels or Okogie, the team’s best incumbent defender. Vanderbilt is an above-average defender and a strong rebounder, too.

The energy thing has been much better in preseason, too, but obviously needs to be sustained over the course of a season. That starts with the stars, who have all been guilty of subpar urgency on the defensive end of the floor in their careers.

All things considered, this year’s Wolves defense has all the ingredients to be much improved. Now, it’s up to the players to execute on a consistent basis.