In the aftermath of the Wolves’ 104-101 loss to the Rockets on Sunday, there were a lot of big opinions.
You could trash the Wolves for letting a winnable game slip away against a Rockets team that did not shoot up to its standards. You could be encouraged by the Wolves’ fight and defensive strategy in a competitive game. You could loudly scream that there are NO MORAL VICTORIES.
If this was the Legislature, though, there would be at least one bill that had bipartisan support between the positive and negative folks: Karl-Anthony Towns needs to be more involved. He himself needs to be more active. The Wolves need to get him the ball more. That the All-Star center attempted only nine shots — fewer than Derrick Rose and Jamal Crawford — is confounding.
If you went to TNT’s Charles Barkley for a nuanced discussion of this issue, though, you would instead be left with severe burns from his hot take. Talking about the Wolves, Barkley said, “They’ve got to be one of the dumbest teams I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Barkley continued: “The Houston Rockets switch every pick and roll. There’s mismatches all over the floor. They never take advantage of any mismatches. There was five or six times where they switched Chris Paul to big KAT and so … the guard had [Rockets center Clint] Capela out on the floor. [Towns] cleared out instead of getting Chris Paul or James Harden down on the box, he cleared out to let the point guard go one-on-one. That’s not good basketball.”
But hey, guess what? It’s more nuanced than that! Let’s take a deeper look:
• First, although Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said in his postgame, “[Towns has] got to be more active,” it also sure looked like some of what happened last night was by design. The Wolves seemed to want the matchup they were getting with a smaller player guarded by a big on the switch more than they wanted Towns to post up a smaller player.
And part of what was happening was by the Rockets’ design. They were determined not to let Towns beat them with three-pointers. They simply switched and took their chances that Towns couldn’t beat them enough on post-ups.
• Here’s where we could get down a dangerous rabbit hole on the question, “Are post-ups efficient or inefficient?” Long story short from an excellent Grantland piece from 2013: They are inefficient if the resulting shot ends up being any sort of short- or midrange jump shot that isn’t at the rim. They are efficient if the big man gets a layup, gets fouled or is able to use the threat of scoring as a means to create open threes or layups for teammates.
Towns needs to exploit those mismatches because he’s great at the rim and the Rockets are vulnerable there. If the Wolves could get a bunch of easy baskets — something they have struggled with this season — they might force the Rockets to rethink their strategy.
But it’s not like the Wolves were getting bad looks when they eschewed the Towns post-up in favor of a guard going at a bigger player.
The Wolves are frustrating to watch at times, but they are far from Barkley’s hysterical “dumbest team.” Their Game 2 adjustment is finding the sweet spot between when to post up Towns when he has a smaller player on him and when to attack with the guard on that switch — who should also have a quickness mismatch in his favor.
Whether it was Towns shrinking in his first playoff game, poor strategy, his teammates not feeding him enough or some combination of all three, we can all agree he needs to do more in Game 2. He probably will. And the Rockets will probably shoot better from three-point range.
It’s a race to four wins, not one.