Friday Night Films: Kevin Love to Corey Brewer is a Beautiful Thing

When I was on the Bulls vs Blazers podcast a few days ago, I recommended the Mavericks-Timberwolves matchup as my game of the week to watch. Both teams are high powered offenses that offer little in the way of defensive personnel. I expected a high scoring game, with plenty of well-spaced offensive sets and the game certainly did not disappoint, as the Wolves bested the Mavs 116 to 108. What I did not predict, but greatly enjoyed watching, was Kevin Love finding Corey Brewer at seemingly every opportunity.

Love has always been a tremendous passer, especially when it comes to throwing outlet passes off the defensive rebounds he is so adept at grabbing. At the time Love was drafted, he drew glowing comparisons to Wes Unseld for his ability to toss chest passes the full length of the court off of his rebounds. With the return of Corey Brewer to Minnesota, the Wolves appear to have found Love a perfect target for those brilliant outlet passes. Against the Mavericks, in the first half of the game, Brewer received 4 outlet passes from Love resulting in 3 made baskets and a trip to the foul line.

When you watch the outlets, you can see in each one that as Love is going up for the rebound, Brewer is already leaking out to beat the Mavericks defense down the floor.

In the clip above, the first of Love’s four outlets to Brewer, Brewer contests Shawn Marion’s corner three attempt with a somewhat lackluster closeout, but then he immediately begins sprinting down the floor, anticipating the Love rebound and bullet pass, which comes and hits him right in stride, allowing him to get the easy, uncontested finish.

On the second outlet, above, we see a similar situation, though instead of being the man closing out, Brewer watches as the action moves away from him and towards the painted area. He sees a heavily contested shot go up in the paint and knows Love is there. Relying on Love’s tremendous defensive rebounding ability, Brewer makes the educated guess that Love will end up with the ball and hit him in stride again for another easy two points, which is exactly what happens.

In this clip, Love gets an uncontested defensive board, as all of Dallas’s personnel are at the foul line or further away from the basket. Dallas has three men back in transition defense, as Love throws the outlet ahead to Brewer. Despite this, Brewer is able to get the ball in full stride and get a head of steam going towards the Mavs. The Mavs are put on their heels and unable to react in time, leading to Jose Calderon fouling Brewer at the rim.

Similar to the previous clip, on this play Love gets the ball to Brewer leaking out in transition with the Mavs having guys back in transition defense (Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis), but it simply doesn’t matter. Brewer is moving too quickly and Love’s pass is too on the money for the defense to have time to properly react and stop Brewer from getting to the rim. The result is a dunk for Brewer at the 1st half buzzer.

Love was also able to find Brewer for an additional couple of baskets in the first half, one of which came off a great pass and smart cut out of the Horns set Rick Adelman is so fond of running.

Love catches the pass on the left elbow and then Rubio and Pekovic both set down screens on the right side of the court for Brewer. Jose Calderon, who gets switched onto Brewer, anticipates the cut and jumps the passing lane, only to see Brewer smartly bend his cut the other way towards the basket, allowing Love to fit in a nifty bounce pass to give Brewer the easy two points.

Finally, Brewer was even able to get a wide open jump shot from Love’s passing and the defensive attention the big man draws. Here the Wolves run a number of cross screens, none of which is set very solidly, but Love is nonetheless able to establish deep position in the paint on Shawn Marion. Love’s positioning near the rim draws Jae Crowder’s attention away from Brewer as Love receives the pass from J.J. Barea, and as a result, Love hits Brewer with a quick pass in the corner for a wide open look, which he knocks down.

If these early returns are any indication, Flip Saunders and the rest of the Timberwolves front office should be applauded for the decision to reunite Corey Brewer with Kevin Love.

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Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Minnesota Timberwolves

The Minnesota Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs in nine seasons. They’ve likely had the talent to make it over the last two years, but bad luck with injuries to their two most important players, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, have, unfortunately, blown those hopes to hell. Love and Rubio have combined to play just 171 games of 296 games the two of them, together, could have possibly played over the last two years. Next year, as it always does, provides another opportunity for the ‘Wolves to crack the playoffs for the first time in ten seasons. What do the numbers suggest Minnesota fans can likely expect?

This ‘Wolves squad has 45 win talent, without context. On the other hand, the numbers, as I ran them initially, gave each team, on average, 1.11 points over the required sum of 0 total net points across the league- given that basketball is a zero sum game. Every player making a positive contribution comes, in +/- and thus xRAPM, at the expense of another player or set of players being debited for those positive contributions coming against them. As a result, you can adjust the strength of each team simply by subtracting out those 1.12 points from their total Contribution per Game. When it doing this with the Timberwolves, it makes them a +.31 team. Plugging in to the simple MOV to wins equation (2.7*MOV+41 = Wins), the Timberwolves project as a 42 win team. This jives with their projection in the big schedule spreadsheet, as a 42 win team, when factoring in their strength, the strength of their opponents, and their home court advantage.

Kevin Love

How does Minnesota get there? Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio carry most of the weight, as any even casual Timberwolves observer would expect. Their health is, obviously, of paramount importance for the ‘Wolves to reach their postseason goal. Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer, and Derrick Williams are the lesser lights ranging from slightly above average to slightly below, though, they’re all solidly above replacement and so they should all be helping. Also of note, Shabazz Muhammad projects to be pretty okay as a rookie, by the Hickory High rookie projections, and as a result, he’s an above replacement contributor by these numbers.

For my part, I’ll be rooting for the ‘Wolves. Their fans have dealt with the disappointment of David Kahn’s draft record, the tantalizing frustration of waiting for Ricky Rubio to come over from Spain, and the scuttling of the last two promising seasons due to Love’s recurring injuries and Rubio’s torn ACL. The players, Love especially, must be just as frustrated, if not more so. This is a team that, health permitting, should compete for the right to test themselves against the Thunder or the Rockets or the Clippers in the first round of next seasons’ playoffs. Hopefully the Timberwolves will finally be playing come late April.

Images via wikimedia commons.