The Minnesota Timberwolves finished last season shooting the ball from deep and shooting it well. As they abandoned all forms of defense and slogging offensive ways, they opened up a fast and effective form of offense that made the end of a 29-win season not only bearable, but promising too. The Wolves were fun. They beat the Golden State Warriors in Oakland. And they shot more 3-pointers while going from a 31.7% deep shooting team prior to the All-Star break to a 37.0% team after it.
It left us wondering if the Wolves would be able to carry this over to the Tom Thibodeau era. Their new coach and president talked about a priority of 3-point shooting in the offseason and his concept of “closing the gap” from beyond the arc. It was as much about being a good 3-point shooting team as it was talking about defending the 3-point line.
Throughout this season, we’re going to see this team segmented down to different stretches of the schedule. Some will be infuriating. Some will make you howl at your television. But they’ll all build toward understanding where this core is after the 82-game campaign and where they go moving forward. A big part of that will be their 3-point existence on both ends of the floor.
So far, defending the 3-point line has been shaky at times but overall good. We’ve seen the Memphis Grizzlies and the Brooklyn Nets light them up from downtown. They’re currently allowing the 12th lowest 3-point percentage from beyond the arc, which is good but could be better. When the defense is breaking down (re: third quarter of doom), the 3-point line appears to be wide-open for opponents. The Wolves are really struggling with stretch bigs around the top of the arc, as Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng seek comfort within the defensive responsibilities.
However, the Wolves are shooting the ball ridiculously well. They’re shooting the ball so well that the Wolves distributed this infographic letting us know they’ve had the biggest 3-point accuracy improvement in the NBA so far, and they’re currently the best 3-point shooting team in the NBA.
They’re hitting 41.4% from downtown (San Antonio Spurs are second at 39.6%), and it’s fueled by Karl-Anthony Towns (43.5% on 3.3 3FGAs), Zach LaVine (48.9% on 6.4 3FGAs), and Andrew Wiggins (63.6% [!!!!] on 3.4 3FGAs) thus far.
The Wolves’ 3-point accuracy is absurd at the moment and there’s no way it can hold. But it’s also indicative of three young players finding the flow of today’s NBA. Eventually, you’d like to see Towns and Wiggins around 5 attempts per game, and I’d love it if LaVine could responsibly add a couple more attempts to his attack because I think he’s that good of a shooter.
Thibodeau’s offense has been thriving so far (7th in the NBA per bball-ref) and until the defense catches up, this team will need the 3-point shooting to stay hot. The Wolves could also use a few more quality looks to remain among the elite shooting teams in the NBA as the season trudges along. The Wolves are currently 24th in the NBA in 3-point rate. They shoot a 3-pointer 26% of the time, which is up from the 20.2% of last season.
And so far, this increase in rate and accuracy has helped them not only close the gap but create one for their opponents. Through seven games, the Wolves are +18 points from beyond the arc. None of this is close to a final product on either side of the ball, but they’ll get there. It’s good to see the stuff Thibodeau talked about on that end of the floor wasn’t just lip service to placate those worried about his prior gig.