Timberwolves

How Do the Wolves Fix the Flaws Dallas Exposed In Their Flow Offense?

Phot Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

“Flow Offense” has become a buzzword during Chris Finch’s time coaching the Minnesota Timberwolves. Finch’s goal with his free-flowing offense has been to give his players the freedom to play through each other to maximize their opportunities for success.

Finch’s offense fosters an open style of play that allows player flexibility, but it comes with costs. The Wolves have had offensive success throughout Finch’s tenure. However, the shortcomings of a free-flowing offense have stunted Minnesota’s ceiling.

The Wolves battled these shortcomings during the regular season by using their newfound powers of continuity and Anthony Edwards‘s offensive leap. However, their Western Conference Finals series against the Dallas Mavericks showcased many of its shortcomings.

Much of the initial concern comes down to overall basketball IQ. To frequently operate without structure, players must be aware of myriad responsibilities, ranging from proper off-ball positioning and relocation movement to mismatch awareness. Players must also make quick decisions off the catch, attack closeouts properly, and make correct reads to find teammates, among other things. It takes a lot of court awareness.

These core tenets of a flow offense have tended to bring out the worst in the roster when they face an above-average defense.

Karl-Anthony Towns is a perfect example. While KAT is an elite All-NBA caliber talent, great teams will know how to neutralize his game and change his pace of play into uncomfortable situations. If the Wolves go to their freelance options and lack the structure to get KAT going, he will not find as much consistency. KAT benefits from that balance.

Dallas found ways to send multiple coverages at him. They used P.J. Washington’s physicality while limiting Towns’ drives with size behind the initial line of defense. It also took away his post-up game, two vital portions of his game. Overall, it limited how many options he has on the ball in the freelance flow of the offense.

Jaden McDaniels suffers from a similar issue. While he’s always confident on his catch-and-shoot three-point looks, it wavers on his drives. If he is not decisive in getting downhill and simple with his dribble, it often leads to negative possessions. Defends can exploit the holes in his game, whether that is attacking off of closeouts or simply looking to become more of a shot creator.

While Jaden was one of the more consistent players in the Dallas series, his overall consistency in his role has wavered throughout the first four years of his career.

Minnesota’s No. 1 option also had some shortcomings. While Anthony Edwards improved as a playmaker this season, Dallas’ improved defense compared to the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns affected Edwards more than any other Wolves player. The increase in team defense and rim protection continued to alter Minnesota’s offensive process.

Dallas found ways to disguise its coverages on Edwards by bringing late help. That made it tricky for Ant to decipher, mainly when he had a favorable switch or matchup. If Luka Doncic were guarding Ant, he would have been able to blow by him easily without help defense. The Mavericks had counters, though. They slid over another wing to pinch in on him and speed him up while a big remained a comfortable distance behind to contest Ant’s shot with verticality.

The Mavericks’ defense is too difficult to process at these high levels, even within a set role. Therefore, much of Minnesota’s offense relies on high-quality, consistent play while players battle their shortcomings. They need to implement more structure to balance out the free-flowing possessions. Creating that balance in the middle of a game becomes increasingly more difficult.

However, Mike Conley may be able to help them achieve that balance. His acquisition at last year’s trade deadline has made even more sense for this roster. He’s the perfect player for a flow system, serving as the Jedi Master who brings balance to Minnesota’s younglings.

Conley has a much smaller offensive role than other Wolves players, but he’s a vital table-setter who can reliably score from the outside. Even when he has poor shooting performances, Conley’s ball-moving ability and quality play as a PnR ball-handler remain consistent. He always offers team-forward, flow-based implementations to put his teammates in a place to succeed.

Still, Minnesota’s offense needs more consistent creation and improved quick decision-making IQ to maximize its ceiling. Not everything can be relied upon by a 36-year-old small guard. It cannot be seen as a failure because of how impressive the team’s success was all season. However, if there is a spot to improve upon after their playoff run, it comes down to Edwards, Towns, and McDaniels’ offensive outputs within the flow of the offense.

While we can attribute much of Minnesota’s downfall to Jason Kidd’s championship-level defensive scheme, the Wolves didn’t maximize their offensive possessions. Minnesota’s younger core must find ways to become more resilient and consistent, or the Timberwolves must change their offensive structure to include more sets and actions within its framework because it will be difficult to win a championship with their current concept of flow.

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