Timberwolves 3-point shooting: Infinite Sorrow January Audit
Let’s say you were trapped in a cabin somewhere. No, this isn’t some bizarre R. Kelly musical idea; I’m serious.
Sometimes I watch this team shoot 3-pointers and I feel like I’m trapped in a cabin. I typically get this feeling when I review all of the 3-pointers from the past month, chart down the results, and realize progress hasn’t been made. For a while, I thought it might feel like a zombie apocalypse survival journal, but I ultimately determined this wasn’t the feeling.
The Wolves 3-point shooting feels like I went to a cabin with friends in the dead of winter. Let’s pretend it’s at the base of a mountain and due to some raucous argument about comparing Jurassic Park: The Lost World and Jurassic Park III, we caused enough of a ruckus to trigger a chain reaction of noise echoing off the mountainside to bring about an avalanche. As a Lost World vs. III argument is wont to do, some people ended up getting up and storming out of the cabin, unknowingly walking into the business end of an avalanche.
It leaves you with just one of your friends inside of this cabin. There isn’t any power. There isn’t any way out. You have a limited supply of food that you have to ration out between you two. You can’t dig your way out of the cabin. You’re inside a fortress of solitude from the outside world. You can’t signal to those that you need help. You have to just sit there and hope someone comes looking for you. As the days go on, you begin to lose hope. There haven’t been any signs of contact or a search party. It’s just you and your friend.
Eventually, you’ll run out of food, one of you will panic, and get into a fight. Let’s say in fear for your life, you take it too far, grab a candelabra, and… well… end your friendship. At this point you’re the lone survivor of the bunch and you don’t think anybody is every going to come find you. Just in case you’re found after it’s too late, you decide to keep a journal. In this journal, you’re going to write down every thought you have to share with those who will eventually find you.
If they find you before you perish, you’ll be able to turn this journal into a book and worst-case scenario, it becomes a TV movie starring Scott Wolf as you. If you’re long expired by the time they find you, well… those who find you will turn it into a book and you’ll basically become that guy from Into the Wild. They’ll make a movie about you played by Emile Hirsch and you’ll be like, “Seriously? The jerk from Alpha Dog is playing me?”
In that journal, you’re going to get desperate at some point. In fact, you’ll probably journal all of the stages of death. This is how I feel when it comes to these 3-point shooting audits.
- At first, I was in denial about the poor shooting. “This is simply due to the injuries. Rubio will come back, guys will get healthy, and we’ll see them turn it around.”
- Then I got angry about the shooting. “Why are they taking so many bad shots? Why haven’t they been able to continue taking more open 3-pointers than defended 3-pointers?”
- After that, I started bargaining. I wanted them to find a 3-point shooter somewhere. Jason Kapono’s name popped into my head multiple times, so you know it was really bad. I wrote a post pining for Daequan Cook to be added to the roster somehow.
- Luckily, I skipped over the depression stage. Actually, the depression stage probably coincided with the moments in which I wondered if Jason Kapono had kept himself in “game shape” while he was off… wait… what the hell has Kapono been up to? Apparently, he’s playing in Greece right now and is shooting 50% from 3-point range in 12 games. He has a true shooting percentage over 60%.
- At this point, I’ve hit the acceptance stage or I’m at least teetering and about to fall into that stage. This team simply can’t shoot. They’ll have good moments here and there, but really, the proof is in the pudding at this point. It’s been three months and 46 games and this team is STILL just barely over 30% from 3-point range. It took an 8-of-18 effort against the Spurs to creep back over 30%.
But that’s not going to stop me from doing the audits because I want this avalanche-induced live journal of my end days to reflect that I had a work ethic as long as it didn’t involve putting on pants. Maybe things will get better in the month of February (38% through the first four games), or maybe the Wolves will start assaulting the front rim some more and go back to challenging for the worst 3-point shooting season ever.
For now, let’s go over how the team shot in January. We’ll start with defended 3-point shots, just to keep things fresh (and because I want to talk about open 3-point shots at the end). Just as a reminder, we break the 3-point shooting up into three categories:
- Open 3-point shots: 3-point attempts that are completely open. A player running at the shooter does not count as an open shot. We’re talking nobody takes a run at them, nobody throws a hand up, and you’re not even getting any clever light reflecting off a pocket mirror chicanery going on by the defense.
- Contested 3-point shooting: 3-point attempts in which a closeout happened with or without a hand being put up to distract the shooter.
- Defended 3-point shooting: 3-point attempts with the defender already on the shooter and not in need of much moving to contest the shot.
It isn’t exact science and it’s a lot of subjective judging on my part, but I’ve tried to remain completely consistent over these three audits. Also, we never count buzzer beaters at the end of a quarter, even if the shooter has crossed halfcourt. If it’s in rhythm and an actual set play of sorts, we’ll count it. If it’s a rushed attempt to beat the buzzer, it’s stricken from the record. The first audit of the 3-point shooting can be found here. The “end of 2012” 3-point audit can be found here.
Defended 3-point shooting
I’m not sure how you can expect these numbers on defended 3-point attempts to be consistently higher because the shots are well defended. However, it feels like the majority of these are unconscionably low percentages. I would imagine if Chase Budinger and Kevin Love were healthy and their normal selves, the percentages on these shots would be higher for the team, but I’m not sure it would solve the problem, overall. Derrick Williams remains the best 3-point shooter when the shot is defended properly. Alexey Shved is taking the most out of any shooter we have and he’s making just 14.3% of them.
You can try to credit those numbers and bad percentages to shots at the end of the shot clock, but that’s not always the case. Kirilenko and Shved seem to like to catch the defender off guard by jacking up shots right in their faces. Is it a Russian league thing? Does everybody on the Russian National Team do this?
