The Minnesota Timberwolves' offensive system has received much scrutiny over the past couple of seasons, mostly because of its neglect for the three-point shot. It is a topic that has been discussed time and time again, so much so that the horse is not only dead, but liquefied into an indiscernible puddle of organic material. However, the lack of threes is a legitimate concern for the team going forward as nearly every team is beginning or has already began to embrace the analytical side of the game; that is, except for the Wolves.
By now, the argument behind why teams should shoot threes at a high clip is well known; the three-point shot is one of the most efficient shots in the game, especially when taken from the corners.
However, I am going to stay away from this side of the "SHOOT MOAR THREES" argument and will focus on an issue that arises by a lack of three-point shooting that I don't believe is highlighted with enough frequency: spacing.
According to NBA.com, the Wolves take the most shots that are very tightly defended (defender is within 0-2 feet of the shooter), which account for 23.8% of their total shot frequency (19.5 shots per game). This high frequency of tightly contested shots is in part a byproduct of the Wolves' offense that was first created in antiquity and their lack of three-point attempts.
The team's set plays often start with the two wings in the corners, the two big men around the paint at either the elbow or the block, and the point guard up top. From there, one of the big men sets a screen for the point guard, while the other posts up on either the high or low post, and the wings, well, they just stand in the corners.
This action emphasizes one-on-one play as well as post ups, which often results in all five of the opposing team's defenders clogging the paint. Having that many defenders in such close proximity disrupts the pick-and-roll game as well as any attempts at driving or cutting. The result is often a tightly contested shot as the defenders aren't even concerned with the Wolves' wing players shooting from deep.
One needs to look no further than this past Thursday's game against the Detroit Pistons to see this in action.
This play begins with Ricky Rubio passing to Andrew Wiggins on the right wing. Take a look at the Wolves spacing, however, and notice that all five players are above the free throw line extended. Before the action is even fully initiated the Wolves have poor spacing.
Rubio begins to cut to the corner, but stops near the right elbow. Towns pops up to beyond the arc and receives the pass from Wiggins. Towns and Rubio, however, are too close to Wiggins, allowing for Pistion's center Andre Drummond to sag into the paint.
Rubio sets a screen on Wiggins' defender and Drummond sinks farther into the paint to disrupt the passing lane to a wide open Wiggins. Towns is left wide open for a three-point attempt, but elects to not take his shot. Had the Wolves' employed a system that encouraged three-point shots, the possession would be over with either a made basket or a Drummond rebound. Instead, the play continues.
Rubio receives the pass from Towns. Wiggins begins to post up his defender on the block. Notice that neither Gorgui Dieng nor Tayshaun Prince have really moved since the play started taking form.
Fully aware that Rubio will not take a three and neither will Prince who is now in the corner, all five Piston defenders collapse into the paint. To make matters worse, Towns sinks to the elbow, making the lane even more congested. Ding still hasn't moved.
Ding finally decides to move, but, for some reason, he goes directly to the middle of the paint, further clogging the lane. Towns slides from the right elbow to the left and both Rubio and Prince are standing wide open beyond the arc. Wiggins decides to not pass out of the post.
Wiggins takes his shot and draws a foul.
This ancient offense creates two problems: 1. It allows for opposing teams to clog the lane and does not allow for the Wolves players to be properly spaced and 2. does not encourage taking the three-point shot.
Simply taking more three-pointers would not fix the issues created by this system; only a coaching change could accomplish that feat. However, taking more threes would naturally encourage spacing between the Wolves' players and would also prevent opposing teams from collapsing all five of their players into the lane.
I don't even know that the Wolves would have to convert a high percentage of threes in order to improve the team's floor spacing (though making them wouldn't hurt). Just simply the threat of someone on the Wolves shooting consistently from deep would have a major impact on the team's spacing as opponents would have to respect that shot as at least being an option. Having that consistent threat to at least attempt threes would open up the lane more and allow players like Karl-Anthony Towns, Shabazz Muhammad, and Gorgui Dieng to be more effective than they already are.
Increasing the spacing on the floor would arguably have the greatest impact on Andrew Wiggins, as it would allow him to use his spin move in less traffic, which may cut down on the number of times he loses the ball mid-spin and is stopped.
The fact of the matter is that the Wolves need to shoot more threes, for reasons other than modern analytics telling them that they should. The team's spacing on offense is poor and the best way to reverse this without a total overhaul of the system is attempting more three-point shots. At this point, however, the Wolves don't have enough players that convert from deep at a consistent level in order to fully transition to a modern offensive system, but I don't think taking 20-25 threes per game would be obscene.
Shooting that many threes per game would place the Wolves somewhere between 13th and 25th in the league in three-point attempts per game, according to ESPN.com (they currently sit dead last in the league at 15.7 per game). But in the end, change coming soon to the Wolves' offensive system is, unfortunately, highly unlikely.
Editor's Note: Please welcome Lucas to the Canis Hoopus fold. He's been writing about the Wolves at other venues for a while, and we are thrilled to have him--as you can see he has some real analyst chops. You can follow him on twitter @the_longtwo.