Biggest adjustments Timberwolves must make to save season vs. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Tony Nguyen | Denver Nuggets
May 16, 2024

The Minnesota Timberwolves started Round 2 off with a bang. Minnesota quickly took a stronghold over the Denver Nuggets by winning Games 1 and 2 on the road. However, the Nuggets’ championship experience has shown up since. With a few adjustments, Denver has roared back and now holds a 3-2 series lead heading into Game 6.

Behind Denver’s recent dominance has been Nikola Jokic’s unsolvable offensive game. The Timberwolves’ trio of big men including, Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, have been no match for the Joker’s touch, strength and playmaking. With Minnesota’s fate hanging in the balance, adjustments must be made to save the season. Let’s analyze a few offensive and defensive adjustments the Wolves can exercise to win Game 6 and turn this series around once again.

Timberwolves’ defensive adjustments

A large component of Minnesota’s philosophy in this series has been making Nikola Jokic work for every square inch of the court. This game plan was a large part of why the Wolves jumped out to an early series lead as the Nuggets initially struggled to find consistent offense. However, it’s clear that Michael Malone has solved that problem.

From Game 3 through Game 5, the Nuggets have been able to maximize Jokic’s scoring gravity as a handoff machine. As a direct result, Jamal Murray has really found his rhythm in this series. Not only do Minnesota’s point of attack defenders have to navigate Jokic’s large frame as the handoff acts as a screen, but they have to chase over both Jokic and his defender who is pushed up on his body. In the same vein, the Wolves’ big is also out of position to properly help cover Murray attacking downhill.

The Timberwolves’ best option defensively is to sag off of Jokic on the perimeter. He’s adjusted from the begging of the series well. Jokic’s strength has allowed him to effectively back down Minnesota’s bigs and his touch and passing has beaten both single and double coverages. Now, the Wolves need to hope the Joker settles for threes.

On the series, the three-time MVP is just 6/21 (28.5%) on triples. Not only has Minnesota allowed Murray to get going through handoffs, but they’ve also forced Jokic to get to the rim rather than bait him into shooting deep shots. Every three-pointer Jokic takes is a possession where he didn’t exert his strength and touch at the rim.

Timberwolves’ offensive adjustments

Offensively, Minnesota’s fatal flaw from before the season is beginning to rear its ugly head. Compared to other elite offenses around the league, Minnesota simply doesn’t have as many shooting threats. The Wolves’ roster is built on a collection of playmakers in order to generate open looks, at least that’s the ideology.

However, Denver has realized its best chance to shut down Minnesota is to make them settle for contested twos rather than open catch and shoot threes. What the Wolves truly lack is a scoring dynamo with A+ level playmaking. Those types of stars are rare. The Luka Doncic prototype. Even with Anthony Edwards’ growth as a facilitator this season, he still is a level or two below that tier.

With Jokic hedging at the level of ball screens, the Nuggets have willingly allowed Rudy Gobert to roll to the rim oftentimes unimpeded. Not only has Edwards not turned the corner to beat Denver off the bounce, he also hasn’t gotten the rock to the rolling big.

In order for the Wolves’ offense to come back to life, they need to cut the minutes of all non-shooters other than Gobert. No Kyle Anderson, no Jordan McLaughlin. Minnesota needs to cut down the rotation to their top seven players with the season on the line. With three shooters surrounding Edwards and Gobert, the Timberwolves need to run 30+ screen and rolls per game. Make Jokic defend often and hit Gobert on the rolls.

With floor spacers around the ball screens, the reads for Anthony Edwards should be easy enough to hurt the Nuggets’ defense. Hit Gobert early on rolls and once the Nuggets begin to collapse the floor, look to the weak side of the floor to find Karl-Anthony Towns, Naz Reid or Nickeil Alexander-Walker for wide open triples. Simplify the game for your 22-year old superstar. Spread the floor. Attack Jokic. Most importantly, get to the rim.