Shooting yourself in the foot and probably missing that too

Zach Harper —  March 14, 2014 — 15 Comments

LoveRecord

The Minnesota Timberwolves need to hit more shots.

The end.

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.

Zach Harper

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15 responses to Shooting yourself in the foot and probably missing that too

  1. I’m with you, but we have to be one of the worst teams in the league at defending the 3, as well. I’m not sure who the Wolves defensive guru is, but it would probably be a good idea to not let guys like Steve Novak and Terrence Ross take uncontested 3’s, especially in a game we likely had to have. Our rotations always seem to give up easy looks, especially off of pick and rolls.

    Also, any token collection of “Blame Game” assertions can’t be complete without the “JJ Barea is killing this team” theory, which is my favorite because it’s a constant reminder that Kahn is still sticking it to us with every ill-advised Barea jumper, drive, and tantrum.

  2. I do like this team. We’re above .500. We have waited so long for that. We’re taking small steps and not a giant leap from the bottom to a contender. That’s not bad. I like what you are writing Zach. I’ve had thoughts in that general direction as well watching the games and seeing how many bad shots we take. I also agree with Sean about defending the 3. Seems like most teams have season high 3s against us. I didn’t especially like the Brewer addition. He’s too scetchy. He shouldn’t be a starter on this team.

  3. Regarding 3 point defense, I looked it up out of curiosity and they’re middle of the pack in made 3s allowed and % allowed. Zach, are there numbers out there for % of uncontested 3s they allow? At this point, I think my pessimistic MN fan mindset is just seeping in and I need to realize that teams sometimes just get hot.

  4. Last season, Corey Brewer shot 40% from the left corner and 28% from the right, Kevin Martin shot 50% from the corners (mostly from the left). Yeah you read that right, he made half his corner threes last season. This season, both of them have combined to shoot 31% from the corners, which is horribly bad considering those two are supposed to be the Wolves best wing players.
    The only players that can knock down corner threes are Love, Barea and Budinger, nobody else is really good enough to be considered worth guarding.

    The Wolves (and surprisingly the OKC Thunder too O_O) shoot the corner three way below league average and the above the break three slightly above average, which has got to be rare. As a consequence, the Wolves take mostly above the break threes, but that’s not really a solution. It’s a problem and one of the reasons the Wolves have struggled to win close games. Defenders can just sack off of whoever is in the corners and crowd the paint, which makes it harder for Love and Pek to score inside and of course harder for Rubio to drive and make plays.

    MIN: http://stats.nba.com/teamShotchart.html?TeamID=1610612750&SeasonType=Regular%20Season&display-mode=performance&zone-mode=basic
    PHO: http://stats.nba.com/teamShotchart.html?TeamID=1610612756&SeasonType=Regular%20Season&display-mode=performance&zone-mode=basic
    MIA: http://stats.nba.com/teamShotchart.html?TeamID=1610612748&SeasonType=Regular%20Season&display-mode=performance&zone-mode=basic

  5. What makes me be disapointed is that the preRickyinjury team of two years ago, had the same win-lose percentage than this seasons team. The team hasn´t had develop and plays worse basketball with much better players. And this is Adelmans fault. I sincerely hope to see a new coach next season.

  6. I largely agree, but the FG% we allow in the Restricted Area is the worst in the NBA at 64.79%.

    On all other (non-RA 2s, mid-range, and 3PT) shots, the Wolves are league average, allowing teams to shoot for an eFG of 45.08%, just an eyelash above the league average of 45.03%, ranking 14th in the league.

    This brings up some interesting questions.

    If we want to improve the team overall, I certainly wouldn’t suggest trading Love or Pek. Can the Wolves upgrade the defense of our bench bigs? If Gorgui Dieng improves, that would improve our results. I suspect Ronny Turiaf staying healthy would help, too.

    As we seek to add wings and guards, we should look for long D and 3s who can improve not only our shooting, but also our defense. Hopefully, there are some second tier versions of Luol Deng and Kawhi Leonard that can fit into the Wolves salary structure.

    Google Spreadsheet Stats via NBA.com/stats

  7. @Pillow No amount of coaching from Adelman is going to change the Wolves poor shooting at this point. They are professional athletes, open jumpshots should not be this impossible. As a coach, you put your players in the best situations to succeed. As Zach illustrated above, Adelman’s offensive schemes lead to open perimeter shots, but the Wolves simply cannot make them.

    I would hope Flip realizes this and either makes some offseason moves or looks to the draft. Both Jodie Meeks and Patty Mills have shot the ball well from deep this season and I feel would be able to provide some floor spacing and three-point shooting coming off the bench. I’d even take that Anthony Morrow guy from New Orleans.

  8. Well, I’m not sure how you alleviate the situation. I agree with you completely but what to do about it? We have no money and two movable players, the moving of either making the point moot. Also, we’re shelling out 22M to fringe rotation players next year: Budinger, Barea, Moute, Brewer, Shved. I honestly think we’re stuck in no-mans land unless we somehow get a top-three pick(assuming we keep it), luck-out at 13(HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHHAHAHA) or can move the pick for somebody useful(does orlando think about afflalo for 13 and one of those five?). Mostly I’m just disappointed and wishing somebody had smothered Kahn in his sleep as a baby.

  9. @SAT

    “As a coach, you put your players in the best situations to succeed.”

