Timberwolves 104, Celtics 89: Three's company too
Trying to find something to write about coming off of a preseason game against a bad team is really hard to do.
I could go through and critique the play of guys that are doing basic things in basic schemes and playing in a basketball environment that really won’t be similar to the regular season style we see in a week and a half. But really, it’s not actually analyzing anything of substance and it kind of just wastes everybody’s time. Finding a hook for these games outside of “I wonder if Othyus Jeffers and Robbie Hummel have shown enough to make the team” is pretty tough.
However, I saw a brief conversation on Twitter tonight after the game that actually fired up some of those writing juices and made me want to look at a small sample of something the Wolves did and extrapolate that as a bigger basketball theory. Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN posed this subject after the victory Sunday night:
Kevin Love shot 8 three pointers in tonight's exhibition… He doesn't need to shoot 8 three pointers…
— Phil Mackey (@PMac21) October 21, 2013
(I would like to start off by saying I respect Phil and think he’s a good guy. I enjoy following him on Twitter. None of this is intended to disrespect him in any way and I would hope whatever conversation spawns from this article will be respectful of him. I am simply using his tweet as a jumping off point.)
If Kevin Love is taking eight 3-pointers per game this coming season and they’re in the flow of the offense, then he should absolutely take eight 3-pointers per game. I would say the best evolution of Love’s game over the past three years has been his willingness to let it fly from outside. In the 2011-12 season, he took 5.1 threes per game after just 1.9 the previous season. His percentage went down 4.5 percent but his increased volume made it a much better decision.
Even if you factor in the injury-demolished 2012-13 season for Love and his fractured shooting because of it, the Love 3-point bomb has been a very lucrative play for the Wolves over the last three seasons. He’s made 36.4% of his 3-pointers since the start of the 2010-11 season. He’s taken 585 3-pointers in his last 146 games, and it actually might not be enough shots from outside for him. Not even counting the times in which he draws a foul on a 3-point attempt, the Wolves’ offense is great when Love takes a 3-pointers the last three seasons.
The Wolves score 1.09 points per possession on the 585 “possessions” in which Love shoots a three. That’s insanely good. To put that in perspective, the Knicks finished third in the NBA in offensive efficiency last season at 108.6 points per 100 possessions. Again, that doesn’t include any of the possessions in which Love draws a foul on an attempt that doesn’t end up counting against his stat line or any of the possessions that stay alive because they grab the offensive rebound.
Looking at the Wolves’ play Sunday night (and specifically Love’s shot selection), I was pretty happy with the attempts he took. Of Love’s eight attempts from downtown, five of them were good looks. Five of them were good looks within the flow of the offense. One of his eight attempts came off one of the worst inbound passes you can possibly throw. Kelly Olynyk just gave the Wolves the ball at the end of the quarter and Love had to rush a one-legged attempt from about 27 feet as the clock expired. It wasn’t a “real attempt.”
The other two attempts by Love were bad looks in which he was well defended. Remember when we talked about the Infinite Sorrow debacle of last season? Well those would definitely qualify as “defended attempts.” Going through Phil’s timeline, he clarified that he was worried about Love getting into the habit of taking those shots with a hand in his face and heavily contesting those shots. I couldn’t agree more with Phil there. I realize those shots will happen from time to time and having two out of seven “real attempts” being shots of those nature are something I’m willing to live with if it means he’s not shy shooting from downtown on the regular.
I’d actually like to see that 5.1 3-point attempts per game from 2011-12 go up by a couple of attempts, as long as they’re coming in the flow of the offense. I’d like Love to treat his role in the offense a lot like Stephen Curry treats his role in the Golden State Warriors’ attack. Obviously, Curry is a much better shooter than Love; there’s no denying that. But Curry takes quick 3-point looks when he’s open and doesn’t worry how the last one ended up or if he’s shooting too many of them. In today’s NBA, good shooters should take more threes and Love is definitely a good shooter.
That doesn’t mean I want him taking 12 to 15 3-pointers every night. There has to be a balance and that balance is probably in the 7-8 range. My biggest problem with Love on the perimeter is that sometimes he hesitates a little too much instead of just letting it fly. He’ll pump fake and see what the defense will give him off of that fake, instead of realizing right away the defense has given him a 3-point shot. Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love are going to run a lot of quick pick-and-pops throughout the season. He needs to take advantage of the defense playing that poorly by going for the 3-ball.
When the defense starts seeing a load of success from Love on this shot and the proclivity to unleash them at any high amount of volume, it will cause the shot to be feared, which opens up driving lanes, slip lanes off screens, and plenty of floor-spacing for the rest of the team. In turn, that should get Nikola Pekovic more room to operate inside, Ricky Rubio more room to drive to find scoring opportunities for the team, and more room for Kevin Martin to move off of the ball to open areas.
Ultimately, that’s what all of this is about. The Wolves need spacing on offense and quick decisions within the flow of the offense. It’s the only way to keep things moving, keep the scoreboard lighting up, and keeping the defensive woes neutralized as much as possible. It’s not so much about the quantity as it is the quality of the shots. However, if you can combine quantity and quality as often as possible, then you’ve got a situation in which Kevin Love is the leading scorer for a pretty good offense.
Two more quick notes:
1) Kevin Martin’s scoring was fantastic.
2) Ricky Rubio is fun.