Wayne Gretzky once said, “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,”
Well, the Minnesota Timberwolves are trying to prove The Great One wrong. They look like they’re on a mission to miss 100 percent of the shots they do take through seven games.
The Timberwolves couldn’t hit water if they backflipped off a boat into Lake Minnetonka. For a team that was supposed to be an offensive juggernaut, their early-season struggles are shocking. They have a Big 3 that can score at will and an offensive guru head coach. Yet, they’re shooting just 41.8 percent from the field, 27th in the league through two weeks. The shooting woes compound the farther the Wolves get from the basket. They’re jacking up 43.3 threes per game, one more attempt than the second-place Utah Jazz. But the Wolves are only hitting them at a 32 percent clip, the 23rd best 3-point percentage in the NBA.
The Wolves are shooting 34 percent on 40.3 3-point attempts per game in three wins this season. But it craters to 30.8 percent on 45.5 triples per game in their three losses. Anthony Edwards said it best after the Wolves squandered Monday’s game against the afterthought Orlando Magic, “We couldn’t hit nothing. We just can’t hit enough shots right now.”
Their embarrassing 115-97 loss to the Magic is a microcosm of where this young Wolves team is offensively right now. The Wolves clanked three after three instead of working the ball into the paint for high percentage shots. They finished 14-of-51 (27.5 percent) and threw the game away in the fourth quarter.
Of the nine players to take more than one shot against Orlando, only Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Naz Reid took more twos than threes. Malik Beasley has yet to find his form. He finished 3-of-12 from distance against the Magic and is hitting 35.4 percent this season. D’Angelo Russell has more turnovers than made threes. And after a promising start to the season in which he made 13-of-31 threes through three games, Edwards is 7-for-34 from deep in his last four games.
The one saving grace this season has been Towns.
In his seventh season, KAT is raining hellfire from three. He’s hitting 47.8 percent of his 6.6 bombs per game, proving once and for all that he is the greatest shooting center of all time. After a two-year odyssey that saw Towns go through hell off the court, injuries, and organizational upheaval, he is back as the franchise player he’s capable of being. In four seasons, he is averaging 23.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, and four assists per game on a 50/48/85 shooting split.
If you can find an issue with Towns’ performance over the opening fortnight of the season, it’s that he’s not shooting enough. KAT’s 16.6 shot attempts per game are second on the team behind Ant’s ballooning 21.7 and just ahead of DLo’s 15.3 attempts. His 6.6 3-point attempts per game ranks just fourth on the team behind Edwards, DLo, and Beasley. Towns ranks 33rd in the NBA in shot attempts per game behind household names like Dejounte Murray and Reggie Jackson. That’s not what you want for the second-best player in franchise history. Chris Finch needs to find a way to get Towns 2-3 more shots per game.
The types of shots that the Timberwolves are missing are also concerning. Yes, DLo is throwing up his patented contested lean-back midrange jumper, and Edwards is maybe a bit too comfortable dribbling down the shot clock and trying to hit a driveway stepback three. But the Timberwolves are also missing too many easy shots. Their sharpshooters are 3-for-32 from the right corner (9.4 percent, dead last in the NBA). I can shoot 9.4 percent from the corner, and my shot looks like a small child trying to throw a beach ball. According to NBA advanced stats, they’re shooting just 20.6 percent from both corners and hitting 33.1 percent of their wide-open 3s.
Shooting percentages are down across the NBA to start the season, so you’d like to think the shots will start falling eventually. Until they do, the Wolves might be best served to try to get easy buckets at the rim. They’re 17th in the league, shooting 61.9 percent in the restricted area, and take the fifth-most attempts from close range. Edwards can beat anyone off the dribble and has the strength to finish over any defender. Ant is finishing 62.5 percent of his eight shots per game at the rim and is an and-1 machine out of isolation. The second-year star leads the league in and-1 percentage in isolation situations with 9.1 percent.
Attacking the rim can buy the Wolves a few extra easy buckets throughout a game, leading to free points. Minnesota is 21st in the league in generating free throw opportunities, getting to the line just 18.2 times per 100 possessions. They are a solid free-throw shooting team (76.7 percent, 13th in the league) when they get to the line. The Wolves will do themselves a favor by taking an attacking mentality to create high percentage chances at the rim. At the very least, it could end up in a trip to the free-throw line.
It’s normal for players and teams to go through a bit of a shooting slump to start the season. It’s not time to panic yet, but the Wolves need to eventually start hitting shots if they want to challenge for a playoff spot. They can make it hard on themselves and try to shoot out of the slump. Or they can make it easier by getting the ball to KAT, driving to the basket, and getting to the free-throw line.