2017-18 Season

Heat 109, Wolves 97: 3 is more than 2.

Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Minnesota Timberwolves fell to the Miami Heat Friday night by the score of 109-97 and it wasn’t really even that close.

The main storyline for the night, if you could guess from the headline, comes down to a simple mathematical principle: three of something, in this case, points, is greater than two of that same thing. Sure, there was more to why the Wolves ultimately lost – Karl-Anthony Towns’ continued struggles against big men that can get in a player’s head, Nemanja Bjelica (sprained left mid-foot) and Jeff Teague (sore right Achilles) missing the game, the Wolves poor bench depth, etc. – but the main reason was that Miami scorched Minnesota from deep.

(*Addendum to Alan Horton’s tweet: Miami was 7/14 from the right corner.)

On the night, former Wolve Wayne Ellington was 6/9 from three, Goran Dragic was 5/8, Kelly Olynyk 2/3, Dion Waiters 3/8, and Justise Winslow 2/2.

At some point, you have to tip your hat to the Heat – they converted all those threes, after all; however, what really stood out was how calculated Miami’s three-point selection was. Erik Spoelstra is one of the best coaches in the entire NBA and tonight was a good example as to why.

The corner three is one of, if not the most, efficient shots in the NBA, not only because it is nearly two feet closer to the rim than an above the break three, but also because it is extremely difficult to defend due to the geometry of the court. The Wolves are one of the worst teams in the NBA at rotating to the open man and when that open man is in the corners, it makes it that much more difficult to get there and defend the shot. Miami shot 19 corner threes. The Wolves shot 17 threes total.

One of the main arguments tossed forth after a loss of this nature is that the Wolves simply have to shoot more threes; as we are all aware by now, three is greater than two, after all. And there is a lot of truth in that statement. However, for better or worse, the roster as it’s currently constructed is not built to be a high volume three-point shooting team. Yes, the added point from shooting 24-feet and beyond allows the team to shoot significantly worse from three when compared to two and still come out ahead. But increasing the volume of three-point shots could have a significant trickle-down effect that ultimately disrupts the flow of the Wolves’ offense and cuts down on the number of free throws the Wolves take. The Wolves should, nay need, to shoot more threes, it just shouldn’t be a Warriors- or Rockets-esque focus.

Tom Thibodeau’s vision is free throws and wearing down opponents and, arguably, the best way to optimally execute Thibs’ system – get to the free throw line, bludgeon opponents on the offensive glass, shoot the occasional three – is with the current roster. Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins can get to the line at a high rate, Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns can haul in offensive boards with the best of them, and Jeff Teague, Nemanja Bjelica, and Jeff Teague can all knock down threes at a good clip.

It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that the current iteration of the Wolves has the potential to be the most offensively talented team – in the ways that Thibs wants – that Thibs has ever had. The question (that has been brought up frequently ever since his hiring two Aprils ago) is whether or not that type of system can succeed in today’s NBA.

On one hand, the Wolves are 11-8 (a 47-win pace) and, by most metrics, a top five to top ten offense in the league, so it would seem that playing a ground-and-pound offensive system can lead to winning basketball in 2017. On the other, and as Bill Bohl pointed out in his most recent column, it’s an archaic system that is only getting more archaic by the day, and one that at some point, perhaps in the not too distant future, may be extinct altogether.

As I stated earlier, the Wolves really do need to shoot more threes – they’re actually pretty good at it! – but on nights in which they’re missing two of the team’s best three-point shooters in Teague and Bjelica, they’ll likely be more prone to opting for mid-range jumpers and free throws. The game against the Heat was telling as to what the Wolves need to acquire before the end of the season: shooting bench depth, and if that comes in the form of a point guard (or wing), all the better. Tyus Jones was perhaps the Wolves’ lone bright spot tonight, posting eight points, six rebounds, six assists, four steals, and a team-high +7 in 33 minutes. However, the fall off from a Teague-Jones point guard combo to that of Jones-Aaron Brooks is more than precipitous.

All in all, it was another frustrating loss following a common theme. Wolves’ forward Jimmy Butler expressed some of that frustration after the game.

What’s important now is how the Wolves’ respond to Butler’s words. They’ll have the opportunity on Sunday against the Phoenix Suns. The afternoon matinee is scheduled for 2:30 pm.

