As the new regime of Gersson Rosas and company have maneuvered through their first offseason in Minneapolis, there have been a lot of buzzwords thrown around. Collaboration. Analytics. Modernization. Pace.
That’s all fine and well. Each one of those buzzwords are meaningful and important in terms of successful team building in the NBA in 2019. What we weren’t sure of, however, was exactly how some of these ideas would be put into action.
It’s a wait-and-see approach from the fanbase at this point. In other words, with a team that features or has featured so many players who do not fit the bill of the modern NBA, the public needs to see it to believe it.
While we are yet to see this plan in action in a true NBA regular season game yet, the signs of the new and improved approach appear to be legitimate. There’s been a photo floating around on Twitter today of the shot chart that the Timberwolves have up underneath the baskets in the practice facility.
New chart inside the Wolves practice facility: Points per shot pic.twitter.com/nSlIGLYVmL— jace frederick (@JaceFrederick) July 23, 2019
That’s certainly a good start. Being aware of how much more valuable certain shot types are is the first step in improved shot selection, which is something that’s clearly been an issue for the Timberwolves in the past.
The results from Summer League reinforce the idea that this is more than just empty talk from the New Wolves Order.
A final look at the Wolves shot selection from Summer League...— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) July 16, 2019
In 7 games MIN attempted just 33 shots from mid-range, 4.7 per game.
They attempted 17.2 per game last season, 5th most in NBA.
While the personnel on the floor was obviously different than what the Wolves will trot out for the big league squad, the system was not. It’s been well-documented that Pablo Prigioni, the Wolves Summer League coach, was brought in from Brooklyn to serve as Ryan Saunders’ Offensive Coordinator.
This leads us into the biggest question that Minnesota will face this year: how can Saunders and Prigioni modernize personnel that doesn’t fit the typical Moreyball/analytics mold?
There are several culprits, but two players bring up the most obvious question marks here.
Will the NWO be able to actually convince Andrew Wiggins to take more threes? Or is that even the answer for Wiggins? How many of Andrew Wiggins’ pull-up twos will become pull-up threes, and how many of those shots will be passed up in favor of attacking the basket?
Wiggins is an impressive finisher around the basket, making 65.5% of his FGA from 0-3 feet for his career. For reference, James Harden’s career number around the basket is 63.5%, while Bradley Beal sits at 65.9%. The point is, when Wiggins makes the effort to attack the basket, his athletic ability allows him to finish at a level on par with the elite guard/wing players in the NBA.
So does that mean that the answer for Wiggins is simply to attack the rim more frequently? Well, not necessarily. Until (if) Wiggs ever improves as a free-throw shooter, then yeah, going to the rim constantly looks like the one change that would/could fix most of his offensive inefficiency.
After back-to-back seasons shooting below 70% from the free-throw line, though, too many trips to the free-throw line for Wiggs will ultimately become demoralizing for Minnesota. The fact that those two seasons also feature Wiggins’ lowest FTr% (by far) doesn’t seem to be a coincidence either. If Andrew starts to make more of his free-throws again, one would like to think he’d start attacking the basket more aggressively again. Go dunk the ball, Mr. Wiggins.
Today, when Ryan Saunders was asked what his biggest focus for Andrew Wiggins is this summer, he nodded to the shot chart below and said:— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) July 24, 2019
“Shot selection. Shot values. I think that’s really important. And it’s not something that’s just a suggestion in the NBA anymore.” pic.twitter.com/uaJoPuqJ9f
If the Wolves new staff is able to make Wiggins an efficient offensive player, they all deserve statues.
Here’s the other big question I have with this new regime, although, admittedly, this will only be a question for at most one season, and likely less than that: can they get Jeff Teague to maximize himself and his teammates in the half-court?
We see it, and we see it numerous times in each game. Jeff Teague refuses to shoot open threes.
Getting Jeff Teague to shoot a wide open three is a multi-effort process— brittrobson (@brittrobson) January 21, 2019
It is infuriating to watch a competent (career 35.6%) three-point shooter pass up so many good shots. I’d be curious to know how, exactly, this coaching staff plans to get a player who has been notorious for over-dribbling and passing up threes his entire career to change.
He’s also not a very good passer out of the pick-and-roll, which is obviously an issue when your featured offensive star is Karl-Anthony Towns. This, much like his passivity on three-pointers and Andrew Wiggins’ general inefficiency is something that will only make Prigioni’s life that much more difficult. If they’re able to improve the way with which Teague passes out of the PnR, that’s another major win.
I believe in the long-term vision of Rosas, but I’m skeptical of how some of these changes will translate to this upcoming season. Realistically, not all of these changes to Teague’s and Wiggins’ games will come to fruition. If Minnesota is to maximize their offensive potential given their personnel, they’ll need at least one of these potential improvements to go their way.
Action Over Words
As Ryan Saunders stated on his appearance on Zach Lowe’s “The Lowe Post,” the Wolves need to be “an action over words program.” The ideas that the new front office has presented and seemingly instilled into this organization are, undoubtedly, exciting.
They deserve the time to acquire the personnel that fits what they’re trying to do before any real judgment comes down on the success of their tenure. This season, however, the picture is just a bit fuzzy as to how these ideas will translate onto the court.