Wolves tried to get downtown but missed their connection, and other public transit metaphors

Zach Harper —  September 20, 2012 — 8 Comments

The Wolves’ 3-point shooting last season was pretty atrocious.

Despite being 23rd in the NBA in 3-point percentage, the Wolves just kept chucking up shots from long range. They finished sixth in the NBA in attempts from downtown, even when you adjust for pace. Perhaps one of the reasons the Wolves kept shooting them was because of a confidence built up the previous season.

In the 2010-11 debaclypse season, the Wolves were deadeye shooters as a team. They shot 37.6% from 3-point range, much better than the 33.2% they managed in the lockout season. They had the fifth best percentage off the 10th most attempts. They liked to fire from deep and they were good at it. In fact, it was really the only thing they were good at. 

Check out this chart showing the Wolves individual shooters from the 2010-11 season.

Wolves3pointshooting2010-11

That’s seven shooters at or above the league average of 35.9% for that season. SEVEN SHOOTERS! And Wes Johnson was just below league average while taking the most attempts on the team. Only Jonny Flynn, Lazar Hayward, and Corey Brewer shot a decent number of attempts while being significantly below the average 3-point shooting mark.

Part of the reason is the Wolves were unconsciously hot from the corner 3. Take a look at the breakdown from NBA.com/stats:

2010-113pointChart

The Wolves shot 46.2% from the corner 3 that season. Only the Boston Celtics (46.5%) shot a better percentage from the corners than the Wolves did. It shouldn’t be too surprising that the Wolves or any team would excel from the corner. It’s the shortest 3-point distance and you’ll often see defenders leave those areas and hope the rotations of themselves or their teammates get back there to contest a shot before it goes up. It’s just one of those give-and-takes with how the NBA game is played now.

In high school and college basketball, it’s typically engrained into your basketball mind that you are in help position around the key if you’re defending the weak side and your man is in the corner. If you’re defending the corner shooter on the strong side of the play, you’re supposed to deny the passing lane to the man you’re guarding and trust your teammates to be in help position.

But with how quick the athletes are in the NBA, you often see guys digging down, maybe because they believe they’re fast enough to recover and either prevent or contest a corner 3-point attempt.

Well, if you weren’t guarding the corner shooters for the Wolves in 2010-11 then you probably were getting burned by them quite easily. Here are the breakdowns for the Wolves’ corner shooters:

WolvesCORNER3pointshooting2010-11

Minnesota had six shooters above the league average on corner 3-point percentage that season and Wes Johnson was right at the league average mark. In fact, Anthony Tolliver shot an absurd 72.2% from the corner 3 with five teammates obliterating the league average from the corner.

And that’s the difference between that final season under Kurt Rambis and the first season under Rick Adelman. The shots simply didn’t fall, especially from the corner.

Check out the Wolves’ shooters from the 2011-12 season:

Wolves3pointshooting2011-12

Not a single shooter was in that elite range of 40% from the field. Look how lonely Mr. 40% is. Nobody wanted to hang out with him last season. Brad Miller did end up shooting 46.7% from 3-point range but he only took 15 attempts, so I figured when Mr. 40% was free after work then Brad would go grab a beer with him. But he only had time for one and then Mr. 40% was just left by himself at Hubert’s.

Now check out the breakdown of the shooting zones on 3-pointers from the 2011-12 season:

2011-123pointchart

Shooting was down in all five of the zones, but the corners are where you see the biggest drop-off. The Wolves’ corner 3-point shooting fell from 46.2% to 36.1%, which was good/bad for 17th in the NBA. That’s such a huge drop that it makes you wonder which season was the outlier for these two separate shooting performances.

Was the 2010-11 season just a mirage, an oasis in the desert of lottery expectations? Did things just come crashing down to Earth the next season or was it simply a product of lockout-atrophied legs and not having a lot of free time to work on form and mechanics in the truncated season?

Or is the answer somewhere in the middle? Are neither of those season indicative of what the team is capable of doing?

Here’s the breakdown of the corner 3-point shooting of the Wolves’ individual shooters:

WolvesCORNER3pointshooting2011-12

The Wolves still have six shooters above the league average mark, which dropped down to 37.6%. However, the players with the first and third most corner attempts had their percentages plummet last season. Wes Johnson was right at the league average mark on corner 3s in 2010-11 but saw his percentage drop over 10 points, while his attempts remarkably stayed the same in fewer games. Anthony Tolliver went from an assassin in the corner to a frustrating shooter because of a 44-point drop on corner 3-point shooting.

In 2009-10, Anthony Tolliver shot 35.5% from the corner 3 and he was just 2-for-10 in his rookie season with the Spurs. It seems like the 2010-11 sharpshooting performance from the corner was simply an aberration.

With the way the Wolves’ offense is designed, especially when Ricky Rubio is back on the court and finding the weak side corner shooters, Minnesota is going to have to knock down corner 3-point shots. It’s a big part of their offense. They had the 11th most attempts last season, and if Rubio can come back in mid-to-late December, they’ll probably end up much higher on the list.

The new players joining the team are hopefully going to help fix that corner issue.

In his two years under Rick Adelman, Chase Budinger made 65 of his 170 3-point attempts in the corner. That’s 38.2%. Last season he was an incredible 48.4% on his 99 corner 3-point attempts. Brandon Roy is a career 38.7% 3-point shooter from the corner, but that percentage also dipped more toward the low-to-mid 30s the last year he played.