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2 thoughts on “Heat 109, Wolves 97: 3 is more than 2.

  1. The Wolves flat out need to play better defense. They can’t be letting opponents make 19 3 pointers on 50% from that range. It’s inexcusable. We have the athletic ability to be a Top 10 defense. It’s not happening and it’s getting very old, very fast.

    Thibs is not a coach that maximizes his player’s potential. He’s not a players coach. He has a system and you have to fit into it somehow or you don’t play. What he needs to do is evaluate his player’s strengths and build a system around that while coaching them and helping them develop their weaknesses and improving their strengths. Do you notice any individual improvement from Wiggins or Towns this year? They look the same to me. Towns looks worse arguably. His role isn’t as big but he looks out of sorts a lot of nights. Wiggins is still the same player. Takes fade away long 2s and has 1 spin move in the lane which sometimes works. When it does though, it’s a thing of beauty.

    Also, I know we were missing some guys tonight but Thibs needs to try some different lineups. This didn’t happen tonight but he generally pulls all 5 starting guys out (sometimes he leaves wiggins or towns in there). And then it’s our entire bench starting the 2nd quarter. There was one lineup he had against the spurs with Gibson, Bjelica, Muhammed, crawford, and jones I think and they were great. Gibson swallowed everything up underneath and all the other guys could space the floor. We went on a huge run to put that game away.

    He needs to start getting some bench guys infused with the starters. He’s so sporadic with his minutes for the bench guys. One night Bjelica will play 20 minutes and then play 8 minutes the next 3 games. It doesn’t make any sense.

    He plays his starters way too much and needs to stagger some of his lineups mid game better. This season is long and he’s going to wear our guys out 60 games into the season.

    Our 4th quarters are awful. I don’t know if it’s our guys being tired from playing so much or what but dang, get it together. Run a dang play on offense and guard your man.

    Did I mention we don’t really pay defense besides Butler and Gibson’s nightly individual efforts?

    Here’s some lineups I would love to see happen that I think would work better than some stuff Thibs is currently doing;.

    Jones, Bjelica, Butler, Towns, Wiggins

    Teague, Towns, Butler, Gibson, Crawford

    Towns, Butler, Muhammed, Jones, Bjelica

    Teague, Wiggins, Butler, Bjelica, Gibson

    All in all, we are a relevant team and a playoff contender. It’s nice to be that and I’m grateful. But when you look at the bigger picture and see the potential this team has and that they’re nowhere near reaching it, or on their way to reaching it, it’s frustrating. Obviously we still need time to mesh with each other. The Thunder arguably have more talent than us and they can’t hold a lead to save their life. But it all starts at the top with coaching. When you have a team this talented and a very high ceiling, you can’t help but get frustrated when you see the way we play. We’ll be a good team but there’s a reason Thibs has been successful in the regular season but not in the playoffs. If our aspirations are making it to the playoffs, then Thibs is our guy. If we want to go higher than that, then the Wolves need to go a different direction with their coach. It all starts at the top.

  2. Shooting more threes tonight, with the team we had available, wouldn’t have helped us. Making 80 % of our FT would have. Having a center that shoots a high percentage would have. Forcing Miami to play through screens to stay with Wiggins, Butler and Crawford would have. Spoeltra ran a great screen game early that we should use instead of our awful one dimensional screen roll game. Our team shouldn’t be held under a hundred by anyone, yet we were hard pressed to get to 97 and it is becoming a bit of a trend that we only score points against bad defense.

    Last time we played them, Hassan Whiteside was absent and we barely won with Belly and Teague. That night, Waiters was absurdly good at mostly getting to the basket and getting old fashioned threes. Last night, Jimmy kept him in check, but we got killed by Kelly Olynyk, Wayne Ellington, and Goran Dragic shooting mostly open threes. You would think Thibs could read a stats sheet and know that is what Miami does most nights and game plan for it, but he was all about clogging the lane so Waiters couldn’t drive.

    The East is wearing out our Wolves and we still haven’t played the best teams from there yet. In the ultra competitive West, this is a problem. Having trouble scoring is becoming another. Yes, having more 3 pt shooters would be great, but just having shooters and game plans that get more open shots from anywhere, especially FT would be a start.

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