A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Kurt Rambis: The Chef Who Uses Too Many Ingredients

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Kurt Rambis

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Before this season I didn’t think the Minnesota Timberwolves would be anything but a lottery team, but I expected more than this. I liked how they added a ton of 3pt shooting and spacing, their biggest weakness last year with Martell Webster, Wesely Johnson, Luke Ridnour, and Anthony Tolliver to along with Michael Beasley and Kevin Love‘s outside range. I liked the Ridnour addition because of what his steady hand did to Milwaukee last year. I liked Kevin Love playing beside role playing centers in Darko Milicic and Nik Pekovic instead of another star who didn’t fit. The team made much more sense this year structurally and more designated roles usually leads to better chemistry.

Yet despite Kevin Love having a much better season than I expected, they sit at 17 wins on April 5th and are barely holding off the last place Cleveland Cavaliers who have 15. On paper an all-star PF surrounded by shooting and size should be much better than this.

Many have pointed the finger at Love for putting up “empty stats”. I’m more inclined to blame Rambis. The problem with the Timberwolves is their strategy is fatally out of the box. The Wolves have notoriously implimented a version of the triangle/quick read and react offense. The basketball IQ and experience of the Timberwolves is not high enough for this on the fly offense. The result is a ton of missed passes and confusion leading to the Wolves ranking 30th in TOV%. A league worst TOV% hurts both their offense for obvious reasons, and their defense as it allows the opposition to get a ton of transition points counterattacking the other way. The Wolves also have the 1st ranked pace in the league and a large gap between ORB% (ranked 1st) and DRB% (ranked 18th) – both are usually be design. Rambis has the team playing fast and overcrashing the offensive glass, both of which usually come at the cost of transition defense. The complete lack of defense on the Timberwolves indicates a lack of focus or accountability on that end. Rambis is an offensive coach who isn’t coaching an effective offense.

With a great roster like the Lakers have a read and react strategy is a good idea. On a team like the Timberwolves is like a chef putting 10 different ingredients into a homemade spaghetti sauce. When you’re making homemade spaghetti going over the top with ingredients is a bad idea. You’re better off with meat sauce or tomato sauce from a can than that. A rebuilding team like the Timberwolves are homemade spaghetti.

People label coaches like Sam Mitchell, Mike Brown and Mike Woodson as poor offensively because thier sets are ‘uncreative’, but a coach should be judged on what works best and maximizes his team’s wins compared to talent – no matter what that is. Somehow Brown and Woodson got criticized for taking flawed Cavaliers and Hawks teams to 60 and 50 W seasons respectively. What more should those teams have done? A Sam Mitchell coached Timberwolves would walk the ball up the court and almost every play run a pick and roll/pick and pop between the PG and Kevin Love or an isolation for Michael Beasley. During these plays Webster, Johnson, Tolliver would stand at the 3pt line and Darko and Pekovic would wait for open passes at the rim. That’d be enough for an effective halfcourt offense. He’d then put a larger focus on defense, particularly stopping transition defense – and hooking players if their effort on that end dropped. The role players who stood at the 3pt line or under the basket would have extra energy to make this committment defensively. This is meat sauce coaching and it works. I expect it’d lead to something closer to 30 wins than 20 for this Minnesota team.

The truth is most of the best coaches don’t overcomplicate their schemes. They run pick and rolls and get their team to play defense and rebound. The call by fans to hire a coach who masters xs and os and has a football like book of plays is misguided. Offense is better off simple than complicated, especially with one of the youngest rosters in the league. If the Timberwolves want to get out of the gutter next season, they should hire a coach who simplifies the offense, slows the pace and enforces defensive effort. I believe they’d do much better with a Sam Mitchell or Mike Woodson meat sauce coach than Kurt Rambis.

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