The numbers for these shots went up from last time. The Wolves were shooting 17.2% on defended 3-point shots heading into the month of January and it rose nearly two full percentage points for the season. This was primarily due to Derrick Williams and J.J. Barea making a fair amount of their defended 3-point shots. Shved even doubled his season makes on defended 3-pointers from three to six. Not sure the rise in these made shots can be credited to anything other than random variance for now.
In the first two months of the season, the Wolves took 4.2 defended 3-point shots per game. That number went up a hair to 4.5 per game. It’s not a disturbing trend, necessarily, but it does show that the Wolves aren’t cutting down on those shots for more open shots right off the bat.
Contested 3-point shooting
It is kind of funny that the Wolves’ contested 3-point chart looks like the shape of a gun if you connect all the heads. But it would definitely be a gun wielded by Cheddar Bob in 8 Mile that could leave you worried about whether or not you’ll be able to have kids in the future. Actually, this chart is somewhat encouraging if you compare it to previous months. After the first two months of the season, Minnesota was shooting 33.8% on contested 3-point shots. Only Shved, Barea, and Williams were shooting a really acceptable percentage on a significant number of attempts on contested looks.
In the month of January, the Wolves shot the ball pretty well on contested looks. On the season, you’ve now got five regular rotation players (Williams, Shved, Barea, Ridnour, and Kirilenko) hovering in a very respectable range on these shots. If they’re making contested looks consistently, you can expect the percentage to go up most nights because the defended and open looks should pretty much even themselves out. Also, it’s cool to see that Shved is nails on these shots. He’s taking the most on the team and he has the highest percentage.
Ridnour, Barea, and Kirilenko all had big months on contested looks. Ridnour led the charge with 45.8% shooting on the second most attempts for the month. Kirilenko was right behind him in attempts (20) and percentage (45.0%). Barea took the most attempts and made 43.3% of his shots. Shved and Williams fell back to earth a little bit, but if other guys are taking more shots and making ridiculous percentages like that, then you can live with a little slump from those guys.
If the Wolves can match this effort and execution with quality open looks aplenty that are hitting the bottom of the net, maybe they CAN turn around their 3-point fortunes and start climbing out of the last spot in the league…
Open 3-point shooting
WHAT IN THE RASHAD MCCANTS HAPPENED TO THE OPEN LOOKS?! The Timberwolves PLUMMETED in open looks in the month of January. How bad was it, you ask? They made just 17.1% of open 3-point looks in January. 17.1 PERCENT! How is that even possible? These are uncontested shots — not a hand in the face, not a run out in which someone pretends they’re going to spear you, and not a runout in which someone pretends they’re going to give you a cup check before you release the shot.
These are open looks and the Wolves are wetting themselves when they get them. It doesn’t even seem real. Could this be tired legs from all of the injuries? Guys are forced to play outside of their roles and play extended minutes on top of that. Fans get frustrated with Ridnour and Barea, but these two point guards are essentially asked to be full-time shooting guards most nights. The results are going to be bad, but THIS bad? Is it possible these guys don’t know what hand is their actual shooting hand?
The fact that the Wolves only made seven open 3-point attempts in 15 games also seems like a prank they’re pulling on us. And look at the number of attempts they got. 41 open attempts in 15 games? That’s it? When I first did the audit, I came up with an assist-to-turnover ratio equivalent to the 3-point shooting that pitted open shots against defended shots. At the time, the Wolves were taking 4.6 open attempts per game and 3.6 defended attempts per game. That number dropped in the previous audit to 4.1:4.2 in open-to-defended attempts. It was trending in a bad way.
For the month of January, that number was a truly awful 2.7:4.5 open-to-defended 3-point attempts per game. This is alarming. Not only are the Wolves shooting the ball worse but they’re also theoretically taking the worst possible 3-point attempts they can take. I know you can look at the numbers for January and say, “but they shot better on defended 3-pointers than they did on open 3-pointers.” Yes, they did. If they somehow managed to get an extra 27 open attempts to make the attempts an even number, I doubt the Wolves would still be shooting 17.1% on open 3-pointers.
For the overall season, the Wolves are getting just 3.3 open attempts per game and letting 3.9 defended attempts fly each night. This trend has to head back in the other direction.
Let’s take a look at the Wolves’ shot charts for each month and then the overall season in .gif form:
There is too much mustard and ketchup on these charts and not nearly enough relish. The only decent zone they have for the season overall is the right corner and that’s only 36.2%. In January, their best zone was the right wing at 35.8%. In other words, this team still sucks at shooting 3-point shots.
I’m going to assume the 17.1% on open 3-pointers was a fluke and a product of so many injuries that hit the team for a four or five-game stretch. There were nights in which the Wolves had three guards and one of them had a minutes restriction. As the team gets healthier, they do seem to be shooting the ball a bit better. Minnesota is up to 30.2% on the season for 3-point percentage on 18.3 attempts per game.
Only four teams in NBA history have taken more than 12 attempts per game and made fewer than 30.3% of those 3-pointers. The Wolves have by far the best winning percentage of those four teams and have separated themselves away from that historical futility for now. But that’s with a hot four games in February helping them boost the numbers a bit. Through January 31st, the Wolves were shooting 29.5% from 3-point range, which would have them tied with the Charlotte Bobcats from last season. Remember, that was a team that set the record for worst winning percentage in NBA history.
For now, we’ll have to wait for the end of February before we start getting into a possible improvement with this team’s shooting. Or maybe they’ll fall back down to where they’ve been so often this year and make it actually worse. Until then, I’ll just be inside this avalanche — counting my days and jotting down these crazy thoughts each day.