    That´s absolutely right. That´s what Adelman should has been doing this season and what he has not.

    Adelman is not going to change the Wolves poor shooting, but what he is able to do is try to make shooting less relevant. Try to make, for example, the team play more in the paint. You´re talking about trade for some shooters. Do you really want more shooters? What about Kevin Martin, Love, Budinger and Shved (and Barea)? Because that´s what they are. I would prefer Saunders to bring to Minneapolis a defensive and athletic center and a good smallforward. This way (if Love is not traded) the start5 would be much more balanced and could be better at defense. The team needs a true pointguard coming off the bench too.

    Look, Adelmans system is designed to play with a shooting guard, something Rubio has repeteadly proof that he is not. Something we all knew before this season. What Adelmans doing is try to force players to play the way he wants, instead of try to make a system that matches with his players. And doing it, he´s making some players play worse like Rubio and Pekovic during first months.

    A little proof about what I´m saying are some Adelmans words early this season. He said that they were not going to play pickandrolls. Something insane with Rubio and Pekovic in the team. Something insane because pickandrolls are essential in basketball. Because shooting can´t be a teams only weapon.

    Two years ago, the Wolves played fast and pretty. With bad players but with a system that matched with them. Those players were (quite bad) shooters and athletic and I did enjoy a lot with them. This year I have bored a lot with this team. So, if the team plays worse and wins as always (don´t fool yourselfs, without the injuries the team of two years ago would end the season with a similar win average than this years one) with better players, it´s a big step back.

    The team needs more points coming off the bench, thats right. Well, put Kevin Martin playing off the bech with Barea. So, JJ would not be the only offensive dangerous player and he would not make us “enjoy” as much as he does with his “Jordanesque” plays. And put Shved, Budinger or Shabazz in the start5.

  10. So will Doug McDermott be around for the 12th or 13th pick? He sure can shoot the ball.

  11. Another game another disappointing loss

  12. Honestly, they just lost to the Bobcats. Yep that’s right – the Bobcats. I sincerely hope they’re tanking because no other answer is acceptable. The word disappointing doesn’t even cover it. I’m gonna go back to the Lakers loss, the Clippers destroyed the Lakers and the Spurs were winning by 30 in the 4th and hadn’t played their starters after the 8 minute mark of the first. That’s what a good team does to a lousy team. They dismember them and don’t let the climb back into the game. It’s true for some reason the Wolves can’t shoot. The bench is pretty atrocious. So they lose to terrible teams. Losing to terrible teams is how you disappoint your fans.

    Shooting is a basic basketball skill. Deciding when to shoot is something a well coached NBA player should certainly be able to accomplish. I agree that Adelman’s system seems not to be working, although I consider him a very good coach. It seems to me when the starters are in and the opposition takes away Love, they’re lost. The bench, well they have no go to guy, they seem content to watch Barea run around.

    Contrast that to the Spurs, their bench had 3 or 4 legitimate shooters on the floor. Even their 3 point guard can make a three, they can space the floor and everything looks easy. The Wolves are disappointing, the rest of the West is not only better but in most cases more fun to watch.

  13. @Pillow I don’t know why I’m wasting my time responding to this, but this might be the preposterous statement of the century:

    “Adelman is not going to change the Wolves poor shooting, but what he is able to do is try to make shooting less relevant.”

    Did you even read this article?

    “This season, 11 of the 15 most accurate 3-point shooting teams will make the playoffs.” – This is not just a coincidence.

    “…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.”

    Look at the stats…shooting matters more than ever in the modern NBA. You don’t simply disregard shooting and find ways to make it less relevant???

    Also, can we please stop referring to Budinger, Shved and Barea as “shooters”? Look at their actual shooting splits:

    Budinger – .406 2P%, .345 3P%
    Shved – .331 2P%, .294 3P%
    Barea – .440 2P%, .333 3P%

    Regardless of what the public perceives these guys as, they are not “shooters,” which is why I suggested some free agent acquisitions in the first place. Look at the Spurs…they compete year in and year out despite an aging core, and this year have 5 role players (Bellinelli, Mills, Green, Bonner and Diaw) that are all shooting above 40% from 3pt range.

  14. @SAT….I’m surprised you responded. I quit reading his comment after it said “Look, Adelmans system is designed to play with a shooting guard, something Rubio has repeteadly proof that he is not. Something we all knew before this season.”

    The question that should have went to Pillow but I quit caring to do so and just said to myself was, “when has Rubio EVER been referred to as a SG?” Then I thought, It might have happened once when he was 14 going pro and then everyone watching said, “yup, he’s a point guard”…so yeah, I shook my head and quit reading it

  15. The Wolves do not have a very good defense either which is the other side of the coin. If the Wolves could add a good two way player that would better in my opinion then just a shooter in their starting lineup. Let’s say that the wolves got super lucky in the draft and got Andrew Wiggins. Based on his college backround he is not a great outside shooter, but he can make some shots and score in other ways, but he also has the makings of a very good defensive player. You could run him with Rubio and Brewer or Rubio and K Mart and you are looking at improving your defensive lineup or offensive depending. I kind of like K Mart off the bench more then starting.

    I do not think Adleman has been good this year. At best he has been mediocre. He has had some time to change things, but has not succeeded. Why not hire someone like George Karl? Karl would be great for the Wolves and I feel confident get them in the playoffs.

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