Timberwolves 3-point shooting: Infinite Sorrow February Audit
It’s that time again.
There was a certain point in which I realized tracking all of the Wolves’ futile 3-point shooting was simply the “rubberneck effect.” You know the rubberneck effect, right? It’s when you’re driving on a freeway and traffic becomes unbearably slow. There’s a sick part of you that wants to know exactly how bad the carnage is. You want to know if it’s going to be like the Red Asphalt videos you had to watch when you went through driver’s training (or maybe that’s just in California; I’m not sure). Or maybe you’ll see an unharmed family looking at their wrecked car and wonder how everybody got out unscathed.
Regardless of what you’re looking for, it’s pretty much the same idea. You’re slowing down to see what the holdup was. Traffic is a mess because people have the same idea you will have when you come across whatever the issue was. You want to see just how bad the damage is that is causing everybody’s day to be delayed by 10-30 minutes. Frustratingly (but lucky) enough, it’s typically nothing. It ends up being a flat tire or someone pulled over on the side of the road because they crossed the carpool lane double lines in front of a highway officer or maybe it’s just ducks crossing the road. Whatever the cause of the delay is, it rarely satiates that sick part of you that thought the worst.
I realized I was going through the rubberneck effect when I was sitting between Britt Robson and Ben Polk the other night. I had my spreadsheet for February up on my laptop and turned to Ben to inform him of the unbelievably low open 3-point shooting numbers. He responded with something like, “Why? Why must you do this to me?” I don’t even know if you guys want to know how bad the shooting is anymore. Ben certainly doesn’t want to know. I think Britt had a sick fascination with knowing the numbers because of how bad they are.
If anything, I think it’s still a cathartic thing for me. I want to see the carnage. I want to see if we had a four-car pileup or if it’s just someone getting pulled over for expired tags. And maybe you suffering through the numbers with me is something you want to do. Everybody likes to feel crappy together, right? Isn’t that what the internet and message boards and comment sections and Twitter were invented for? So we can all revel in the crap-fest of certain aspects of life?
Well the Timberwolves’ 3-point shooting is still a crap-fest. After the month of February, the Wolves were back over 30% from 3-point range. In fact, they were 30.03% after February’s games. So let’s get into the rubbernecking, shall we?
Open 3-point shooting
Two months ago, I was surprised that Derrick Williams was the best 3-point shooter the Wolves employed (healthy that is; miss you, Chase and Kevin). Now, it is kind of incredible that Derrick is the model open 3-point shooter for the Wolves. They shoot 30.4% on open 3-point shots for the season, which is the exact same percentage as Williams. I’m not quite sure what this means. Well, I know it means that the Wolves still suck at 3-point shooting. It’s astonishing how this trend has kept going, with little fluctuation.
One thing that remains constant is Derrick is still one of the best outside shooters on the team. Considering he’s shooting 31.3% overall from 3-point range on the season, that’s a terrifying thought. One thing you’d like to see more consistency with from him is keeping his eye on the target when he shoots. It seems like he does so much looking and measuring of where the defender is before he goes into his shooting motion. It’s obviously good to know where the defender is to know how much space you have to get the shot off, but even on open 3-point shots he seems slow to get his eyes on the target for the shooting motion.
Here’s the concerning thing: in 13 games during February, the Wolves only took 27 open 3-point attempts. Back in the early parts of the season, the team was getting roughly four open attempts per game. Last month, it dropped to 2.7 open attempts from 3-point range each game. Now we’re down to barely over two open looks from 3-point range each game. Not to mention, the Wolves only made 29.6% of their open looks in February. So they can’t hit them, but they also don’t get many looks. They’re getting fewer good shots from the perimeter. That can’t be a good trend for this team. Last month, they made just 17.1% of their open looks. I guess technically this is progress, but still doesn’t seem like an acceptable percentage.
Also, Alexey Shved simply can’t make open looks. He’s taken the most on this team and hits just 25% of them. More on this in a bit.
Defended 3-point shooting
I still never really know what to think of these defended shots. A lot of them are bailout shots at the end of the shot clock, but it’s not a vast majority that causes you to just assume the shooters have no choice. A lot of the time, we see the Wolves just kind of give up and take this defended 3-point shot because they’re seemingly out of options on offense. It’s cool to see that Mickael Gelabale is making half of his defended 3-point shots on the season. However, it’s only been four attempts. I’m going to assume that doesn’t hold for the rest of the season. Of the regular shooters, Williams is once again one of the best. J.J. Barea is also pretty good at them (relatively speaking, of course) and takes quite a few of these defended 3-point attempts.
The fact that Alexey is still taking the most on the team and not even coming close to making a decent percentage of them (whatever that is) is alarming to me. I think he clearly hit a rookie wall; Kevin Love even mentioned as much in an excellent Q&A with the incomparable Zach Lowe at Grantland. And when that rookie wall happens, you see a lot of forced shots instead of being patient to find a better shot. For Alexey, that shot seems to be at the basket. Think of the majority of good games he’s had over the course of the season. Most of them occur when he’s being aggressive driving to the basket to set up the rest of his game. He hasn’t had many of those lately and seems to just be bailing out for long shots, often when defended. That’s why I’d love to see him try to play through the rookie malaise and try to fight through contact, through non-calls, and finish at the basket. It could set up a lot for these shots.
