Wait, Do the Wolves Finally Have 3pt. Shooting?
While it has not been the offseason that many Wolves fans had envisioned for their favorite team, Gersson Rosas and his front office have managed to pull off a couple of deals to tighten up the margins of the roster. Ricky Rubio, Juancho Hernangomez, and Jarrett Culver have been sent away while Taurean Prince and Patrick Beverley are headed to the Twin Cities. Skeptics can certainly question the moves individually wondering if it was smart to sell low on a trusted team veteran and 2 young players, but further examination shows a plan to change the surroundings of the team’s best players. That’s right, finally your Minnesota Timberwolves have some real 3pt. shooters to insulate their stars.
The Timberwolves have searched high and low for years to find players with the mythical skill of 3pt. shooting but have largely fallen flat. Between the time the team traded Kevin Love after the 13–14 season and the trade deadline of the 19–20 season they had exactly 3 instances of a player shooting above 40% on 3’s with more than 3 attempts per game for a season. All 3 instances happened to be the same player: Karl-Anthony Towns. In those 5 1/2 years arguably the team’s best player has never been flanked by a shooter anywhere near his caliber. Sure, KAT is a historically great shooter so we can excuse the front office for not finding better 3pt. snipers than the big man, but 40% on only 3 attempts per game is not a low bar to jump over, yet the front offices of the past have failed each year. (side note: they HAD a guy who developed into an elite high-volume long range shooter in Zach LaVine… Damn)
When Gersson Rosas took over as the president of basketball operations of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2019 he brought with him a similar philosophy as was used in Houston. The team was going to space the floor as much as possible and move towards the top of the league in 3pt. attempts. The idea was to “analytics” their way to a solid record by taking the right shots even without great shooters on the court. Well, it failed. Turns out not having the personnel to execute a system like that leads to a TON of bricked 3pt. shots. The team was 3rd in 3pt. attempts! They were 28th in 3pt. percentage. To reiterate, that is a LOT of missed 3’s (that team had more problems than just bad shooters, but it certainly did not make the games look pretty). Looking at who started games for that team answers the question of why they shot so poorly from 3. In the 19–20 season opener, Karl-Anthony Towns was flanked by Treveon Graham, Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, and Robert Covington. The bench consisted of Shabazz Napier, Jake Layman, Noah Vonleh, Josh Okogie, and Jarrett Culver. In total, outside of Towns there is ONE (1) above average 3pt. shooter in Robert Covington.
Rosas likely took that season and tossed it in the garbage can as it was his 1st one around Minneapolis. That was the year he made the deals for D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley (among others) who saw only a few games before COVID ended the year for good. It was brief, but we finally caught glimpses of where Rosas has been trying to go with this team’s personnel. Fast forward to today, and the personnel may finally match the way the Wolves want to play.
The 20–21 season began with a couple of dead-eye shooters in tow next to Karl-Anthony Towns. Malik Beasley and D’Angelo Russell seemed primed to feed off the big man’s gravity and find open 3’s for themselves and for KAT. Unfortunately the Wolves cannot have nice things so the 3 of them barely played together throughout the entire season because of injuries/COVID/suspensions. What the front office found was that behind those 3 long range shooters waited a group of role players that struck little fear into their opponents from beyond the arc. Ricky Rubio, Juancho Hernangomez, and Jarrett Culver were some of the biggest culprits.
Rubio, bless him, was a fantastic veteran player for a young team and it was great to have him back in a Wolves jersey. We already knew he would not be a good shooter or floor spacer, but unfortunately the other areas of his game that provide so much value did not show up nearly often enough. Teams know exactly who he is when defending him, and unfortunately when he was off the ball they sagged off of him tremendously and clogged the paint. As a 30% shooter from deep, Ricky could not make them pay often enough to provide an outlet for his star big man and rookie phenom guard. This is the player who ended up with the 2nd most minutes on the team in the 20–21 season.
Juancho Hernangomez, for all the fanfare of shooting over 40% in his 14 game stint in the 19–20 season, was a fairly dreadful shooter last season. He may have carried a bit of floor spacing gravity because of a brief track record of knocking down 3’s at a high level, but ultimately a 32% mark from deep cratered his offensive value. Juancho’s redeeming quality certainly was his near 45% corner 3pt. accuracy. That was useful, but those shots did not come often enough to boost his value.
