Scoggins: Wolves no longer defensive about defense

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 28, 2012 - 9:39 AM

At coach Rick Adelman's insistence, the Wolves are much better at thwarting foes' offenses this season.

hide

The Wolves have played better defense this season.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

You could see the disgust on Rick Adelman's face and hear it in his voice.

The veteran coach kicked off his first training camp as the Timberwolves leader with a general overview of his new team. He began by sharing his honest opinion on how his players treated defense last season.

"It's horrendous the way they approach it," he said.

Adelman left little doubt that his team's defensive deficiencies must change under his watch. So far, the statistics reflect an improvement that deserves mention among reasons for the Wolves surprising turnaround, their 17-17 record and a percolating optimism that the playoffs don't sound so far-fetched as the second half of the season begins Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

The Wolves are relevant again primarily because of Ricky Rubio's playmaking and unselfishness, Kevin Love's continued ascension, Nikola Pekovic's toughness and Adelman's mastery. And they're not horrendous on defense any more, which gets lost amid the other positive developments happening with this team.

The Wolves rank tied for 17th in the NBA in points allowed at 95.6; They finished dead last in this category last season, allowing opponents to average 107.7 points per game. That's 12.1 fewer points per game, which would represent the sixth-best improvement of any team in the shot clock era.

The contrast in their fourth-quarter defense is particularly notable: A year ago, the Wolves ranked 30th (last) in points allowed, 30th in field-goal percentage defense and 29th in overall defensive rating. This season in the fourth quarter they rank 10th in points allowed, fifth in field-goal percentage and third in defensive rating.

Granted, the sample size is still relatively small and the Wolves still have their defensive flaws and limitations. They don't have a true shutdown defender, Luke Ridnour is an undersized shooting guard and they lack an imposing shot blocker in the starting lineup. And, it should be noted, scoring is down league-wide because the condensed schedule has left players more fatigued and overall play more ragged.

But signs of progress are undeniable, particularly in terms of overall effort, which is half the battle on that end of the court.

"It's all about focus and guys buying in and being 100 percent on board to getting the job done," forward Anthony Tolliver said. "Everybody knows that if you don't do the right thing, you're not going to be able to play."

That's called accountability, a big word that was in short supply in recent years. So much was made during the coaching search about David Kahn's desire to find someone who espouses fast, up-tempo basketball. In reality, it was equally important that they found a coach who could teach this young team how to play defense. Fast-paced basketball is fun -- especially with Rubio running the show -- but if you give up 107 points and lose, what's the point?

"They were last in the league in so many categories, so it was easy to get their attention," Adelman said recently.

Rubio's arrival has made a difference. Everyone knew about the rookie's flashy offensive skills, but his defensive capabilities were largely unknown. He's quietly become effective in that area, too. Rubio's length and instincts are disruptive for ballhandlers -- he's second in the NBA in steals -- and he's good enough positionally that teammates aren't constantly forced to provide help.

Other improvements seem more obvious to the naked eye. Guys are playing harder on defense. They have more focus. They close out on shooters better. They're helping each other more.

That's effort, not talent. They also have a coach and defensive scheme they believe in.

"The biggest difference between this year and last year is just the extra effort," Tolliver said. "It's all things that we've known and played our whole entire lives. There's really not too many different ways you can play defense."

It just requires a commitment to doing it. And a coach who demands it and enforces it.

Their defensive acumen and toughness will get tested in a major way as they return to work with three road games in three days against the Clippers, Lakers and Suns. So much for easing back into things. The story lines will remain the same: Rubio's passing, Love's rebounding and scoring, Pek's power in the post and Adelman's craftiness in pulling the strings. Whether this team actually contends for a playoff spot will hinge on what happens on defense, too.

At least Wolves fans don't have to cover their eyes when the ball is at that end of the court anymore.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Yankees - LP: M. Pineda 0 FINAL
Toronto - WP: D. Hutchison 2
Detroit - LP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 6
Chicago Cubs - WP: F. Doubront 5 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: J. Masterson 1
Cincinnati - LP: A. Simon 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 3
Minnesota - LP: J. Burton 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: A. Miller 3
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 7 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: B. Colon 2
Miami - WP: J. Cosart 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: A. Harang 0
Boston - LP: A. Webster 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Odorizzi 7
Cleveland - WP: J. Tomlin 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: S. Downs 2
Detroit - WP: K. Ryan 8 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: C. Bassitt 4
Texas - LP: P. Klein 0 FINAL
Houston - WP: S. Feldman 2
Colorado - WP: T. Matzek 2 FINAL
Arizona - LP: V. Nuno 0
Chicago Cubs - LP: T. Wada 2 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: M. Gonzales 13
Los Angeles - LP: J. Wright 1 FINAL
San Diego - WP: T. Stauffer 2
Milwaukee - LP: M. Fiers 1 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: J. Peavy 3
Oakland - LP: J. Samardzija 0 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: Y. Herrera 2
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 3 FINAL
Seattle - LP: R. Elias 1
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
BYU 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
UNLV 13 FINAL
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
Troy 10 FINAL
UAB 48
(7) UCLA 28 FINAL
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Massachusetts 7
West Virginia 23 FINAL
(2) Alabama 33
Rice 17 FINAL
(17) Notre Dame 48
(10) South Dakota St 18 FINAL
(24) Missouri 38
Fla Atlantic 7 FINAL
(22) Nebraska 55
California 31 FINAL
Northwestern 24
Marshall 42 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 27
UC Davis 0 FINAL
(11) Stanford 45
Arkansas 21 FINAL
(6) Auburn 45
(16) Clemson 21 FINAL
(12) Georgia 45
Liberty 29 FINAL
(23) North Carolina 56
Ohio U 17 FINAL
Kent State 14
Louisiana Tech 16 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 48
Stephen F Austin 16 FINAL
(20) Kansas State 55
Fresno State 13 FINAL
(15) USC 52
Southern Miss 0 FINAL
Miss State 49
Texas-El Paso 31 FINAL
New Mexico 24
North Texas 7 FINAL
Texas 38
(1) Florida State 37 FINAL
Oklahoma State 31
(14) Wisconsin 24 FINAL
(13) LSU 28
Idaho 0 Postponed
Florida 0
South Dakota 13 FINAL
(3) Oregon 62
(25) Washington 17 FINAL
Hawaii 16
Utah State 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 0 FINAL
Seattle 1
New England 3 FINAL
Toronto FC 0
Columbus 0 FINAL
Montreal 2
FC Dallas 0 FINAL
Chicago 1
Real Salt Lake 1 FINAL
San Jose 1
Portland 3 FINAL
Vancouver FC 0
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Chicago 70 FINAL
Indiana 77
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How many games will the Timberwolves win this season?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close