We’re now nearly three months into the NBA season, and while the team is playing better overall of late, the Minnesota Timberwolves have shown few signs of fulfilling the offensive potential many saw in them ahead of opening night.
The Minnesota Timberwolves’ 3-point chucking is killing their offense
The Timberwolves have won four consecutive games and sit No. 8 the Western Conference with a 20-20 record.
Still, the Wolves are among the bottom seven teams in the league in offensive rating, effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage, according to NBA.com. It’s time to accept that this offense, despite the roster’s star talent, is not playing to its potential.
The biggest factor in the Wolves’ struggles is their combination of volume and inaccuracy from 3-point range. Minnesota hasn’t been able to consistently make teams pay for loading up in an effort to slow down Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell.
As a team, the Wolves have just 33.8 percent from deep as a team through play on Sunday.
This wouldn’t be such a major problem if the Timberwolves didn’t shoot so much from behind the arc. The Memphis Grizzlies, for example, rank No. 4 in the league in offensive rating in spite of their 34.4 percent long-range accuracy, which ranks in the bottom half of the league.
The difference is that the Grizzlies take the NBA’s fifth-lowest percentage of their shots from three while the Wolves take the third-highest percentage of their attempts from deep. Only the Jazz and Warriors, who rank sixth and seventh, respectively, in 3-point percentage, take a larger share of their shots from behind the 3-point line than the Wolves.
Shooting such a high percentage of your attempts with such inaccuracy is a simple and effective way to put a stopper in your offense. If you need more proof that 3-point chucking is not a means of productive offense, just check out this table.
|Offensive rating (rank)
|Golden State Warriors
|Portland Trail Blazers
|New York Knicks
|Oklahoma City Thunder
Notice that all the teams in the top 10 in 3-point frequency who shoot below this season’s league average of 34.9 percent from downtown have offensive ratings that are at best below-average and at worst putrid.
Mimicking the Grizzlies and cutting down on 3-point attempts should help Minnesota in multiple ways.
It would limit the impact of cold shooting streaks and offer more opportunities for Towns and Jarred Vanderbilt to dominate on the offensive glass. It might also mean the Wolves get good looks on a higher rate of their threes, raising the team percentage and confidence.
If that improvement in accuracy does come, perhaps Minnesota could incrementally raise its volume of attempts back up. The good news is that a substantial improvement is not out of the question because of regression to the mean.
Three of the Wolves’ highest-usage players and highest-volume 3-point shooters are hitting long-range shots at rates well below career averages established over multiple seasons. Malik Beasley, Russell, and Patrick Beverley have, for whatever reason, struggled mightily to hit attempts from deep after showing themselves to be above-average marksmen in previous seasons.
Beasley is a career 37.8 percent 3-point shooter but is making 33.7 percent on 8.8 attempts per game. Russell makes 35.8 percent for his career but is down to 34.5 percent on 8.5 attempts even with recent hot nights. And Beverley’s 32.7 percent mark on 4.1 attempts is a far cry from the 37.9 percent he hits for his career.
All those misses on all those attempts mean the Wolves are leaving a lot of points on the table, but that doesn’t mean that will continue to be the case. Players don’t often just stop making shots indefinitely after making them throughout their careers.
It’s fair to expect these three players, at least, to see a jump in accuracy sooner rather than later, even without a major structural change to the offense. That’s to say nothing of guys like Jaden McDaniels and Taurean Prince, who could improve their horrid shooting numbers despite less reliable career track records.
But a shift in offensive focus could be the catalyst this team needs to get going. It’s one thing to allow for Anthony Edwards’ step-backs and pull-ups when he’s shooting well (36.6 percent on the season thus far) from deep; it’s another to make long-range shooting a huge part of your offensive identity when the team struggles as a whole to make them.
Yes, the Wolves have shot the ball well overall in recent demolitions of the Thunder and Rockets, but their season-long approach of settling for contested threes overworking the defense with ball and player movement won’t work against better competition. This is something Chris Finch will need to address if the Wolves’ offense is to make any noticeable strides.