Wolves show you don't need to shoot 3-pointers to thrive
MINNEAPOLIS — Tom Thibodeau has been quick to point to one stat all season long: the Timberwolves' offensive rating. It's one of Minnesota's most prolific numbers. Currently, the Wolves are averaging 110.5 points per 100 possessions, fourth best in the NBA.
"Offensively we have a lot of things that we can do," Thibodeau said. "We've scored a lot all year. It's maybe not the way some people think you should do it, but I think it's the smart way to do it."
In the age of analytics, pace and space rules, 3-point shots are all the rage and mid-range looks are viewed as a waste of time. That logic leads to frustration from numbers-minded fans who watch the Timberwolves.
The Wolves are averaging 22.6 3-point attempts and making eight of those, and that ranks 29th and 28th, respectively, in the 30-team NBA. Their 3-point percentage, 35.3 percent, is 24th. Those numbers aren't supposed to work in today's NBA, where 3-point-heavy teams such as Golden State, Houston and Cleveland rule.
But a 3-point-heavy offense wouldn't mesh with the Wolves' roster. Minnesota doesn't have a sharpshooter. Instead, it has a bunch of guys who can get to the point, get to the free-throw line and, yes, knock down the occasional look from three.
Thibodeau always preaches playing to your strengths, and Minnesota's strength simply isn't beyond the arc.
"When you study your team ... you have to look at, 'What does each guy do well?' " he said. "And then it's, 'OK, I'm going to try to take advantage of those strengths.' Don't lead a guy into trouble. If someone isn't good at something, don't lead him into something he's not good at. But if he's good at something, then try to take advantage of that. I think playing smart is important."
Minnesota is a good free-throw shooting team, making 79.5 percent, sixth best in the league. The Wolves take the fifth-most free throws a game (24.3) and make the third most (19.3).
They have the third-best percentage on shots in the restricted area (67.3) and fourth-best percentage on shots in the paint (44.4). Minnesota is even pretty good in the dreaded mid-range area, hitting 40.3 percent, which ranks 13th in the NBA.
Maybe the Wolves don't make a lot of threes, but they make shots everywhere else.
While it's been present at points this season, the Wolves might not always feature the most ball movement, but they do have an impressive collection of players who can take over games at a given time, from Jimmy Butler to Andrew Wiggins to Karl-Anthony Towns to Jeff Teague to Jamal Crawford.
"We've got big wings, we've got an unusual skill set in a guy like KAT, Jeff is great at getting into the paint, and everyone has to play to their strengths, cover up their weaknesses," Thibodeau said. "If we do that, we're going to be a good team."
Such has been the case thus far this season. Thibodeau still hopes the Timberwolves take and make more threes this season. That has been an emphasis of his since he took the reins of this franchise 19 months ago, but the Wolves are proving 3-point proficiency isn't a requirement to be a good basketball team.
"He still wants us to take threes, he really does. But if you look in the mid-range and in, we're really good — it's worked out for us," Crawford said. "We won't turn down threes, we'll even look for them. We won't just hunt them; we're not Golden State or anything, but we will take our threes.
Crawford acknowledged that sometimes it's good to zig when others zag. People thought Mike D'Antoni's method of pushing the ball up the floor at a rapid pace was crazy when he introduced his system years ago; now it's all the rage.
"I think there's different ways to skin the cat," Crawford said, "and it'd be dumb of us not to play to our strengths."