Practice makes perfect for 3-point woes, or so Wolves hope
OCT 29, 2013 9:35a ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- It's nothing more than an extended game of around-the-world, not unlike the one you may have tried in the driveway as a youngster.
Swish. "Six-for-six," the Timberwolves assistant seated under the nearest basket barks out.
In-and-out. Kevin Love bellows an expletive that reverberates around a mostly-empty, cavernous Target Center. "Seven-eight."
He finishes 9-for-10, still muttering under his breath as he moves from the corner to behind the elbow. The 3-point repetitions will persist until Minnesota's superstar power forward has taken at least 100 shots -- more if he so chooses.
This is not some Love-specific show of work ethic; most of his teammates, all done training for the day, went through the same regimen before or after practice.
Twenty-three feet, 9 inches away from the hoop -- 22 feet in the corners -- lies an inch-thick, black line. For Minnesota, it's a divider between continued inadequacy and new-era prosperity, all stemming from a facet of basketball perceived as negligible as few as 20 years ago.
Yet to associate effective 3-point shooting with NBA success today feels like pointing out that a hard rock band requires a skilled drummer.
"It's a totally different game now," Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said.
And it's a game that Minnesota must reverse course in if it hopes to break a painstaking nine-year playoff drought.
Last year's injury-rocked Timberwolves bunch didn't just shoot worse from 3-point land than every other NBA team; it took the most long-range attempts -- 1,475 -- of the league's 25 worst 3-point shooting squads since 1994-95, when the 3-point stripe was changed to 22 feet all around and teams began shooting from the outside much more frequently.
When factoring in volume, Minnesota's 30.5-percent mark in 2012-13 is arguably the worst in NBA history.
It's why Love, who missed all but 18 games with hand and knee problems last year, often cusses on the rare occasion one of his practice 3s go awry.
"Anything is better than last year," he said.
Said Adelman: "It's totally different. Everybody relies on (3s), and the really good teams -- you see the two teams that were in the championship last year, San Antonio and Miami -- they've got a lot of guys who can stretch the floor."
The Heat (39.6 percent from 3) and Spurs (37.6) ranked second and fourth in 3-point shooting last season. Only one NBA champion -- the 2009-10 Lakers -- has shot worse than 36 percent from 3 the past 10 season.
Draining the long balls doesn't guarantee victory. But missing them is a great way to guarantee defeat.
"It's a big emphasis, just because that's how the league is turning," said shooting guard Kevin Martin, expected to be Minnesota's top 3-point threat this year. "You can see the high 3-point teams end up being the best offensive teams in the league now."
Long gone are the days when giants ruled the post and professional basketball revolved around who could win physical, frontcourt matchups. Today's NBA features zany athleticism and creative, decisive drives that culminate in a highlight-reel finish, a trip to the foul-line, or an open look from outside. Big men that can connect from the perimeter are much more common than they were 10 years ago (Love's one of the league's best examples). The college game is increasingly guard-oriented, too, with a premium put on players that can knock down triples consistently.
"Let's face it: guys are coming into the league ready to shoot," Adelman said. "It's just added so much. It stretches the floor so much for you."
As a result, 3-point records fell like the Berlin Wall this past season. The New York Knicks set new standards for long-range makes (891) and attempts (2,371), and Golden State guard Stephen Curry's 272 successful distance attempts are a new NBA record.
The league as a whole saw more 3s made and attempted than any other season.
The Timberwolves, meanwhile, were dismal from beyond the arc en route to a 31-51 finish. Injuries to Love and small forward Chase Budinger and a colossal lack of depth behind them derailed any hope Adelman had of turning the franchise around in his second season in charge.
"It really hurt us last year," Adelman said. "We couldn't knock anything down.
"You're always (emphasizing 3-point shooting), but you've got to have players who can do it."
And therein rests the No. 1 source of hope for Minnesota a day away from its season opener against Orlando: it's got a handful.
President of basketball operations Flip Saunders went hard after Oklahoma City shooting guard Martin and landed him in a sign-and-trade deal. The nine-year veteran -- who played for Adelman twice before -- ranked 10th in the NBA in 3-point percentage in 2012-13. Corey Brewer, another free-agent pickup, is one of the league's best corner snipers and thus a perfect long-range beneficiary in Adelman's offense.
J.J. Barea, a career 35.5-percent 3-point shooter, is back this year. So is Love, whose once-broken hand didn't cause him any problems this preseason. Alexey Shved made 10 of 20 3 tries in exhibition play, and even pass-happy Ricky Rubio stepped back and hit a few.
Adelman's pass-and-move offensive scheme, like most modern-day NBA strategies, is geared toward creating plenty of opportunities from outside. Love and Martin stand to gain the most.
But every Timberwolves player, save for the big men, was expected to improve his 3-point shot between the start of training camp and Wednesday's clash with the Magic.
"It starts from the coaching staff," said A.J. Price, who made the roster as Minnesota's No. 3 point guard. "They were kind of on us the first day that this is what we're gonna do. This is the way it's gonna be this year. If you're gonna shoot 3s in the game, you're gonna shoot them before or after practice. Now it's to the point where it's become routine for guys. They don't have to mention it anymore. Guys know as soon as practice is over, this is what they have to do."
Adelman and his staff have encouraged extra shooting sessions previously during his 23-year head coaching career, but never with this much strict and minute attention.
That's what a year like 2012-13 will do to a team.
"When you finish 30th in the league in 3-point shooting," Martin said, "it's definitely going to make you change up some things."
So that's meant a minimum of 100 3s for shooters prior to or following each practice session. An assistant kept tabs and charted players' progress from day to day.
If anyone's percentage was waning, he heard about it.
"They made it a big emphasis that everybody gets shots after practice," Martin said. "It's not too often where (a coaching staff makes) the whole team actually do it."
It carried over to preseason play, where the Timberwolves connected on 37.7 of their 3-point attempts and averaged 104.1 points per game.
But those numbers came from a mish-mash of personnel groupings squaring off against similar trial lineups. Cohesion and sharpness from the main rotation players have been key themes during the preseason as Martin adjusts to Love and Rubio and the latter two reacquaint themselves with each other.
Only maximum chemistry will ensure the proper amount of open looks for the Kevins and company -- especially on a team that projects to give up a lot of points at the other end of the floor.
"We were pretty bad last year," Adelman said, "but we have guys who can make shots, and historically they've made them. I think they will."
No matter how common-sensible it may seem, Minnesota's season depends heavily on it.
+ SHOW COMMENTS +