This season has been full of trials and tribulations for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Whether it has been due to the number of injuries the team has had to work around throughout the season, or the growing pains of incorporating a player like Rudy Gobert into their system, the team has had to adjust in different ways just to stay at .500.
The Wolves have continued battling some of its flaws this season, such as their rebounding and three-point shooting, which improved a bit in January. Still, the team has also showcased a couple of its strengths.
For one, the Wolves have done a fairly effective job generating steals against their opponents. They are averaging 8.3 steals per game up to mid-January, which ranks them 4th in the league. For a team that has struggled mightily at times at not turning the ball over, Minnesota’s ability to steal the ball at the rate that they have and get the ball back has sometimes proved vital for the team to stay in games.
But one of Minnesota’s strengths this season may catch a few people by surprise. They are shooting efficiently from the field and two-point range.
More than halfway through this season, the Wolves rank among the best teams in shooting from inside the three-point line. Minnesota ranks third in the league in field goal percentage, shooting 49.4% from the field, only behind the Denver Nuggets and Brooklyn Nets. The Wolves also rank second in the league in team two-point shooting percentage, shooting 58.1%, which puts them only behind the Sacramento Kings at 58.3%.
While the Wolves have displayed a high level of efficiency this season shooting from inside the arc, their three-point shooting has dipped significantly from last year. The Wolves have shown significant improvement lately, shooting 37.7% from three in January. But they still rank in the bottom half of the league (20th) for the season, with a 34.6% shooting average from three-point range.
However, this Wolves team might have a resolution to their three-point deficiency. They should focus on their strength because they shoot efficiently from two-point range and mitigate the opposing team’s three-point shooting effectiveness.
That recipe worked well for the Wolves in the first month of 2023.
After what felt like a gut-wrenching way to close out the 2022 calendar year, losing to a rebuilding Detroit Pistons team on New Year’s Eve and ending December on a six-game losing streak, the Wolves have looked much better in 2023. They are 6-1 in January and have bumped their overall record up to .500, putting them in playoff position as the 7th seed in the West.
A key reason that the Wolves have been able to be well over .500 this month has been utilizing the aforementioned recipe of shooting well from two-point range while locking down on their opponent’s ability to outscore them by shooting from three-point range.
The Wolves are shooting an impressive 52.1% from the field in January and 60.3% from two-point range. Anthony Edwards has by far been the team’s highest volume and most efficient scorer in the new year. He’s shooting 43.4% from the field on 19.4 field goal attempts per game while also shooting 50.6% on 12.1 attempts from two-point range.
However, Ant is just the ultimate icing on the cake when considering how well the rest of the guys on the team have also been shooting. D’Angelo Russell has played better recently and is shooting 46.3% from the field and 47.2% on two-point shot attempts. Gobert is one of the perennial league leaders in field goal percentage and is shooting 71.2% from the field. And Minnesota’s under-the-radar gem, Jaden McDaniels, has also been highly efficient from within the three-point arc this month. McDaniels is averaging 58.3% from the field and 62.5% on two-point field attempts.
The rest of Minnesota’s rotational players have also meaningfully contributed to the team’s overall effectiveness in shooting from inside the arc, helping propel the Wolves to this winning record in January.
With the number of drives towards the rim, cutting, and fastbreak opportunities that the Wolves create in their offense every game, it serves Minnesota’s best interest to ditch the ‘let if fly’ mentality from three from last year and key in on their efficiency from inside the three-point line.
How sustainable will this approach be for the Timberwolves, given that they will play many teams that shoot threes at a high volume? Well, if this month has shown us anything, it’s that the Wolves can sustain this if they also couple their efficient shooting with mitigating their opponent’s ability to beat them from three.
In three of Minnesota’s six wins this month, they have kept their opponent to 31% or lower shooting from the three. In their three other wins, while the team’s shot well from three, the Timberwolves only allowed those teams to make an average of 11.3 three-point shots per game. They can’t always guarantee an inefficient three-point shooting night from the teams they face, but they can try to mitigate that by not allowing those teams to make a high volume of threes, either. That could give the Wolves a good chance to stay in these games and come out with wins.
While this potential formula for success with the Wolves may seem unconventional in modern basketball, it might be just the recipe for success that the Wolves have searched for all season. For the Wolves, finding a consistent way to win games will be crucial moving forward. For this reason, just sticking to their strengths and holding off their opponents as well as they can from outside the arc may help carry this team to a winning record again come the end of this season.