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Timberwolves continue to try to add different defenses to arsenal

Minnesota’s defense drops off dramatically when it shifts schemes. The Wolves opened their game Wednesday against Phoenix back in the trusty high-wall look.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Dallas Mavericks
Minnesota Timberwolves guard Patrick Beverley (22) guards Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) during the second half Monday, March 21, 2022, at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Kevin Jairaj / USA Today Sports

If you’re wondering why Mavericks center Dwight Powell continuously found himself open for dunks in Dallas’ win over Minnesota on Monday, well, you weren’t alone.

It had to do with the Timberwolves’ coverage.

“We were in a drop (coverage),” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch explained. “He got behind them and that wasn’t supposed to happen in a drop.”

That’s the pick and roll coverage where the big man defending the screen — usually Karl-Anthony Towns — drops back toward the hoop as the ball handler and the roll man heads toward the bucket, with the goal of Towns keeping everything in front of him.

But Towns often becomes too engaged with the ball handler, leaving the rolling back man free to get behind him for an easy pass and dunk.

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Drop coverage hasn’t been kind to Towns throughout his career. He’s proven much more effective this season when he’s allowed to meet the ball handler out on the perimeter, fresh off the screen in the “high wall” look. That’s the look Minnesota has employed for much of this season and reverted back to in the second half of the loss to Dallas.

“We just needed to up our aggressiveness,” Finch said. “We started the game in a drop and we didn’t have much impact right there. We just needed to up our aggressiveness.”

The drop coverage did help Minnesota limit Luka Doncic’s scoring, but it was at the cost of easy assists for Doncic to dunkers down low.

“We obviously know in any defensive coverage, there’s going to be a weak spot in it. We knew what the weak spot was,” Towns said. “I thought we did a good job of containing their best player and making him have to work for a lot of shots.”

Finch and the coaching staff remain hopeful that the Wolves can add to their defensive war chest with multiple looks that they can employ throughout a game or, perhaps, a playoff series.

“We’re not gonna just be able to get away with high wall the whole game,” Jaylen Nowell said. “So we want to make sure we can do every single thing and execute every single defense.”

They haven’t been able to prove that yet. Minnesota’s defense drops off dramatically when it shifts schemes. The Wolves opened their game Wednesday against Phoenix back in the trusty high-wall look.

“I definitely think that’s one of our best defenses right now. I think we get a lot of stops with those,” Nowell said. “So I think when we do that, when we’re in that type of defense, we do tend to get a lot more stops. But as for the playoffs — I’ve never been to the playoffs — but I mean that’s a whole different ball game. We’re gonna have to be able to play all different types of defenses. That’s why we’re kind of going away from that, trying to see what else we can improve on.”

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