Finally, Jarrett Culver and his well-known shooting/confidence struggles are also gone. JC finished his rookie season just under 30% from 3 and 46% from the FT line. That does not inspire a lot of confidence for improvement. Alas, the 3pt. % fell in his 2nd year to 24% along with his confidence in his stroke. With a complete lack of willingness to take the shots and little ability to hit them, he was a detriment to the offense and his star teammates.
Those three misfit offensive players were sent away, and Gersson Rosas was able to acquire 2 players in Patrick Beverley and Taurean Prince that are highly regarded to be real NBA 3pt. shooters that can complement surrounding talent.
Beginning with Prince, who has certainly not set the NBA on fire in his 5 seasons so far. Is he a 3 or a 4? Not sure. Can he defend and rebound to fill some holes on this team? Remains to be seen. Plenty of questions with Taurean, but the one thing we know is the guy can absolutely shoot the ball from beyond the arc to the tune of exactly 40% last season. At 6’7″ he can shoot the 3 ball off of movement or standing still. Either one of those skills will play perfectly alongside creative passers like DLo and KAT or slashing drivers like Anthony Edwards. The best part about Prince’s launching skills? His corner 3pt. accuracy. Last season he shot 52%(!) from the corner 3 and that constituted nearly 30% of his 3pt. attempts. Shooting that efficiently on that high of volume starts to stretch a defense to their limits. Whether it is a downhill threat as bulldozing as Ant or a post-up big as skilled as Towns the corners need to be filled with guys that can nail those shots to free up the space to operate. Prince figures to be one of the best in the league in those spots.
The most recent player acquired, Patrick Beverley, is renowned (or despised depending on who you ask) around the league because of his menacing defense. While that will certainly help the Wolves on that end of the court, it is his specific offensive skillset that will be an outstanding fit with this team. Plenty of defensive specialists stick in the league because of their ability to lockdown the opposition and set the tone for their team. Beverley has excelled past a defensive specialist’s reputation and became a mainstay in the starting lineup of playoff teams because of his complementary skills offensively as a knock-down 3pt. shooter.
Bev has been remarkably consistent from beyond the arc in his career. He has not fallen below 38% from 3 in his last 6 seasons! How nice will it be to have a 3pt. threat that reliable in a supporting role? One of the ways Beverley shows his value is with his shot selection. It is clear he is a good 3pt. shooter, so he limits most of his shots to being 3pt. attempts. Last season, 64% of his shot attempts were from beyond the arc. For his career he has never been below 50% of his field goal attempts coming from 3. He knows his strengths, and he sticks to them. Beverley operating as a reliable outlet next to backcourt mates like Ant and DLo should do wonders for the offense’s overall efficiency.
So what does this all mean for the 21–22 season? Well, this exchange of inconsistent shooters for great shooters can insulate the rotation and offer Coach Finch more versatility in how he deploys his lineups. He can now feel more empowered to play his defensive specialists like Jarred Vanderbilt and Josh Okogie more often because their lack of floor spacing will not be as glaring of an issue. For example, Josh Okogie can absolutely be involved in a bench unit where the floor is spread by guys like Malik Beasley, Taurean Prince, and Patrick Beverley. The same can be said for Jarred Vanderbilt. At times last season it felt like the rotations had to be chosen based on needing offense or defense. One would cannibalize the other. Now it seems they are inching towards establishing a balance in their lineups.
These moves do also open up the opportunity for Coach Finch to have some fun with “all-offense” lineups. In games where Ant is really cooking, maybe he takes over the ball handling duties and they spread the floor with Beverley, Beasley, Prince, and Towns. Maybe Towns has an advantage on post-ups one night so Beverley, Beasley, Prince, and McDaniels surround him to make the defense pick their poison. Or you can get DLo running with the bench unit and run DLo/Naz pick and rolls surrounded by Beverley, Prince, and McDaniels. So many options come up based on matchups and who has it going. Chris Finch seems to be a smart coach, and with the added offensive versatility it is a good bet he is bursting with excitement to get these players on the court together.
The grand answer to the original question posed is, yes, the Wolves FINALLY have high-level shooting AND 3pt. shooting depth. Gersson Rosas inherited a roster with neither of those characteristics and has overhauled the personnel to include a few great shooters (Towns/Beasley/Russell), a couple very good floor spacing role players (Beverley/Prince), and a couple of burgeoning young stars (Ant/Jaden) that should continue to progress as 3pt. marksmen. That is offensive depth and versatility that just did not exist here in past years. Through other roster building mistakes or oversights, Gersson Rosas has done an impressive job this offseason of moving off of poor shooters to bring in good ones. The 21–22 season should finally show what this team’s stars can be when given the space to be great.