This NBA season has been filled with a plethora of challenges for the Minnesota Timberwolves. However, they have improved steadily throughout the year.
After winning 46 games last year, fans had an exponential rise in expectations for the Timberwolves. However, they may have been surprised by how much this team would underperform. From their drop-off in three-point shooting efficiency to their issues turning the ball over, the Wolves have had their fair share of struggles as a team.
To be fair, the Wolves have battled injuries all season long, primarily to their star Karl-Anthony Towns, who has been out since November 28th. Aside from Towns, Minnesota has also been without the likes of key players like Rudy Gobert and Taurean Prince for parts of the season.
The Wolves have been inconsistent all year. Some of that is due to injuries. But they also overhauled the roster at the deadline, trading D’Angelo Russell and bringing in Mike Conley and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Lately, though, the Wolves have managed to improve on some of their early-season struggles, like their defensive prowess and shooting efficiency. And with KAT potentially returning in the upcoming weeks, the team could build upon some of their latest improvements even more.
However, Minnesota has struggled with free throw shooting for most of the season. And unlike some of their other issues, that has only worsened after the All-Star break.
Free-throw shooting isn’t always on the forefront of people’s minds. It’s not the most exciting part of the game. But free throws are a lot like field goals in football. They are both arguably the easiest points in any game, and they are oftentimes the least exciting aspect of the sport.
But they are also similar in this regard: They can oftentimes swing a game in a team’s favor and be the difference between winning or losing. How many times have we witnessed a nail-biting game, all for it to come down to converting either a field goal or a free throw?
Unlike a field goal in football where there is a designated kicker, free throw shooting is a collective effort. Therefore, it is important for a team to emphasize the impact that efficient free throw shooting can have on their offense and chances at winning games.
6-8 missed free throws in a game are 6-8 extra points that a team misses out on. And if a team happens to lose by 5-7 points, those free throws can come back to immediately haunt them.
Unfortunately, the Wolves have been haunted by the free-throw line far too often this season.
The Timberwolves rank 23rd in the league in free-throw percentage, averaging 76.1% from the line. While this may not be an atrocious percentage, the Wolves only average 23.4 attempts per game in that span, which ranks them 18th in the league. So it’s concerning that Minnesota has not shot too well from the free-throw line and doesn’t shoot a high volume of free throws.
Unfortunately, their free-throw shooting has not improved as the season has gone on.
Since the All-Star break, the Wolves rank dead-last in free throw percentage, shooting 64.7% on 22.3 attempts per game. The New York Knicks rank second-to-last in the league, shooting 72.9% from the free throw line, making Minnesota’s free-throw shooting struggles that much more alarming.
For a team like the Wolves, free throws matter even that much more because their offense occasionally slows down. As of mid-March, the Wolves rank toward the bottom half of the league in offensive rating at 23rd with a 112.9 rating. If Anthony Edwards is off his game, Minnesota’s offense quickly dissipates and becomes stagnant. With no clear second scoring option without KAT in the lineup, the Wolves often find themselves struggling to stay afloat offensively.
For this reason, those extra 6 to 8 points that the Wolves miss out on each game from missed free throws are only that much more magnified. For a team that has holes on the offensive side of the ball like the Wolves do, free throw shooting should be a highly emphasized part of their game. It could give their offense a much-needed boost during this crucial stretch of games to close out the regular season. Moving forward, it will be highly important for the Timberwolves’ coaching staff and players to take the time to refine their free throw shooting woes, especially if they want to have a legitimate chance to secure a playoff spot.