Timberwolves

Efficiency Is the Key To Sustained Success For the Wolves

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn (USA TODAY Sports)

In season nine, episode five of South Park, the South Park little league baseball team advances its way (albeit unwantedly) to the divisional playoffs and the state championship. Randy Marsh plays the classic “father of sports kid” role throughout the contests as he fights other parents at his son’s games. Randy eventually fights The Bat Dad, who is the ultimate foil character of little league sports lore.

When the Minnesota Timberwolves took on the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night at the Target Center, I found my guy much like Randy Marsh.

There was one lone Grizzlies fan in Section 101. That individual was confidently standing up and celebrating every shot that Memphis made early in the first quarter. I was planning on having a game-long spat with this person, if only for the spirit of competition. I could take him, Sharon. However, after the early barrage of Anthony Edwards 3-pointers, the Grizzlies fan got up to leave. My guy never came back.

That is why efficiency matters.

Edwards shot a blistering 5-of-5 from outside the arc in the first quarter and had 17 points in that frame overall. He finished the game with 23 points on just 8-of-10 from the floor (!!!) and set the tone early for what wound up being a historic victory against Memphis. The Wolves were up 40-23 at the end of the first quarter and never looked back. Minnesota was soon up by 20, then 30, then 40. The floodgates had opened. The Wolves erased all memories of their seven-game losing streak to Memphis, and the Grizzlies were sent home with their tails between their legs.

Without this efficiency and quick succession of shots falling, maybe that Grizzlies fan doesn’t leave the game in the first quarter. Who knows?

I also bring up efficiency in this sense because their efficiency (and previous lack thereof) has been the biggest knock on the potency of the team’s star players. Nate Duncan and other associated internet nerds preemptively labeled Edwards as an “inefficient chucker.” Other reports cited Edwards’ supposed lack of drive as a surefire comparison to that of Dion Waiters.

Beyond Edwards’ contributions to the Memphis beatdown, Karl-Anthony Towns had 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting, and D’Angelo Russell had 28 points on 9-of-15 from the floor. Outside of the 15 shots apiece for Russell, nobody on the Wolves shot more than Edwards’s ten attempts on the night. The even distribution was more apropos for the team as it is currently constructed. If the Wolves want to keep up this winning streak, their shooting splits should continue to look like this.

While the free-throw percentage wasn’t ideal in the Grizzlies game (71.4%), the Timberwolves made up for that by shooting a blistering 48.8% from 3-point range and 53.8% from the floor overall. Even more encouraging than the team’s fiery shooting percentages was the shot selection in general.

According to Cleaning the Glass, the Timberwolves shot 41% of their shots at the rim, 17% from the midrange, and another 41% from three. That’s an analytically adapted charcuterie board of shot selection in alignment with the front office’s vision. Minnesota got to its ideal spots and was able to convert them at a high clip. Because the team never deviated from the game plan of getting to these high-percentage positions, the points kept pouring in and paved the way for the blowout to be as big as it was.

Perhaps even more impressive was the willingness of the Wolves’ Big 3 to stick to analytically savvy shots. The trio of Edwards, Russell, and Towns only shot a combined four shots from the midrange and converted on three of them. If the team’s leaders can showcase the willingness to follow the plan, then the rest of the team should then follow suit. That is an integral part of the development of this Big 3 as leaders, as they try to convince this young and talented team to play more smart and heads-up basketball.

Conceptually, this is simple. Take the most analytically efficient shots (at the rim and from 3), and hit those shots at a high clip. Some teams can do this well. The Timberwolves have been trying to enact this modern offensive system since Tom Thibodeau was run out of town, and the results have not been overly positive.

However, Minnesota’s three-game winning streak has shown a sneak peek of what this team can do when it is hitting its desired shots at a respectable clip. It would be remiss to ignore the notion that any team should be able to win games when they are “hitting their shots.” But considering the Timberwolves’ offensive woes so far this year, it is important not to dismiss progress when it is right in front of our noses.

Minnesota plays the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on Monday night. The Pelicans are a miserable 3-15, so this is once again a must-win for the Wolves. Suppose the team can continue finding open guys and putting themselves in positions to knock down easy shots. In that case, their three-game win streak should blossom to four before Jimmy Butler, and some Miami Heat Bat Dads return to Minneapolis on Wednesday. With that big game looming, this team will need all the confidence it can get.

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