Repeating Sets: How the Wolves successfully tweak plays


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A somewhat hidden, highly entertaining aspect of Minnesota’s offensive success so far this season has been Rick Adelman’s proclivity for running nearly identical sets, but changing something slightly to throw off the opposing defense. When spotted, these sets feel like video game Easter eggs — small and unobtrusive, but very fun. I mentioned this tendency in Howlin T-Wolf’s recap of Monday’s frustrating loss to Orlando, and upon further review, it merits closer examination.

Early in the third quarter, before everything went to hell faster than Dimebag Darrell on the day he died, Minnesota had a play fall apart a bit when Andrei Kirilenko passed on a decently open shot. Here’s what transpired:

 

The easiest way to get a quick basket without pulling up for a contested jumper is to run a high pick-and-roll with a good ball-handler/passer, trusting them to create something. Here, after overloading the floor on one side and leaving Ridnour on his own in the opposite corner, the Wolves run a pick-and-roll with Nikola Pekovic and Alexey Shved. Shved is a decent ball-handler, and his court vision is good as well. But when a defense clusters together like this, the correct play is pretty obvious.

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Jameer Nelson drops way off Ridnour to cover a rolling Pekovic which does prevent the open layup, although Nelson’s presence seems to confuse Josh McRoberts. McRoberts realizes where he should be much too late and goes flying out after Ridnour after the ball has arrived. This, incidentally, would have left Kirilenko open had Ridnour decided to make one more pass, but Ridnour buries the corner three. All in all, a pretty normal play: The Magic struggled to figure out their switches, and the Wolves, with a simple pick-and-roll, extended their lead to 15.

On the next possession, the Wolves appear to run a very similar set. (I apologize for the music playing in the background…screen recording mistake.)

At the beginning, this play is almost identical. Once again, Shved is the ball-handler. Once again Pek sets a screen to Shved’s left and rolls to the basket. Once again, the only Magic player who stops Pek’s roll to the basket is Jameer Nelson. Once again, Shved curls off the screen, sees Ridnour mostly uncovered in the corner and passes to him. But since the P&R started closer to the right side of the floor, Nelson has time to get back and stop Ridnour from scoring, so Ridnour passes inside to Pekovic. Since Nelson was the player blocking Pek’s roll, Pek has been able to get nearly directly under the basket before McRoberts gets over to stop his progress. On one hand, McRoberts did recover quickly enough to contest Pek’s shot a bit. On the other hand, Pek caught the pass with both feet inside the lowest block and really should have scored.

Despite Pek’s miss (and despite the events that would follow), sequences like this are becoming more frequent. The simplicity is part of the effectiveness, and they point to the kind of work a talented coach like Adelman can do with a full training camp and an increasingly talented roster.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.