The Minnesota Timberwolves need to hit more shots.
Okay, that’s not totally the end. That would be an extremely short post of basketball analysis, but at this point in the season I am of the belief that this is the crux of the Wolves’ issue with the 2013-14 season. It’s hard to judge the disappointment of everything going on because the expectations and preseason guessing are what creates the disappointment. If we all went into this season with the expectation the Wolves would miss the playoffs and had no real chance at getting some postseason experience, would we be disappointed at all?
This is already the most successful non-Kevin Garnett season the Wolves have ever had. In 2011-12, the Wolves were in the 8th seed before Ricky Rubio tore up his knee. That was a very awful team in a very lockout-induced schedule of chaos. I don’t know if the Wolves were actually good (looking at the talent, I’d say they weren’t) but they were in the position for the playoffs. To David Kahn’s credit, he worked with Rick Adelman that offseason and put together an improved roster and the playoffs seemed like a real possibility. Then Kevin Love broke his hand
bare-knuckle boxing doing knuckle pushups, the Wolves had all of the injuries, and the season was lost. Adelman somehow coached that team to 31 wins, beating the most successful non-KG season ever by two wins.
This year, the Wolves have surpassed that win total with a win Tuesday night over the Milwaukee Bucks. They’re 32-31 and yet all we hear about is how bad they are. Bad and disappointing have been traded for each other regarding this season because we went into this season believing they had a chance at the playoffs. Hell, I picked them to grab the 8-seed. Instead, they’re currently 10th and a healthy amount of games back of sneaking into the playoffs. With so few games left, it seems like it would take a miracle, and as we’ve mentioned before, we’re basically left hoping for a .500 season or better whilst retaining a top 13 pick and not letting it get to 14 and then go to the Suns.
Rick Adelman is screwing up! Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic don’t protect the rim! Ricky Rubio doesn’t score enough! Corey Brewer gambles too much! Kevin Martin doesn’t do anything but score! The bench never helps us! These are all complaints about the season I’ve seen, and while there is a dusting of validity in those reasons, none of them are all that telling of what has “gone wrong” with the Wolves this season. They simply don’t hit enough shots and are once again an anomaly in that sense. They’re 24th in the NBA in field goal percentage at 44.0% and 26th in the NBA with a 34.0% 3-point accuracy.
Jim Petersen was talking about the history of 3-point shooting with this team the other night when Love set the single-season record for 3-pointers made in a season. It did two things: 1) It kind of broke Jim Pete a bit as he was correctly going over on air and later on Twitter just how bad the individual 3-point shooting efforts have been for the Wolves over the years. Before this season, Chuck Person was sitting fifth in Wolves’ single season history with 118 made 3-pointers. How is that even acceptable?
Ricky Davis, Chauncey Billups, Isaiah Rider, and Rashad McCants rounded out that list before Love rightfully took his place atop it. He has a chance at 200 made 3-pointers this season, which would certainly bring the Wolves’ a step into the modern basketball era. Just for reference, the 118 made by Person, which now sits sixth in Wolves’ history? 24 players in the NBA have beaten that just this season; five players in 25 seasons of the Wolves have beaten that.
This team has just rarely been accurate from the outside. When they are, they’re almost always successful as a team. This Wolves team has offensive firepower. It’s one of the reasons they’re currently ninth in the NBA in offensive rating. But their success scoring on offense has nothing to do with making shots. They’re really bad at making shots, one of the worst in the league. When you feast off the free throw line and struggle to score outside of that, you’re not going to rack up late game victories. If you can’t shoot the ball, especially at the end of games, you’re screwed.
You can blame the coach and the rotations all you want, but the fact of the matter is this team simply can’t hit shots and the coach can’t do anything about that.
The Wolves take a guarded catch-and-shoot attempt 56.5% of the time. They make just 35.1% on these attempts overall, with an effective field goal percentage of 46.1%. That’s good for 21st in the NBA, which isn’t that surprising considering their field goal percentage is so low. But that part I can accept. This team isn’t a good shooting team and they struggle when they’re guarded. The Gary Trent-sized pill that’s impossible to swallow is the unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts.
This team is 23rd in the NBA at shooting unguarded catch-and-shoot shots. They make just 39.9% from the field with an eFG of 52.2% on UNGUARDED CATCH-AND-SHOOT ATTEMPTS! That’s infuriating and I don’t know how you even find a scapegoat for that. This team was supposed to be an offensive juggernaut, and they kind of are until you get to the end of games when it’s harder to draw fouls and make your living at the line. They simply can’t shoot and they certainly can’t shoot from outside. This is something we should be used to by now, but it’s even more frustrating when you look at how prevalent the 3-point shot is in 2014.
Six times in the Wolves’ 25 years the Wolves have finished in the top half of the league in 3-point percentage. SIX TIMES! We’re not talking about finishing in the top 5 of 3-point shooting percentage. We’re simply talking about being in the top half of the league. Five of those times, the Wolves made the playoffs. The only time they didn’t was the 2010-11 season when they inexplicably hit a ton of 3-pointers for Kurt Rambis.
This will be the 14th time in 25 seasons the Wolves have finished in the bottom 10 of 3-point percentage. When looking at how to fix this team, I don’t consider a coaching change. While Rick Adelman hasn’t been perfect as a coach this year, the idea that he’s been bad is comical to me and just a knee-jerk reaction that doesn’t hold any water. I don’t look at the defensive presences on the floor not being enough. I simply see good shot after good shot bounce off the iron and not through the net.
Want to know how to fix the team and get them into the postseason next year? Put shooters on this team. I know we sort of thought that was happening this season, but it didn’t take. If Chase Budinger can ever truly be healthy, he’d be one shooter you’re adding to the roster, but I’m not sold on the idea of his leg ever being consistently good enough again. He went through an injury that is tough to come back from once and he had it twice in a year. My fingers are crossed but my expectations are low.
Kevin Love and Kevin Martin are good enough 3-point shooters and can be quite deadly most nights. Corey Brewer and JJ Barea shouldn’t be shooting nearly as much as they do; Brewer shouldn’t be shooting 3-pointers at all unless he’s being defended. That’s right; I said unless he’s being defended. His unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts fall 26.4% of the time with an eFG of 37.9%. His guarded attempts are 40% and an eFG of 55.3%. That kind of chaos probably means he should only be cutting to the basket and scoring that way. He’s not even a good corner 3-point shooter.
Ricky Rubio has actually been an acceptable 3-point shooter making 35.4% from behind the line. Give him a month with a good shooting coach and he’d be fine as long as he works his ass off. But he needs to commit to a shooting coach and the organization needs to push him toward that. Alexey Shved should never take a three. And Robbie Hummel has been surprisingly inaccurate, although we’re judging just 54 attempts.
This team needs a backup backcourt that can make outside shots. That should be the goal this year. If you’re adding three players to the roster, they need to all be shooters. You’re good everywhere else. If we’re going to pray for the Portland Trail Blazers model of keeping their star power forward happy with trade ideas and rumors swirling about, this team has to get with the times and become a great 3-point shooting team. If Flip Saunders can’t see that, I don’t know what to say about this organization anymore.
This season, 11 of the 15 most accurate 3-point shooting teams will make the playoffs. How did the Blazers turn their franchise around? They revamped the bench and had their team go from 20th in the NBA in 3-point percentage to eighth this season. How important is being able to make shots if you want to win, especially at the rate the Wolves are shooting? Since the rule changes in 2004-05 to make the game more perimeter-oriented and open, only the 2013-14 Wolves and the 2005-06 New Jersey Nets have shot 44.0% or worse from the field and 34.0% or worse from 3-point range and had a winning record.
Once again, the Wolves are a statistical anomaly when it comes to making shots.
The Wolves aren’t a lost cause by any means. We’re seeing that a 32-31 season could end up being a .500 or better season. When you’re that good, you don’t need drastic changes and overhauls to take the next step. You need to just tweak the things you’re bad at and find a way for acceptable and realistic improvement. Adding a couple of shooters to this team changes everything. I know we want to find these elaborate things to change about this team in order to bring about a postseason existence.
But this year, it’s boiling down simply to making shots. Improve the 3-point percentage and the spacing all over the floor gives guys a better opportunity to make the defense pay. Improve the 3-point percentage and join the modern NBA. Hit shots.
Basketball can be just that easy. Give it a shot.