The Minnesota Timberwolves have had their challenges making shots at the rim this year, and their new players have had issues there, too.
If you’ve been watching the Minnesota Timberwolves over the past three games, you’ve probably noticed how well this group has been executing offensively despite all the recent changes; four players started Wednesday night who were not with the team 10 days ago.
Some of this has to do with 3-point shooting, as it always does. The post-deadline Wolves have been making a ridiculous 19.3 threes per game at a 43.6 percent clip, per NBA.com.
But the Wolves are also moving the ball extremely well. Minnesota is averaging 29.3 assists and 56.0 potential assists (fourth and second in the league, respectively) over that same three-game span. A ton of credit has to go to Ryan Saunders and the coaching staff for catching D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, and James Johnson up to speed quickly.
One tenant of the offense the Wolves seem to have emphasized early on is cutting to the basket off-ball with the intention to score. Beasley and Hernangomez in particular have benefited from this, as each has been very effective sprinting in front of or behind the defense for easy buckets. Unfortunately, each has also struggled to convert on those easy buckets.
Wednesday night against Charlotte, Hernangomez missed six shots at the rim to Beasley’s two. They may have been contested, but it certainly hurt to miss out on all those points in a game Minnesota eventually lost by seven.
Against Toronto on Monday, both players missed relatively easy layups and the team ended up losing by eleven. Given Minnesota’s defensive issues, they can’t afford to leave easy points on the board.
The season-long stats don’t look great, either. Hernangomez and Beasley are each shooting a pretty poor 51 percent within the restricted area, per NBA.com. The relatively small sample size notwithstanding, those percentages have been the worst out of all Nuggets players this year prior to the pair’s acquisition from Denver along with Jarred Vanderbilt at the trade deadline.
There’s reason for optimism, though, as Beasley shot 66.3 percent at the rim a year ago and Hernangomez 62.4 percent.
It could be a fluke. The pair has been seeing less floor time this year and those numbers could have been skewed by a few bad stretches of games. But players’ ability to convert at the rim usually stays more consistent than, say, 3-point shooting. More likely than not, there’s been a confidence issue as the season went on and less experienced players started to overtake the two on the Nuggets’ depth chart.
With the new core of shooters on the Wolves’ roster, it will become important for Minnesota to maximize its efficiency on basket cuts in order to draw defenses in. Which means Beasley and Hernangomez, along with all the other wings for Minnesota, will want to find a way to get those percentages up.
Jarrett Culver will have to improve inside as well. Culver’s ability to get to the rim both on and off the ball has been a bright spot for the Wolves. His ability to convert once he gets there, however, has not been. Although Culver is getting up 4.1 shots in the restricted area (fourth on the team behind Towns, the recently-departed Andrew Wiggins and Hernangomez), his conversion percentage stands at only 53.1 (fourth-worst).
Josh Okogie hasn’t shot well overall but has been solid in the restricted area, making 60.4 percent on 2.9 attempts per game.
Minnesota has two ball-dominant players who demand defensive attention in D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns. If the rest of the team can fill in the gaps and capitalize when defenses sag on the pick-and-roll, the Wolves’ offense could be very effective in the next few years.
For Beasley, Hernangomez, Culver, Okogie, and the rest of Minnesota’s wings and forwards, the best ways to impact games going forward are going to be through defense, 3-point shooting, rebounding, and off-ball offense — screening, basket-cutting and making layups.
For Beasley and Hernangomez, their ability to finish inside will likely play a big role in what type of money the Wolves’ front office is willing to offer them this coming summer.