Add in Andrei Kirilenko’s passing and Alexey Shved’s playmaking and it’s conceivable the Wolves get a lot of possessions in which they are able to swing the ball from one side of the court into the weak side corner to a free shooter.

Here’s hoping that Mr. 40% isn’t a lonely guy this season and the Wolves are back to being deadly shooters from the holes they create in the defense.

Zach Harper

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8 responses to Wolves tried to get downtown but missed their connection, and other public transit metaphors

  1. pagingstanleyroberts September 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    This isn’t a stance for or against what Zach is bringing up, but honestly, I’d rather they don’t rely too heavily on outside shooting, because it’s a flimsier team strength than pretty much everything else. Look at how Miami buried the Thunder in Game 5 with a lot of low usage and/or low percentage guys catching fire, or how the Magic came up short in the postseason year after year. Teams who don’t rely heavily on 3s and then get hot? Bonus. Teams that rely heavily on the 3 and miss? DOA. Take the ones that are open, but keep it as a second or third option on most plays. Their FT/FGA was #5 in the NBA and should go up with the additions of Roy and AK47; that’s the most-important offensive stat for them.

  2. I think the idea of getting more action toward the basket is the biggest key. I agree with what you’re saying, but if those type of attack the basket plays result in kickouts for open 3s, I’m all for it. Especially since the Wolves should have better shooters this year.

    Getting to the free throw line is the biggest key. The less floating for guys the better. And I think a lot of that gets solved with a full camp of Adelman’s system. His system is all about ball movement, player movement and getting things going toward the basket to open up everything. Hitting from the corners is the biggest key to this, in my opinion.

  3. And I realize I just said three separate things are the biggest key. I meant in relation to the last one mentioned.

  4. pagingstanleyroberts September 21, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    There will definitely be more player movement; with that said, the same system that was run in Sacramento and Houston probably shouldn’t be expected. They don’t have the passing bigs to run it (especially at center, but Love hasn’t shown he’s above-average at any pass but the outlet), and they were so successful at getting touches for their bigs off of high screens that the biggest adjustments will be ensuring they can still run those without the defense figuring out how to stop them. Also, if Roy is healthy early in the year, he’ll be co-primary ballhandler with whomever is playing the 1, and using him has the ballhandler on high screens is probably a high percentage offensive play.

  5. I think the current construction of our team will still be a Top 10 team in terms of 3PA, which honestly is a good thing. Especially with B Roy and AK47 coming in, B Roy can penetrate and kick and AK47 is a phenomenal passer for his position and great without the ball. We’ll still shoot a lot of threes but we’ll eliminate some of the long twos and we should get to the line at a high rate again. I’m perfectly fine with shooting more 3s than the average team.

  6. The reason they shot threes so well in ’10-’11 was that the other team didn’t need to waste energy defending the outside, since they were virtually guaranteed a win against a truly bad team. When nothing is on the line (e.g. when you have no shot at the playoffs nor the current game you are playing) you tend to loosen up. And when you loosen up, you lose the hitch in your stroke and you hit shots easily.

    It was the combination of the seriousness/composition of the defending team and the Wolves own dismal realizations about the outcomes that season. I wasn’t there to witness it, given that I had a tumultuous relationship and no television, but even from this perspective I have little doubt in the truth of this.

  7. I also cannot provide too much in the way of concrete evidence, but I support Andrew’s claim on anecdotal observation that 3pt shots by the Timberwolves in 2011-12 were much more well-contested than in 2010-11. I often saw guys light it up in the 3rd/4th quarter in 2010 after the game was completely out of reach and wonder why they didn’t start doing it sooner (only to realize that their shots went largely uncontested).

    Take Rubio’s decent 3pt average. Many people stopped contesting his shot because he developed a reputation as a bad jump shooter (which he mostly is). However, if you let him set his feet and don’t contest his shot, he can be an absolute dead-eye.

    Point being… the distinction between contested and uncontested shots is very important. There are a few special guys who are great shooters whether they are contested or not (Dirk, Durant, Melo) but it means a lot for more pedestrian shooters like the T-Wolves have. Basically, 10-11 = less contested = better % and ’11-’12 = more contested = lower %

  8. I love the post Zach, great points in this article. But what about the condensed season, everybody talked how it was hard on the players having to go out and play 3 games in 5 days etc. etc. Maybe on that 3rd game you don’t quite have the same elevation that you normally would on your jump shot. Also I like the point you make about the Wolves basically just having more skill this year. The fact that the wolves will actually have a decent sized 2 guard that can score and distribute will be huge, granted i don’t beleive were gonna see the same 24 5 and 5 guy we used to see but a diminished return on roy say 17 3 and 3 should still be a huge upgrade. I love the ak47 move, although not the menacing defender he once was, he is still long and has a high basketball iq which should help him get some finishes in transition with rubio. I look for ak47 to have a good year with the wolves.

    Maybe the interesting thing about this Timberwolves team is that it seems like every player on the squad has been through some adversity e.g. Love being to chubby and not athletic enough, Rubio tearing his acl, AK47 being exiled to russia to play last year. Roy with his knees, Pekovic fouled anything that moved his first year in the nba, I think this particular group of guys will actually be a very focused team. I look for the Twolves to have a much better record this year.

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