RandBall: Michael Rand
Even after improving by 16 victories from a year ago and making the playoffs for the first time since 2004, it’s easy to look at this year’s results and conclude the Wolves need more three-point shooters. After all, they were dead last in the NBA in both three-pointers made (8.0) and attempted (22.4) per game.
But three-point shooting is a problem that can be solved with scheme change more than personnel change. The Rockets launched more threes (41.9 per game) than any team in NBA history, but they only made 36.5 percent of them — barely more than the Wolves, who hit at a 35.9 percent clip.
Plus, the Wolves ranked fourth in the league in offensive efficiency. Offense wasn’t the problem. Defense was the thing holding them back.
To play the way Tom Thibodeau wants to — and the way he succeeded in Chicago — Minnesota must obtain at least one rim-protecting, rebound-grabbing big man. That is their single biggest need.
The Wolves ranked 20th or lower in second-chance points allowed, blocked shots, opponent points in the paint and defensive rebound percentage.
Karl-Anthony Towns might improve in that area. Justin Patton could be a difference maker once he matures and gets healthy.
But someone such as Miami’s Hassan Whiteside — an expensive but defensively gifted 7-footer whom the Heat is reportedly looking to trade — would completely change the complexion of the defense, just as Joakim Noah did for Thibodeau in Chicago.
Michael Rand is the senior digital writer for Star Tribune sports and keeper of the RandBall blog at startribune.com/RandBall.
Even though the Wolves had the fourth-most efficient offense in the league, Thibodeau still tried to get his team to shoot more three-pointers. The Wolves finished last in three-point attempts in a league that has values chucking it from deep. The Wolves need to find a shooting threat, especially somebody who is going to help them maintain or build leads with the second unit.
Some of the defensive fixes can come from within the team, namely from Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
Towns and Wiggins still are learning how to become consistent everyday players at both ends of the floor. Towns can make significant improvements in this area, as can Wiggins.
The Wolves must learn to defend better, too, and growth from their two budding talents is the best way to improve the defense of the starting unit.
The other involves playing smarter. The Wolves were 24th in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage at .764, meaning they grabbed that many of all available defensive rebounds. I can’t tell you how many times I watched Wolves games and saw players failing to box out. Instead, they relied on their athleticism to get rebounds. That can help on the offensive end, and the Wolves had the fourth-best offensive rebounding percentage (. 244) as a result. But it’s not sound defensive rebound strategy.
Get a shooter, coach up Wiggins and Towns on defense and have everybody box out.