Timberwolves 121, Pistons 94: Free Throw Free-for-All

William Bohl —  December 11, 2013 — 4 Comments

Love Free Throw

It’s time I let you in on a dirty little secret about the Minnesota Timberwolves: most nights, as a team, they are not very good at shooting the basketball. I know this might come as a bit of a shock, given the furious offensive pace in Tuesday night’s 121-94 shellacking of the Detroit Pistons. But it’s true, I promise; let me offer you a bit of proof. Below is their season-long shot chart, which features an awful lot of red (note: red=bad) for a team ranked 12th in points per 100 possessions:

Timberwolves Team Shot Chart

 

It looks even worse when the Timberwolves’ shots are broken down by distance, in segments of five feet, as shown here:

Distance

Percentage

Rank

Inside 5 feet

58.0%

13th

5 – 9 feet

29.3%

30th

10 – 14 feet

31.5%

28th

15 – 19 feet

35.5%

25th

20 – 24 feet

36.6%

21st

25 – 29 feet

29.5%

28th

To summarize the picture and the chart: the Timberwolves are fine near the basket, decent shooting from the left wing three (which is Kevin Love’s hot spot), and adequate at midrange jumpers (the one shot in the NBA most defenses are comfortable letting their opponents take, by the way). Everywhere else, it’s ugly. And yet, Minnesota has a good offense… It seems my proclamation from the opening sentence of this recap needs a caveat.

On most nights, the Timberwolves, as a team, are not very good at shooting the ball… unless the defenders line up neatly along the painted area, and refrain from hindering their shot in any way.

I’m talking, of course, about free throws. In Tuesday night’s victory, Minnesota was awarded 33 tries from the charity stripe, converting on 28 of them. That’s 84.8% (mathematics!). For the season, the Wolves are making 80% of their free throw attempts, one of only four teams (Oklahoma City, Dallas and Portland are the others) to sink 4-of-every-5. Only three teams earn more trips to the line per game than Minnesota (Houston, L.A. Clippers, Charlotte) and the Timberwolves generate more than a fifth of their offense (20.6%) that way, the fifth-highest percentage in the league.

Love attempted 10 free throws against the Pistons and made each of them. Whether he was putting the ball on the floor and driving to the hoop or patiently waiting for defenders to bite on pump fakes so he could create contact, Love’s understanding of how to get to the line was impeccable. Kevin Martin, a perfect 5-for-5 from the line, schooled Kyle Singler on an early rip through and twice drew whistles while attempting to finish in transition. Ricky was fouled on a couple of drives to the basket and made all four of his attempts, and Nikola Pekovic went 4-of-6 in a night filled with physical play in the low post. Combined, Minnesota’s starters made 23-of-25 free throws.

The one Minnesota starter who didn’t earn a trip to the line contributed in other (exciting) ways – transition buckets, baseline cuts, and a give and go off an inbounds play that resulted in a thunderous dunk. Corey Brewer had a highlight kind of night:

Despite the fact that I bad-mouthed Minnesota’s overall shot-making ability at the beginning of the recap, on this night, the Wolves shot pretty well, even when they weren’t standing at the foul line and able to release at their leisure. The starters were 28-of-57 (49.1% – more mathematics!)  and closed the first half on a 23-to-9 run, effectively putting the game out of reach. Minnesota’s bench chipped in with 33 points, a welcome deviation from the norm. Alexey Shved wasn’t exactly competent, but at least appeared confident (one step at a time, people) in 18 minutes as a reserve. Robbie Hummel made some shots, and so did A.J. Price. Sixth man J.J. Barea tallied 10 points and 6 assists in 17 minutes, Dante Cunningham had 6 points, 8 boards and 3 steals, and the kids (Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad) got to take off their warm-ups for a little while. All was right for Rick Adelman’s bunch.

But the real story of the game was Kevin Love. His absence in the Heat game rendered Minnesota’s offense a squeaky wheel; he’s the grease that keeps the whole thing spinning. 26 points, 16 boards, 7 assists – gaudy numbers, but ones we’ve come to expect. Sag off of him on the perimeter, and he’ll drill a three. Body him, and he’ll find the open man. Allow him to get an offensive rebound, and he’ll kick it out to a shooter, draw a foul or make the putback. And if he gets his hands on a defensive board, he’ll fix his gaze towards his teammates flying down the court (Brewer, Martin, even Shved) and hit them with an outlet pass. Watching him on offense doesn’t get old; he knows exactly what he can do, and what he wants to do, and he does it.

Love also gets to the foul line on a regular basis, as does Kevin Martin. Sooner or later, the Timberwolves will get Chase Budinger back, and more shots will (hopefully) start to drop. Free throws aren’t a bad backbone for an offense; they fall at a high rate (provided you have the right personnel) and can carry you when field goal attempts aren’t going in. If opponents get into foul trouble, the defense softens, opening up more possibilities on the offensive end. Once Minnesota got into the bonus, they kept attacking – and the lead kept growing. Credit the Wolves for staying aggressive, and hungry – hopefully they can keep that energy through the grueling week and a half ahead.

Free throws can keep a team in games they don’t otherwise belong in. But if shots are falling and you’re getting to the line at will, as the Timberwolves did on Tuesday night? Forget it.

William Bohl

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4 responses to Timberwolves 121, Pistons 94: Free Throw Free-for-All

  1. The best thing about last nights game is that they won in a blow out. These are the games they are supposed take care of business in. They got to rest their starters for a back to back. It makes you feel like this team is over the hurdle and on their way to respectablity. Lets hope they can keep it going and get back into over loaded West.

  2. Eric: Over the hurdle? The Wolves are 3-7 in their last 10. While the opponents have been very strong, I think we have to win a few more of these winnable games before that proclamation.

  3. Mickey: A lot of those were on back to backs against tough opponents, and we were missing Love against the Heat. I agree that it is early to be praising, but I feel we can view this game as a “getting back on track” sort of deal.

  4. Interesting stats…. that’s a great graphic, William…. will you update it as the season goes along? Hope it gets better.
    I am enjoying the free throws this year, both number attempted and the impressive 80% conversion. It’s been a real bright spot for this team. It’s a sign of a good team, and a feature that recent Wolves teams have not had.

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