Timberwolves 3-point shooting: Infinite Sorrow 2012 Audit

Zach Harper —  January 3, 2013 — 6 Comments

sad puppy

A few of the readers from the last 3-point shooting audit suggested that this should be an updated post every month. All of the numbers for this post are through the win over the Suns and don’t include last night’s debacle to the Utah Jazz.

At a certain point, the 3-point shooting has become laughable to me. Part of me is frustrated but part of me is Rene Russo in the movie Tin Cup as I watch Kevin Costner egotistically club golf ball after golf ball into the water hazard as he tries to prove through machismo and grit that he doesn’t have to layup on the par-5 18th hole at the U.S. Open. He’s good enough and strong enough to clear the water and get onto the green. Russo (his girlfriend/shrink) in this scene at one point just starts laughing and cheering him to keep at it, even if it means he sinks all of his golf balls into the water and he isn’t allowed to finish his one final shot at glory by being disqualified from the tournament.

The Wolves are such a historically bad 3-point shooting team right now that I’m now finding myself maniacally laughing whenever a long distance shot clangs off the iron. There are two teams in NBA history who have attempted more than 13 3-pointers per game while shooting under 30% from beyond the arc. One of those teams is the Charlotte Bobcats from last season. That’s right; the worst team in NBA history shot 29.5% from downtown while attempting 13.5 3-point shots per game. The other team? You’re currently rooting for them.

The Wolves take 19.5 3-pointers per game right now and are making just 29.3%. At a certain point, you start wondering if actual wolves could make a higher percentage of these shots or if the team could make some by accident when trying to throw alley-oop passes. The fact that they’re historically bad at this just floors me for some reason.

What I feel like is we’re watching one of those “coin pusher” machines you find in casinos. 

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It’s for the gambling addict who wants to see just how dumb they are for believing all of those coins are going to fall into their bucket. You keep inserting coins and watching them pile up at the end of the machine. You hope one will tumble it’s way and start a coin avalanche that will have you swimming in gold bullion like you’re Scrooge McDuck getting in a few laps in the early afternoon.

At some point, the Wolves’ 3-point shots have to start falling their way by accident. They could start making a respectable percentage in the low to mid-30s, which would open up the offense a bit more. They’ve gotten by with bully ball so far, pushing their opponents aside in the paint and doing just enough to not be a losing team. However, the 3-point shooting is a necessity if this team is going to crawl out of 22nd place in offensive rating and into the upper half of the league.

Or maybe they won’t fall. Maybe we’ll just see the Wolves inserting coins into a machine that only makes money for the house. Maybe the coin avalanche will never happen and we’ll just see their hard-earned money piling up for the security team who unlocks the machine at night and empties it out into their bags with dollar bill signs on the outside.

Same as in the last post, I broke the shooting attempts into three different categories: open, contested and defended. The open shots don’t have anybody throwing a hand up or challenging it in any way. The contested shots have someone coming over to defend them, even if they’re very late, and throwing a hand up or getting in the way. A defended shot is one where the defender is already there and providing on-the-ball resistance to a comfortable shooting motion. I’ve looked at the video for every 3-pointer over the last section of games since the last post and tried to remain as consistent as possible. No halfcourt heaves were counted as 3-point attempts.

Without further ado, let’s suffer together.

Open 3-point shooting

WolvesOpen3ptShooting010213

The Minnesota Timberwolves are unbelievably bad at making open 3-point shots. These are completely uncontested shots being taken, seemingly in rhythm, and they’re just clanking them left and right. I don’t know that it’s a fluke anymore and it just might be the way this team shoots. Luke Ridnour knows how to make a decent percentage of them; Derrick Williams does as well. But other than that, you have a lot of “shooters” not being able to get the ball to go into the basket.

The seven players you have hovering around the red line of death (which averages out to 34.5% amongst them) have taken the most attempts. If the Wolves are going to become even a decent offense, they will have to start making these open 3-point looks and get that red line to raise up quite a bit. From the last time I charted this, the Wolves’ open 3-point percentage has dropped 2.5%. That’s a pretty dramatic drop.

WolvesOpen3s010213

In the previous post, Luke was struggling by making just one-third of his attempts but hit a much better percentage on a small amount of shots to raise his percentage. The rest of the team wasn’t so fortunate/skillful. Back on December 4th, the Wolves were getting 4.6 open 3-point shots per game. That number has dropped to 4.1 open 3-point shots per game. So they’re not only making fewer of these shots but they’re also attempting fewer of these easy shots.

