The Minnesota Timberwolves will likely have three of the first 33 picks in the 2020 NBA Draft, giving them ample opportunity to fill a significant hole on their roster: shooting.
In the first season of the Minnesota Timberwolves' new front office and coaching staff's regime, outside shooting was a major focal point on the team's style of play.
After ranking No. 26 in the league just two seasons ago with 28.7 3-point attempts per game, the Timberwolves skyrocketed to third in the NBA with 39.7 attempts per game in 2019-20.
As the NBA continues to modernize and move farther away from the basket, this change in mentality is not just encouraging, but also rare for this organization.
The problem with this change in philosophy is that the Timberwolves did not have the roster to support it. The Timberwolves made just 33.6 percent of their threes this season, which ranked No. 28 in the league.
At the trade deadline, however, the front office made some drastic changes that helped turnaround this detestable percentage. With the new roster, the team proceeded to shoot 37.5 percent from three in their final 14 games. This trend is promising -- not to mention way more fun to watch -- but unsustainable performances and outliers inflated those numbers by players who may not be with the team next year.
When it comes to the draft, two ideologies seem to clash: draft the best player available vs. draft to fill a need.
Generally, the best player available approach seems to be preferred, as long as it isn't overly redundant with the already established roster. But in a draft like this with no clear elite franchise level player available, drafting for need makes a lot of sense.
With the No. 3 (pre-lottery selection), No. 14 (pending the end of the Brooklyn Nets' season), and No. 33 picks, the Timberwolves have some great opportunities to add shooting to a roster deprived of it.
5 draft prospects to upgrade Minnesota Timberwolves' shooting: Tyrese Haliburton
Tyrese Haliburton made a substantial jump in his level of play between his freshman and sophomore seasons.
As the lead guard for Iowa State, Haliburton displayed his dynamic playmaking, versatile defense, and lights out shooting as he scored 1.095 points per possession (PPP) on all jump shots (86th percentile), per Synergy.
Haliburton is one of the most well-rounded guards in this draft, but since we're focusing on filling the need for shooting for the Timberwolves, that's all we'll examine.
Initially, drafting a point guard after trading for D'Angelo Russell seems odd. Given Haliburton's size and shooting ability, though, he is more than capable of playing as an off-guard. When Haliburton was in spot-up situations this season, he scored an exorbitant 1.431 PPP (99th percentile) and 1.493 PPP in catch-and-shoot cases (98th percentile).
After shooting just under 42 percent on almost six threes per game with absurd efficiency, Haliburton's shooting has become underrated. This disregard has stemmed from his unorthodox shooting mechanics. His low release push shot makes it easier for defenders to contest as Haliburton scored just 0.684 PPP on jumper shots off the dribble (35th percentile).
While there is some validity to these concerns, the outright dismissal has gotten out of hand. With a team consisting of Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns, and even Malik Beasley, Haliburton would not be expected to create his shot frequently. Instead, he would be allowed to find open spaces to launch from when he wasn't creating for others.
As we can see in that series of clips, Haliburton doesn't need a lot of room to punish the defense. He has an unlimited range and a quick release. When Towns inevitably gets doubled in the post or the defense overcommits to the Russell/Towns pick-and-roll, having Haliburton open as the safety net shooter would help take the Timberwolves' offense to new heights.
Before even factoring in Tyrese Haliburton's playmaking and defense, his shooting alone makes him one of the most enticing prospects for the Timberwolves to target in the 2020 NBA Draft.
5 draft prospects to upgrade Minnesota Timberwolves' shooting: Devin Vassell
As the most well-rounded 3-and-D wing in the 2020 NBA Draft, Devin Vassell is a player who should be extremely high on the Timberwolves' draft board. The team defense, length, and versatility of Vassell are enticing, but his off-ball shooting sets him apart from the other aspiring 3-and-D wings in this draft.
Vassell is the epitome of a role player. That may seem like a slight, but in fact, is an extraordinary compliment. Only a handful of players ever truly become stars, and even fewer become a star on a championship-winning team. In so many cases, the role players are the ones who end up pushing a good team over the top to be a great one.
It is unlikely that Vassell will develop into a lights-out scorer who takes defenders off the dribble at will, but at the least, he will be an incredibly useful off-ball scorer who plays excellent team defense.
After his freshman season at Florida State, Vassell saw a massive increase in responsibility as his games started increased from zero to 30, and his minutes jumped from 10.7 to 28.8. This increased role often leads to players losing efficiency due to more attempts. Vassell remained an efficient shooter as he continued to shoot just under 42 percent from three on almost double the attempts from the previous season.Trending:10 players you forgot played for the Wolves
Vassell is at his most effective when he is working away from the ball on offense. This season he scored 1.4 PPP (95th percentile) when running off screens, 1.039 PPP (80th percentile) when spotting up, and 1.22 PPP (87th percentile) when shooting off the catch.
Here we see how Vassell continues to move without the ball and find the perimeter's open space. After giving up the ball, Vassell does an excellent job of clearing out to create a lane for his teammate. He could have easily stayed put on the elbow. Instead, he rotates to the corner once his teammate cuts baseline and the defense collapses on the drive.
This movement is subtle, but it gives him a more comfortable shot and, more importantly, gives his teammate a more accessible pass.
