Here’s Ryan Saunders’ innovative approach to improving Timberwolves’ shot selection
By JACE FREDERICK | email@example.com | Pioneer Press
A Timberwolves scrimmage last week featured a few small twists.
Corner 3-pointers and drives into the slot were worth bonus points. Long 2-point attempts and turnovers deducted points.
The latter is interim coach Ryan Saunders’ innovative attempt to improve Minnesota’s shot selection.
Analytics have showed the long 2-point shot is the least efficient shot in basketball. Yet the Wolves have continued to fire them frequently in recent seasons.
Last season, they were fourth in the NBA in field-goal attempts taken from 16 to 24 feet out, taking 12.9 such attempts per game. That number has dropped to 10.6 this season, still good for seventh most in the league. For reference, the analytically advanced Houston Rockets average two such attempts per game.
Still, there are many ways to score, and a team has to play to its strengths. Except long 2-point shots are not Minnesota’s strength. The Wolves are shooting 35.2 percent from the field on those attempts this season, 28th best out of 30 teams.
Threes, free-throws and dunks/layups are the most efficient shots in basketball, and while the Wolves are making progress from deep — instead of living in the cellar, as they have for most of the past few years, Minnesota is 21st in 3-point makes (10.2) and 23rd in attempts (28.7) — there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
Last week’s scrimmage rules were Saunders’ attempt to foster a philosophical shift in shot selection.
“We’re trying to do some things to acclimate guys to that mind-set within game situations,” Saunders said.
Wolves forward Anthony Tolliver liked his coach’s creativity. He can’t recall having a scrimmage with that many different rules and ways to score.
“It’s different, switching it up, so it’s good,” guard Tyus Jones said. “Whenever you’re doing new things it’s good. We’re going with it and making the most of it.”
Tolliver said it’s a good way to place an added focus on areas of intended improvement. Will it work? Well, the Wolves did attempt 39 3-pointers in Saturday’s win over the Pelicans, their fifth-highest total of the season.
“It was the first time we’ve done it, so it wasn’t like habits were broke in one practice,” Tolliver said. “But just moving forward, having those types of mind-sets, I think that it’ll definitely be effective.”
And, just to be clear, even with the negative points, the scrimmage finished with positive scores, correct?
“Yes, final scores, they were positive,” Tolliver said. “There was a lot of ups and downs, though.”
The bolded part sums the Wolves up nicely. They shoot the 7th most long range 2's in the league, yet they are 28th in shooting percentage from that distance. They are terribly inefficient at the most inefficient shot, yet they continue to take it. What Ryan is doing is at least encouraging. A lot of us have been complaining about the Wolves reliance on 18 - 20 foot / 2 pointers going back to Flip. Like I said before, Ryan is supposed to be big on analytics. He knows the numbers show the Wolves offensive game has relied on the least effective approach and he taking steps to fix it. I'm still exceedingly skeptical of the young man as a head coach, but I give him kudos for this.
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