An astounding stat was I decided to track all of the numbers after Rubio had rejoined the team for the Dallas game. These numbers include even the games Rubio was held out of but I wanted to see if his presence on the court, in practice, on the bench, and in shoot around sessions would have any kind of impact. Granted, he’s not even close to healthy right now but I thought it was worth tracking. Since Rubio’s return against the Mavericks, Minnesota has made just 26.9% of their open 3-point shots. That seems impossibly inaccurate. Derrick Williams has made 40% of his five attempts, Love made 33.3% of his six attempts, Barea made one-of-two, Luke made one-of-four, and Alexey Shved has actually made just one-of-nine open 3-pointers in this time period.

That doesn’t even seem possible, and yet here we are.

Contested 3-point shooting

WolvesContested3ptShooting010213

 

There is a tiny bit of good news here. The Wolves are actually making more of their contested 3-point shots. Previously, we had them charted at making just 30.7 percent of their contested 3-point attempts and that number has gone up 3.1%. A HUGE reason for this is Alexey Shved. Since Rubio’s return, Shved has been burning up from beyond the arc when he has a hand in his face. He made 12 of his 17 attempts from the Dallas game through the Suns game. That’s a 70.6% clip. Derrick Williams has also made half of his eight contested attempts since Rubio returned.

WolvesContested3s010213

While the 3-point percentage on contested shots has gone up, it’s still not acceptable enough. Wolves are up to 33.8% on the season and made 34.9% with Rubio “back.” However, Kevin Love (calm down before you start demanding he be traded) is still struggling mightily, which can be expected with the hand injury (coming back early) and the conditioning issues because of all of his ailments and problems. He’s also just taking bad shots on the perimeter. Luke has also been really bad with contested looks, along with Andrei Kirilenko.

The problem with Kirilenko’s shots is none of them seem to be within the flow of the offense. He’s typically just deciding that it’s a good time to shoot, without using much rhythm with catch-and-shoots or dribbling into shots. You see a lot of standstill decisions to just launch and it’s not always toward the tail end of the shot clock. Back to Love’s shooting, I tend to believe that a lot of his poor outside shooting is strictly having to do with his legs at this point. You can see when he has a good bounce to his step, the shot and his motion seem a lot smoother and more fluid.

The tricky part is figuring out how he gets back into shape. There aren’t a ton of opportunities to get into game shape coming off of an injury, other than simply playing through the bumps and bruises and figuring things out. Maybe if he got back on defense a bit harder, it could get those legs pumping in a more effective manner. But really, it might just be a couple more weeks until his legs are really under him. That means we’ll see more good nights then bad nights, more bad nights and then good nights. He’ll be inconsistent, but eventually, I think he’ll be back to being the old Kevin Love.

I realize this is promoting patience with him and that could get me tarred and feathered in the sporting world. But I’d say give it another month and let’s see how he’s shooting heading into the month of February.

Defended 3-point shooting

WolvesDefended3ptShooting010213

This is where the charts get REALLY ugly — like Eric Stoltz in Mask ugly. I don’t know what to expect with these types of shots. They’re bad shots and I don’t know what an acceptable percentage made on bad shots should possibly be. I do know that making 17.2% of them isn’t a good thing. It has gone up slightly over the past month but you really see that this team simply can’t make well-defended shots and sometimes that’s what you have to do in the NBA.

WolvesDefended3s010213

As hot as Shved was in making contested 3-pointers, he’s equally as cold when trying to make defended 3-pointers. The funny thing is this percentage was at 20.9% with Rubio back in the fold. Love made 37.5% of his defended 3-pointers; Barea did too. Even Kirilenko and Luke were at 20% or better with Rubio’s return. However, Alexey Shved missed all 13 of his defended 3-point attempts after Ricky was back. Again, by accident you would think he’d make at least one. This has led to the dramatic drop in his defended percentage.

The troubling part about the defended 3s is something I mentioned in the previous post. I likened the open 3-point shot to defended 3-point shot to an outside shooting equivalent of the assist-to-turnover ratio. You don’t want even close to an even number of assists and turnovers and likewise, you should want far more open 3-point shots than defended 3-point shots (even if you’re the Wolves and can’t make open looks). On December 4th, the Wolves had a 4.6:3.6 open-to-defended 3-point shot ratio. Right now, the Wolves are actually taking more defended shots on the season than open 3-point shots on the season. It’s currently a 4.1:4.2 open-to-defended ratio. That’s extremely troubling that both numbers have gone in the opposite direction of what you would find to be ideal shooting situations.

That’s something that has to reverse course or the 3-point shooting woes could get even historically worse for Minnesota.

This is all a really small sample size, especially factoring in the segmented part of the month with Rubio’s return. But it’s just a nugget of information to track and see where the trends are heading as the season progresses.