There are three things that stand out to me here:
1) I’m surprised to see Luke shooting so many defended 3-point shots in the month of February. Maybe that’s a product of the injuries and him having to resume his designated role of playing shooting guard with all of the wing injuries (something he’s had to do over the past two seasons and yet fans seem to dislike him for trying to fill a role he’s not supposed to try to fill) or maybe he’s just taking worse shots. Whatever the reason is I’m surprised to see 10 attempts from him on defended 3-pointers in just 13 games.
2) The Wolves made 29.3% of their open looks compared to 28.9% of their defended looks. That can’t be a good thing.
3) The Wolves are still taking way more defended 3-point attempts compared to open 3-point attempts. Last month, it was a 2.7:4.5 ratio of open-to-defended looks. In February, we’re looking at a ratio of 2.0:3.4 on open-to-defended attempts. I guess technically, it’s getting better but it’s still getting worse at the same time, if you know what I mean.
Contested 3-point shooting
This is the Wolves’ bread and butter 3-point shot right now. It’s probably just a rhythm thing where they don’t have to think about hitting an open shut and just have to react to getting the ball over the outstretched hand of a defender they know will never get there. Some commenters and tweeters early on in this project suggested that the open shot was just a psychological problem for some shooters, and there is probably something to that. However, I think that’s generally only the case with poor shooters. The good shooters never have to worry about that kind of thing over the long haul, whereas with bad shooters, you probably don’t want all of that time to think about it.
J.J. and Alexey are the two best contested shooters we have on this team, and they take the most out of any two players on this team. I guess that’s a good thing that the two best contested shooters take the most contested shots. The contested shooters that fall in line with this average are Williams and Ridnour, showing that Derrick is probably the most representative shooter this team has with Chase and Love out. I still believe that adding a healthy Budinger and a healthy Love would change the dynamic of this team and it’s shooting. It would space the floor better, resulting in better shots, and a better rhythm for the flow of the offense. But until we get to see that in a couple weeks, Derrick is the guy to look to. As he goes, the rest of the shooting seems to go.
There are two things I want to talk about before I end this rubbernecking:
1) J.J. Barea is by far the best shooter on this healthy roster right now. You can see it in the percentages across the board for open, contested, and defended looks. Obviously, the overall 3-point percentage of Barea, which is 34.5%, is tops on the team so it’s easy to recognize that he’s the best shooter. But when you think about it, he is the best shooter the Wolves have at creating his own 3-point shot or spotting up for a 3-point shot with Chase and Kevin out. As frustrated as fans can be with him, Barea taking 3-point shots is really the Wolves’ best bet right now from downtown.
2) I’m pretty sure Alexey Shved is the Goldilocks of 3-point shooting. Open 3-point shots for Alexey (25.0%) are the porridge that is too hot for him. Defended 3-point shooting for Shved (16.7%) are the porridge that is too cold for him. But that contested 3-point shot? That 40.4% from 3-point range on contested looks? That porridge is just right. Considering he takes the most attempts out of all three of those shot breakdowns, I feel pretty confident in dubbing his 3-point shooting to be Shvedilocks and the 3-points.
It’s a bedtime tale to tell your children.
As you look at the .gif below of the shooting charts by month and for the entire season through February, it’s somewhat encouraging to see that the Wolves did start to make corner 3-pointers during the month of February. Minnesota also had their best 3-point shooting month of the season. That would be an awesome thing to rest your hat on, if it wasn’t just 31.8% for a month.
But hey, baby steps, right?
Okay, one last thing and then I’m completely done with this post. I’ve been tracking the 3-point shooting for the Wolves all season long, and keeping splits of how the team has shot since Rubio returned to the lineup. When I first decided to keep that split, I figured Rubio’s return would result in better looks and a higher percentage. That hasn’t exactly happened across the board.
And while I’ll get more into that with the passing breakdown of the Rubio Project (it’s coming in the next couple of days; I was sick this past week and it screwed with my production on a project that is a lot denser than I expected it to be), I find it intriguing that the Wolves are shooting worse from 3-point range on open looks since Rubio returned.
The splits are as follows:
Open 3-pointers before Rubio’s return: 39.0%, open 3-pointers since Rubio’s return: 22.3%.
Defended 3-pointers before Rubio’s return: 15.2%, defended 3-pointers since Rubio’s return: 23.7%.
Contested 3-pointers before Rubio’s return: 33.6%, contested 3-pointers since Rubio’s return: 35.7%.
This includes the games Rubio missed since the return to the lineup and we do see an improvement on contested and defended attempts (maybe that has something to do with the rhythm of shooting and Rubio’s passing). However, the open 3-point attempts have not only gone down, but the Wolves shoot significantly worse with Rubio back in the lineup on those open looks. And you can’t even blame Rubio’s shooting here because he barely takes any of these open looks.
Again, we’ll delve more into this during the week, but I just thought I’d throw in those splits.