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Timberwolves’ offensive Kryptonite: Zone defenses

.Minnesota has faced more zone defense than any other team in the NBA — more than a game’s worth of possessions — and is 26th in the NBA in success rate against it, averaging just 0.73 points per possession.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Kevin Garnett used to have conversations about a deflating part of the game: when you miss a shot the opposing defense is telling you to take.

“We all seen KG play here,” Towns said. “When someone can’t shoot, and he just turns his back and looks at the rim, lets ‘em shoot a three. And they air ball it, or miss it, and he starts chirping at ‘em. It’s just very deflating.”

It’s a similar feeling when the Timberwolves’ offense struggles against zone defenses. That was the case in Monday’s win over Indiana. The Pacers went to a zone defense in the second quarter, and the Timberwolves’ offense grinded to a halt.

“We started with a pretty good rhythm offensively, and (with) the zone, we missed a bunch of shots and we got static out there,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said.

That’s been a theme early this season. Minnesota has faced more zone defense than any other team in the NBA — more than a game’s worth of possessions — and is 26th in the NBA in success rate against it, averaging just 0.73 points per possession.


The Timberwolves are shooting 32 percent against the zone.

That’s a stunningly low number under any circumstance, but especially so when you consider the types of looks Minnesota is often getting against that defensive look.

The Timberwolves tend to get whatever open jump shot they want against the zone. The looks just rarely fall.

Finch said the zone “just affects your rhythm.” While players may get open shots, they don’t come with the same pace and flow as they do in normal offense. There’s no cadence to it.

There also seems to be general indecision. Yes, you may have an open look at a three, but so does the guy next to you. Pass or shoot? Drive into the zone and kick it out to try to get the defense moving, or just accept the open shot you have? Indecision enters the realm, which is never a good thing for an offense.

“Guys see a zone and they tend to freeze up a little bit. They’ve probably not seen a lot of zone. A lot of these guys spend one year in college and that’s it,” Finch said. “Zone offenses … in college, they’re real long and pattern-oriented. We don’t have the time to do that here in the (NBA). It’s literally just that simple. Guys just freeze.”

If a team hits a couple early shots in the first few possessions against a zone defense, the opponent tends to quickly shift away from it. But if you miss, everyone tightens up.

“I don’t think it’s anything more than that,” Finch said.


The Timberwolves just need to knock a few shots down to restore their confidence against the zone. There is a reason NBA teams rarely turn to zone defensive — it’s not a good, reliable scheme. Teams should torch it.

“I think it is a sign of mental warfare,” Towns said. “But I also think it’s a game plan that … with the talent we have, they’re trying to say, ‘We’ll give that up, but not this.’ We didn’t take advantage of it (Monday).”

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