Since the calendar flipped from November to December the Minnesota Timberwolves have been one of the best teams in the NBA at making threes. The Wolves have made 40.1 percent of their 3-point attempts, trailing only San Antonio, Sacramento, New York, and Golden State.
Knowing that, it’s plausible to think that the Wolves would rank among the more successful teams in the league in terms of wins and losses in the month. That’s not the case as Minnesota has gone 2-4 in its first six games. The issue clearly isn’t the ability of the team to make threes – although it doesn’t help that they’ve played two of the four teams with a better percentage over the past week – but rather the willingness to take them.
While they’ve lost their first three games of the current west coast road trip to Portland, Golden State, and Sacramento, the Wolves have been outscored 144-69 from behind the arc. Opponents have taken 114 3-pointers while the Wolves have only attempted 63 such shots. That’s an issue for Minnesota that’s awfully tough to overcome.
The Wolves have attempted 26.3 percent of their field goals from three, the second lowest frequency in the NBA. Prior to December beginning the Wolves were taking 33.1 percent of their attempts from behind the arc. That’s nothing to write home about, but it’s a much better recipe for success than the current rate.
Lately the Wolves haven’t been playing against defenses that do an exceptional job of taking away the 3-pointer, either. Of the teams they have played in the month of December, only Portland and Houston rank in the top 10 in fewest 3-pointers allowed per game. The other four opponents are all in the bottom-third of the league. That means it’s more than likely the Wolves are passing up looks from deep in favor of other looks.
The shot chart for the Wolves is a bit of a confusing one, but maybe not surprising. Since the calendar turned to December the Wolves have been among the worst teams in the league in generating looks both at the rim and behind the 3-point arc. In this stretch, 36.6 attempts per game have come as either non-restricted area paint shots or mid-range looks. That’s the second-highest rate in the league, trailing San Antonio’s 46.8 (!!!) attempts per game in those categories.
A reason that this has happened could be a number of things. Derrick Rose has only attempted a total of 12 3-pointers in December, and hasn’t attempted more than three of them in a single game. Prior to this month, Rose had attempted three of more 3-pointers in 13 of the 20 games he played. That’s an issue for the Wolves alone.
It’s not that Rose is ever going to be a volume 3-point shooter in the same sense as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, or other flamethrowers across the league, but he was making them at rates similar or better than those guys. He still is, too. Rose is 5-of-12 from deep in December, which is a percentage the Wolves will be happy to accept every time.
Another potential reason could be the injury that Robert Covington has been dealing with. Covington missed the loss against Portland with a sore right knee, and has been on the injury report since. In the two games after that, he attempted only seven total 3-pointers. That includes only two attempts from deep against the Sacramento Kings.
Covington has attempted six or more 3-pointers in all but five games he’s played with the Wolves so far. That included shooting six or more of them in eight of the first nine he played, meaning he’s been below that number in four of the five games he’s played in December. That’s an issue for the Wolves. They need him to be taking six or seven threes on a regular basis.
His numbers in terms of frequency of 3-pointers taken have sort of flipped in December. From the day he was acquired until the end of November, 63.8 percent of his total field goal attempts were from three. Since the calendar changed, only 44.7 percent of his shots have been from deep. That’s an issue for the Wolves.
Another player that’s often criticized for his shot selection is Andrew Wiggins. He’s been fairly consistent throughout the season with the number of shots he’s been taking from behind the arc, and those numbers have only slightly gone down in December, but truthfully that slide started in mid-November. He’s someone that certainly should shoot more from deep to help elevate the number of threes the Wolves take, but he’s not the one to blame for the recent dip in attempts.
It may be easy to point at Jeff Teague as a player that can increase the volume of 3-pointers he takes. Teague hasn’t been a great shooter from deep this season at 32.2 percent, but he passes up a ton of open looks. He doesn’t need to become an elite level shooter to make it work out there, he just needs to take enough of them so that defenses are forced to react to the threat of it. That, along with the relatively slow decision making are two areas where Teague can greatly improve and help the Wolves.
Shooting more 3-pointers isn’t the be-all-end-all for the Wolves’ struggles away from Target Center, but it will give them a fighting chance. There’s no hope in winning a game in which Minnesota is outscored by the opponent 57-27. Those types of nights cannot happen if the Wolves expect to be successful.