For the third time this offseason, new Timberwolves assistant coach Alston Turner will join the existing coaching staff as one of the few newcomers. So, they not only have to learn the players and the organization, but they also have to adapt to a coaching staff, which has been around since the back half of the last season.
Turner said, “Which I am used to.”
But, at the same time, Turner’s job doesn’t really have to be a fit. As Minnesota’s new “defensive coordinator,” he must move the tree. Because Minnesota’s roster isn’t full of strong defensive players. Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, and Malik Beasley – key parts of the Minnesota native – are not known for their defensive prowess. It showed on the court again last season when the Timberwolves finished 28th in the defensive ratings.
To ease the issue, head coach Chris Finch is turning to Turner, who has more than two decades of NBA coaching experience. Turner, who also played eight seasons in the league, recently coached in Houston after stopping in Sacramento, Memphis and Portland.
Turner said he was going to “try to implement and improve some things that the team didn’t have in the top half of the league last year.” He said Wolves were “very good” in some defensive areas, adding that they are athletic and good enough to walk around and get into position and transition back for long periods of time.
It didn’t appear to be a priority at many points throughout the campaign, and would have to change first and foremost.
Turner has some ideas about the type of plans he’d like to implement. They are not certain, but their initial idea is to place a big like Karl-Anthony Towns close to the rim to aid the team’s rebounding efforts.
There are benefits and costs to the switch-heavy approach, Turner said, but the general rule is that the wolves “want to try to keep our bodies in front of the ball. Keep the dribble, fill and help each other where needed. But Where we’re going to switch, how we’re going to switch, if we’re going to switch, they’re going to be determined.”
Does placing Towns closer to the basket mean that more “drop coverage” is on the way, where Towns sits back closer to the paint as the large portion he is guarding sets up a screen? Towns has played versions of it in recent years, first under Tom Thibodeau, then with previous defensive coordinator David Venterpool. The results were mixed, leaning towards the bad.
However, a drop coverage scheme, when executed correctly, can limit the number of 3-point shots an opponent can take. The Bucks just won the NBA title using drop coverage, but Turner said such a plan required a sneaky big man.
“If your center offensive is the main threat, you’re risking foul trouble with a good ball handler, so there are pros and cons to every coverage,” he said, “and you just have to weigh it.”
The question at this point is whether it matters which plan the wolves carry out defensively. Is the roster so aggressively tilted that they are bound to struggle to stop the other teams under any plan?
“You try to hide weaknesses and emphasize the things they do well,” Turner said. “It’s not always easy, but that’s the end goal. You want them to be in a position to succeed. No one person should stop someone else; you should do everything you can, but everyone else Responsible for everything. It’s coverage of five people.”
Meaning it shows everyone’s willingness to buy and execute.
“I don’t care what you drill, what you teach; if the players aren’t ready to do it, it’s going to be a long season,” Turner said. “If they’re serious about winning , then defense will be very important for them. And that’s a starting point right there. If it’s important to them, you work on it and you get better.”