Wolves Show Ability To Play Small With 3-Guard Rotations

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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In the second half of Saturday’s 114-106 overtime win against Dallas, the Timberwolves got a chance to see who creative their three-guard sets can be with Ricky Rubio on the floor. It’s a rotation they used last season with Rubio, Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea but have done so sparingly this year prior to Saturday night.

But with the Mavericks going small themselves and putting Derek Fisher, Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo on the floor together at different points in the third and fourth, coach Rick Adelman tried his hand at doing the same. Near the end of the third and beginning of the fourth the Rubio, Barea and Alexey Shved combination played together, and near the end of the fourth Rubio, Shved and Ridnour ended regulation.

The prospect of Rubio and Shved on the floor together is something Wolves fans have desired to see since the rookie from Russia joined the team this fall; putting the two on the floor together promised for electric ball movement and flashy finishes. Add a third guard into the mix, and the Wolves got the opportunity to test out their optimal lineup for attacking opposing defenses with countless pick and roll opportunities.

As the Wolves face Orlando tonight—another team that has the potential to play small with Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and J.J. Redick in its back court—it will be intriguing to see if those three-guard sets get minutes again. According to basketball-reference.com the Magic have used that Afflalo-Nelson-Redick back court in about 20 percent of their minutes this year, and E-Twaun Moore has also been part of Orlando's three-guard rotations. The possibility of seeing it tonight is very possible.

The Wolves expect to play Rubio tonight and not tomorrow against the Heat, and with Rubio’s monitored minutes it could affect whether or not Adelman wants to use three of his four healthy guards at the same time tonight. Fatigue could set in tomorrow night in Miami.

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But if he needs to match up with Orlando’s small lineup, Adelman has the ability to do so.

“That’s the one thing we have with those guys is we can do what a lot of teams do: We can play the pick and roll,” Adelman said. “The first one doesn’t work, and we swing it to someone else and we run another one. Eventually the other team isn’t going to be ready for that second one, and we can do that two or three times.”

Adelman said when you create that pick and roll movement one after another, it can eventually open up a crease for guys like center Nikola Pekovic rolling down the middle. When the Wolves get to that point, Pekovic is a handful to stop.

From their teammates’ perspective, the way those four guards can combine into a three-guard rotation makes it hard on the opposition to know when the Wolves are going to strike. Derrick Williams said each can put the ball on the floor, facilitate the ball and come off screens effectively. He’s seen that set in practice over the past two weeks, and each guy represents a different dynamic with the ball in his hands.

“It’s pretty hard to guard when you have Alexey jumping in the air, looking for 3-4 different guys on one possession, and JJ getting to the basket and Ricky throwing stuff between his legs,” Williams said. “It’s just hard to guard.”

It’s a handful for opposing teams offensively because of the speed, court vision and quickness these Timberwolves guards present, but on the defensive end it’s a stretch. Depending on the matchups, the Wolves can give up a size advantage on the defensive end.

Ridnour said it’s a challenge defensively, but it pays off with how well the Wolves can move the ball on the other end.

And when Shved is on the court, his 6-foot-6 frame adds height that wasn’t available with the Rubio (6-foot-4), Ridnour (6-foot-2) and Barea (6-foot-0) playing side-by-side a year ago.

“It’s just tough for teams to match up because so many guys can handle the ball and make plays,” Ridnour said. “We have to scrap on defense and find ways to get stop, and we were able to do that [Saturday]. The guys did a good job of rebounding, the big guys, and we were able to get out in transition. Hopefully we are able to keep getting better at it.”

Adelman said that’s the key. If the Wolves can withstand the defensive size disadvantage, the three-guard rotation can act as a change of pace.

“As long as we can defend,” Adelman said. “That’s the biggest thing. We have to be able to defend the other team.”


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