Wolves’ 3-point shooting better, still not great
MINNEAPOLIS — To the outside observer, it’s pedestrian. To those who watched closely as the Timberwolves sloughed through a remarkably terrible 3-point shooting season last winter, it’s golden.
At the current campaign’s halfway point, moderate improvements from long distance have sprouted from the franchise’s offseason emphasis on improving it. Minnesota’s 34.7-percent mark is far from ideal, but it’s not nearly as crippling as last season’s league-worst 30.5-percent effort — the 24th-most-futile output from any NBA team ever to attempt 500 or more triples in a season.
"When you shoot poorly like we did last year, there’s only one way to go," forward Kevin Love said. "And that’s up."
Thanks to Love’s return to the lineup, the free-agent acquisition of Kevin Martin, a little more polish on Ricky Rubio’s shot and some recent help off the bench, Minnesota’s so far managed to avoid another historically bad year from beyond the arc. Love’s returned from a broken hand to become arguably the best 3-point shooter among league power forwards, Martin’s been reliable — though not spectacular, especially lately — and Rubio’s hitting outside shots at an all-time high (37.1 percent) in his third NBA season.
The Timberwolves’ 7.8 made 3s per game rank 16th in the league, but they haven’t been notably efficient in attaining that mark.
"I think we’re still a little up and down in that area," Adelman said. "We’re better at it, but I’d like to see us be more consistent at it."
In a different day and age, Minnesota could’ve relied upon Love and fellow "Bruise Brother" Nikola Pekovic’s consistent post offense to carry the day. But in today’s NBA where physicality is limited and shots fly from all areas, a perimeter complement is a must.
Without it, those two bigs don’t likely get as many open scoring opportunities, anyway.
It’s a streaky and nonexclusive determinant of success. But when the Timberwolves don’t hit from outside, they lose; they’re 15-7 when they knock down eight or more 3s and 5-14 when seven or fewer fall through.
Their sub-.500 record and midseason anxieties are products of defensive breakdowns and lack of late-game execution as much as anything else. But a few more 3s here and there may help mask those deficiencies and keep a currently waning playoff dream alive.
"I think you can always get better, but as a team, now you can’t just lock in on guys inside," said Martin, who’s shooting 38.7 percent from 3 and scoring 19.1 points per game. "We’ve got guys who can hit open shots on the outside, and more importantly, just put the ball in the hole."
That contingent includes reserves J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved and Chase Budinger, all of whom have shown the ability to connect from long range.
Barea’s exterior prowess has been just as volatile as that of his team. Shooting 34.7 percent from 3 and leading the bench with 8.7 points per game, he’s made two or three 3s in 13 games but gone without hitting a single one in 15 different contests.
Shved’s come on only lately in his second year in the NBA. He’s 8-for-17 from long range in his past eight games and has eclipsed double figures in five outings during that span.
Budinger returned from his second left-knee meniscus surgery Jan. 8 and is still trying to round into form. In eight games since coming back, he’s made just 4 of 13 3s. But two years ago in Houston — his last healthy season — he shot better than 40 percent from distance.
Small forward Corey Brewer can hit the occasional trey, too, though he’s yet to establish himself as a consistent outside shooter. One promising sign, though, is some added versatility; previously effective almost exclusively as a corner 3 specialist, his favorite spot outside the arc this season has been the left wing, where he’s made 9 of 21 attempts.
But if there’s one primary cog in the Timberwolves’ 3-point attack, it’s Martin.
Minnesota landed the Adelman favorite in a sign-and-trade this past summer, primarily to shore up its perimeter deficiencies. During the season’s initial quarter, it worked, as Martin shot 43 percent from 3 and averaged 22.7 points during his first 20 games with the Timberwolves.
But since then, he’s dropped off. His season-long 3-point clip now ranks 50th in the NBA, and he’s scoring just 15.4 points per game and shooting 31.3 percent from 3 during his past 19 games.
"I think some of the shots, he’s not taking them with authority," said Adelman, who coached Martin twice before in Sacramento and in Houston. "He’s kind of taking them, not sure if he should. Earlier in the year, he was shooting it quickly."
Last season, Martin ranked 10th among NBA 3-point snipers at 42.6 percent, albeit on 371 attempts as he came off the bench for Oklahoma City.
A lot of his long buckets come in transition. Love said it’s on him and his teammates to set up Martin within the flow of Adelman’s offensive sets.
"I think we just need to get him going, especially in the half court," Love said. "When he gets out on the break and we find him for an open 3, I think that’s his best shot. It’s just an easy, fluid jump shot for him, and hopefully in the half court we can find him in places he likes to get so he can really get going."
Martin, for his part, downplayed any notion that he’s slumping. "It’s a team game," he said. "Some nights we’re going to throw it inside more, some nights we’re going to shoot more from the perimeter. Whatever role we need, that’s what we’re going to go with, because we can play inside and out."
But as this organization knows all too well, without a viable 3-point threat, things don’t usually end up looking too pretty.
Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter