In basketball cutting is a skill, and an important one at that. Just ask the defending champions– the Golden State Warriors. They have mastered the art of off-ball cutting and it has made their offense historically great. The Minnesota Timberwolves need to take a page out of the Warriors playbook and learn the art of cutting.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — On what should have been a quiet Monday night, violent screams of “CUT! CUT! CUT!” echoed through the halls of my college dorm room. Taken out of context, some people might think I was taking part in an initiation ceremony for a cult that I started or something. No, it was just me watching the Minnesota Timberwolves play down to their competition for a second consecutive game. If that wasn’t bad enough, I had too watch as the Memphis Grizzlies (0-11 in last 11 games) beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 95-92. One of the Wolves biggest issues in the game was their stagnant offense.
For a team that hates shooting three’s and relies so heavily on mid-range postups by Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, the Wolves sure do love to stay on the perimeter and watch as yet another fade-away, mid-range, or long two clanks off the rim.
Karl-Anthony Towns has earned enough respect around the league to more often than not get double-teamed in the post. If a double-team happens, it’s easy math–someone is open. Generally the extra defender will come from the backside. The Timberwolves appear to be okay with letting the double-team happen without make the defense pay for it. A good team like the Warriors would have multiple guys cutting to the basket catching the defense on their heels to maybe get an easy layup, or if nothing else, not let the double-team happen. For all of the orders Tom Thibodeau barks out on the defensive end, it might be helpful if just once he encouraged his team to cut to the basket, or at least have some player movement on offense. When coaches are mic’d up for nationally televised games, what do they say in the huddle? Ball movement and player movement. It’s a phrase that is repeated constantly, but It’s a cliché that has fallen on deaf ears.
Here is a free coaching lesson: cutting away from the ball loosens up the defense so not all five defenders can key in on the guy with the ball (generally in post or mid-post region). This is a fundamental part of the game of basketball, but one that is being lost on younger generations. Last year during the Olympics, Serbia and Australia nearly defeated the much more talented U.S.A. team because they had such great ball and player movement. The defense couldn’t key in on one guy, which in turn made them harder to guard. European basketball thrives off of cutting and player movement, as do the Warriors. While isolation basketball has been the name of the game for most of the NBA for several years. Remember when the 2014 Spurs annihilated LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the finals with amazing ball movement and Tony Parker as their only All-Star? You’ve gotta love them Spurs.
Wiggins and Butler are not strong outside shooters only shooting 31.5 percent and 37 percent respectively from three this season. It is easy to see they don’t like shooting three’s as both would much prefer a mid-range, pull-up off the dribble–an analytics person’s worst nightmare. Why is it that when there is a post-up, both guys just sit on the perimeter stagnantly? How will that help? The defenders can just lag off of them because they know they hate shooting three’s.
Both Butler and Wiggins are classified as “slashers” in the NBA. Do you know why that is? It’s because to be most effective and hide their poor outside shots, these athletic wings would “slash” to the basket to loosen up the defense and get an easy dunk. Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler are both capable outside shooters, but at their cores they are still slashers. Act like it! CUT!