Wolves3pointShooting010212

This is the Wolves’ 3-point shooting chart for the season. It’s so frigid that the abominable snowman is just chilling in the middle because the sweeping cold air is surrounding him and keeping his extremities cool and his crazy eyes get to remain crazy. The corner shooting is where this team is going to have to turn it around first. They can get corner shots within the flow of the offense, but they have to knock them down. They have to knock down 3s from straight away. Maybe then, they can get into a much better rhythm.

As of right now, Derrick WIlliams is the best 3-point shooter on the Wolves (percentage-wise) and it’s not even close. I’m a believer in Derrick Williams and think the Wolves can turn him into a really good player, but that thought terrifies me. He shouldn’t be the best 3-point shooter on any team. I don’t care what percentage of those 76 3-pointers he made in college was.

I want to do a couple more breakdowns in the next couple of days. Tom Haberstroh had a fantastic post on corner 3-point shooting and I think it’s worth visiting with the Wolves. How do the majority of their corner 3s come within the flow of the offense and how can they create more of them while knocking down a much more respectable percentage? I also would like to break down Kevin Love’s shooting with a few measurements in I have in mind and see how my theories on his poor shooting briefly given in this post add up.

I’ll try to get those done by the middle of next week. Until then, let’s hope some of these start banking in or accidentally getting the roll. We can’t have the red line of death and we certainly can’t have enough real estate in the shooting charts for whatever the hell Farmville is.

Zach Harper

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6 responses to Timberwolves 3-point shooting: Infinite Sorrow 2012 Audit

  1. Last time you did a post like this, the Wolves tore it up from behind the arc. That was against Denver, too, right?

    I see what you’re doing here.

  2. This is brilliant and much needed. The Wolves’ outside ineptitude is allowing teams to collapse in the paint defensively and beat the sh#t out of our bigs and driving guards.

    They need to get Cook in here immediately, they need to get Roy to retire immediately (so we can bring in Cook), and they need to fish or cut bait with Luke. Luke’s primary value to this team is his shooting, and if he’s too hurt to shoot well, then we are currently left with 2 functional guards – JJ and Shved. Not a recipe for success.

    Or cut Lou Amundson. It doesn’t matter – this team needs some three point shooting guards. This team simply needs some replacement level guards.

  3. I really appreciate the follow-up, Zach. I hope your next “update” timestamp is when Ricky is REALLY back and making actual contributions to the team (hopefully soon). And I’m with Patrick on the timeliness. I’ll be shocked if we don’t knock down 10 threes tonight.

    What’s with all the hating on Luke? He hasn’t had a good shooting year (though watching his follow through on a mid-range jumper is a thing of beauty), but we’re extremely lucky to have a veteran guard who we can trust handling the ball and making decisions at the end of games – particularly in a time of guard injuries for this team. If he’s a trade target of a lot of contending teams right now, he’s clearly valuable. I think either he or JJ are perfect backups to Ricky once he’s back and commanding 38 min/game. It’s just tough to compromise our defense by playing either of those guys at the 2 like we’re forced to do so often.

    Too many comments on here calling for cutting or trading half of our roster. The fact that we hang in games where we shoot this poorly is a testament to how well-built the Wolves roster really is (while missing Budinger).

    That being said, I’m going to hold Zach to that “another month” call on Love’s return to regularity. I pledge my patience until then, but I don’t think I can take much longer. And even then I’ll probably still sport my Love jersey every home game.

  4. Thank you for making me laugh repeatedly even with the depressing nature of this post, Zach. Truly the sign of a great writer.

  5. pagingstanleyroberts January 4, 2013 at 11:08 am

    They just have to keep shooting the open ones and finding ways to avoid taking the others. That part is more a scheme and execution problem than a shooting one. As for Cook, c’mon. The guy is a career 36.5% guy. Let’s not overestimate his impact. Unless they shake things up, they can only focus on shooting when open and keeping defenses honest.

    When it comes to the guards, we need to have this permanently tattooed into our brains: Rick Adelman values ballhandlers and passers above all else in the backcourt, he wants at least 1 good perimeter defender on the court at all times, and he has final personnel control. That means JJ and Luke will likely be on the roster and playing for the rest of the season, even if Rubio is healthy.

  6. Great post, Zach. I’m crying so much, too, man. Positive thoughts: It just can’t stay this close to historically bad all season. Imagine what our record would be if we could make 3s at a decent clip. Love should be much better by February. Shved will get better, too… still only 30 NBA games under his belt. Rubio is the big wild card. If he can make shots, mid-range and a few 3s, he’ll be an all-star and the Wolves will thrive. If not……

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