Deep Dive: Pinpointing The Problems
Taking a look at single plays that paint the full picture of Minnesota's issues.
And the search for chemistry, consistency, and constant competitiveness continues. The logic says that those traits will take time. The Minnesota Timberwolves didn’t strip their roster bare and reconstruct it from scratch, but they tinkered with the very fibers that made it click last season. Logistical thinking makes sense, but it’s hard to grasp firmly onto logic when the flames of fandom are crackling.
Still, even with that logic in mind, there are moments when the problems arise and make themselves abundantly clear. Where everything that you know is crippling the Wolves manifests itself in the light of day. Let’s take a look at those plays, specifically from important individual players, and why they’re the embodiment of many of the issues bubbling away in Wolves World.
Russell’s Defensive … Upside?
The tales of D’Angelo Russell’s defensive apathy aren’t groundbreaking. We’ve seen him lacking motivation and verve on that end since he entered the league. Nothing has changed this season. In fact, his mental lapses have become more frequent and more egregious.
This clip here, though, might be the bigger issue. Even when Russell does try, even when he does seem to be engaged and active, he is a huge liability. Even if Minnesota’s coaching staff could pry consistent effort from his cold, dead hands, they would have to wade through the melody of athletic deficiencies and bad habits.
In the play above, he is sitting in his version of a stance, his hands are active, and his head is on a swivel. And yet, he still gets shoved in a blender and spun into oblivion. A barely-brushed screen puts him behind the play and while his next move could be called a help rotation, it is more of a wander than anything done with any defensive conviction.
Last season, Chris Finch and his coaching staff were able to hide Russell on corner shooters or low-usage starters and allow Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt to do the hounding and harassing on the ball. That was a role where Russell could thrive as a high-IQ quarterback who could use his voice and floor mapping to get others to do the heavy lifting. Now, those insulation pieces are gone, and the much-maligned point guard is being picked on relentlessly.
The Wolves’ defense hasn’t been their main issue this season. They’re actually the seventh most effective defense according to Cleaning The Glass. However, Russell’s shortcomings are a fault line that will be stretched further and further open as they continue to face more dynamic offenses.
Minnesota are likely to continue playing drop coverage and asking their point-of-attack defenders to slither through screens and provide defensive coverage in pick-and-roll. They haven’t shown the willingness to tag the roller hard and commit more perimeter players into the action (because it would mean leaving shooters more open). They want to play two-on-two in ball-screen actions. All of that means Russell needs to be a neutral-to-good ball-stopper. So far, he is furlongs below that mark.
The problem is that he might not ever get there. His effort plays still end up in easy looks far too often. There just simply isn’t any real upside there, and the likelihood of it staying that way is an issue.
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