Devin Vassell's off-ball awareness, activity, and efficiency make him an excellent fit for a Timberwolves offense that is continuously looking for the open man on the perimeter.
5 draft prospects to upgrade Minnesota Timberwolves' shooting: Aaron Nesmith
When looking at pure shooters in the 2020 NBA Draft, no one outshines Aaron Nesmith. Unfortunately, injury cut Nesmith's season short, but that didn't prevent him from putting up some incredible shooting numbers.
In 14 games, Nesmith averaged 52.2 percent from three on 8.2 attempts per game. I'll give you a minute to let that sink in, and I promise that is not a typo.
The 3-point barrage he put teams under made him one of the most efficient scorers in the country. He scored 1.24 PPP overall (99th percentile), 1.225 PPP spotting up (95th percentile), 1.463 PPP running off screens (97th percentile), 1.35 PPP after getting a handoff (96th percentile), and 1.25 PPP in isolation (97th percentile).
Sure, that's a lot of numbers. But long story short, holy crap this guy is a good shooter. This elite efficiency on that high of volume is uncommon.
A lot of young shooters are reliant on shooting straight off the catch. In the below clip, Nesmith shows how advanced he is at creating space against closeouts. As Nesmith receives the ball on the elbow, he easily could have taken a slightly contested three. Instead, he attacks the hard close out with a jab step to his right, and a step-back dribble to his left for an open three.
Nesmith also has keen awareness when he's running off of screens. Vanderbilt runs a simple floppy screen for Nesmith, but his movement here is critical. As Nesmith runs off the screen, his defender tries to cut under the screen to cut the passing lane or meet Nesmith at the top of the arc. Instead, Nesmith recognizes the space and sags back to the elbow for a wide-open three.
Aaron Nesmith is the best shooter in the 2020 NBA Draft. His mechanics are smooth and consistent, his movement is precise and constant, and he can punish defenders off the catch or dribble.
5 draft prospects to upgrade Minnesota Timberwolves' shooting: Corey Kispert
Corey Kispert isn't the most famous prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft, but he is one of the best scoring wings. His basketball IQ, shooting, and high work rate could make him one of the steals of this draft.
When you first watch Kispert play, you immediately assume that he's just the spot-up shooter because, well, he's the stocky white guy. Don't get me wrong, Kispert is an excellent spot-up shooter (1.116 PPP, 88th percentile), but there is a lot more to his scoring repertoire.
Overall last season, Kispert scored 1.102 PPP (96th percentile). A lot of that production came from spotting up. He also showed an outstanding ability to shoot out of the pick-and-roll as he scored 1.115 PPP (97th percentile) overall in these situations and 1.429 PPP (98th percentile) when he took a jump shot after dribbling off the screen.
While the addition of Kispert would help the Timberwolves' off-ball shooting situation, he would also be able to create his shot when needed. Here, Kispert does a great job of using the screen and taking advantage of some defensive miscommunication. As Kispert comes off the screen, he immediately recognizes the screener's defender is sagging too much. Kispert quickly squares his hips and shoulders to the rim and uses his quick release to knock down the three.
Kispert's great spacial awareness and quick release are on display again in the below video. Kispert starts at the top of the video on the elbow. As his teammate's drive gets smothered, Kispert notices the defense is aggressively collapsing to the paint. Instead of staying stagnant, Kispert quickly rotates to the top of the arc to give his teammate an easy outlet and knock down an open three.
Corey Kispert is an exceptional shooter who the Timberwolves should keep an eye on. His work rate is contagious, and he knows how to contribute to winning basketball.
5 draft prospects to upgrade Minnesota Timberwolves' shooting: Tyrell Terry
Tyrell Terry may have one of the most diverse landing spots on draft boards of any prospect. Whether he ends up staying in the draft or not, one thing is for sure, he is a deadly sharpshooter.
The hope for Terry is that his body eventually develops enough where he can be a primary ball-handler. He's shown flashes of playmaking and a high basketball IQ; unfortunately, he has the body of a 14-year-old. As Terry continues to improve his body, though, he could be an absolute steal a few years from now.
In his freshman season at Stanford, Terry shot 40.8 percent from three on almost five attempts per game. He was one of the most effective off-ball shooters in the country, too, as he scored 1.409 PPP when running off screens (95th percentile) and 1.5 PPP (99th percentile) when shooting off the catch.
Despite his youth, Terry has an excellent feel for the game and knows how to position himself to get the best shot, as we can see below. Terry initially runs off a flop screen that is lazily set by his teammate. Terry's defender easily avoids this to cut off Terry's path to the three-point line. Instead of continuing towards the ball, Terry slams on the breaks, fakes the cut which freezes his defender, and then backpedals to the corner to create an open three by reusing the screen.
Terry's size will limit him early in his career. As he continues to grow and develop, his playing time will increase, as will his impact. He is one of the rare shooters adept at squaring himself to the rim mid-shot, instead of before jumping. His quick release looks effortless and is deadly from any range.
If the Timberwolves are committed to investing some time and patience to Tyrell Terry, they could land not just one of the best shooters, but one of the best guards from the 2020 NBA Draft.
In case this exercise didn't make things obvious, the Timberwolves will have several chances during the upcoming draft to upgrade their perimeter scoring. Here's hoping they choose wisely and make the most of their assets.