In a league as talented as today’s NBA, it’s easy to get lost in the highlight plays. High-flying dunks, logo threes, and ankle breakers will leave fans stunned. But there’s something to be said about the importance of the little things.
Hero ball is a term that’s recently gained much traction in the sports community. It refers to when one player tries to do everything himself. Hero ball is a beautiful thing when it works, like LeBron James’ 2016 title run with the Cleveland Cavaliers. But it can also result in some very ugly plays, like Denzel Valentine‘s game-winning attempt.
Hero ball typically results in very ugly plays, though and it’s not always the most efficient. Especially when you have someone like Rudy Gobert on the court.
Since the Wolves dumped all of their assets into Rudy Gobert, it’s disappointing to see him be so poorly utilized at times. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The play below is a perfect example of how valuable Gobert can be on offense if his team’s play style allows for it.
It’s clear the Wolves have the ability to move the ball. D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards are both capable guards, and they are willing playmakers most of the time. But they have to be more consistent.
The Wolves have already shown the willingness to pass the ball to Rudy, something that couldn’t be said about the Utah Jazz. They only passed to Gobert 17 times per game last season. He has received 25 passes a game this year.
In the Wolves losses this year, Gobert has been passed the ball 23 times on average. But during games that the Wolves won, he’s been passed the ball 28 times on average.
Oddly enough, Gobert has been Karl-Anthony Towns’ go-to man so far this season, and it’s been extremely efficient. 24% of the passes Gobert has received this year have been from Towns, and he’s shot 69% from the field off of them.
Gobert spoke about that connection after Wednesday’s win over the Spurs. “The lobs that he throws me are great,” he said. “They’re perfect. For me, obviously I can get a bounce pass, I can get a pass on the move, but the lob is like the easiest thing for me.”
The second half of that quote is perhaps the key to how the Wolves use Gobert.
Not only is Gobert particularly proficient in designated hand-off actions. But Gobert plays best in a pick-and-roll offense. Although the Wolves have already increased the number of passes Gobert receives, they could be giving him even better looks. Plays like the one below would be two points 95% of the time if Edwards had hit Gobert with a lob.
Much has been made about the Minnesota Timberwolves’ early struggles this year. Fans may have hit a tipping point after essentially a 30-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Monday. The Wolves weren’t playing with effort until their second matchup with the Spurs, where the Wolves showed some effort and won.
Another issue has been Minnesota’s three-point shooting, the team was shooting under 30% after Monday’s game against the Spurs. Then they went out and set the franchise record for most threes in a quarter in the next game. A lot of Minnesota’s problems were from low effort, shaking off the rust from the offseason, or confusion with the new system. It was a bit premature to freak out about a four-game sample size.
Most of these problems will go away. Many of them already have. The Wolves have picked up the effort and improved their three-point shooting. But getting better ball movement isn’t gonna be as easy to develop.
Gobert’s addition has definitely made the issue more prominent, but bad ball movement has plagued the Wolves since last season
The ball would get sticky whenever the Wolves would go up big last year. They’d play more iso ball, and their lead would disintegrate. This is the largest reason the Wolves lost in six to the Memphis Grizzlies in last year’s playoffs. Chris Finch summed it up perfectly after game 6 versus the grizzlies last year, “The offense is too many guys who want to go one-on-one. We talked about that ad nauseum. Everybody wants to be the hero, and that’s not how you’re going to win these games.”
To reach their offensive potential, they’ll need to develop a better playstyle. There will always be a time for Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, and Karl-Anthony Towns to take the game into their own hands. But more ball movement will result in a more efficient offense. Towns has already found his connection with Gobert, but the rest of the team needs to catch up.