Colleague Chris Hine took a look at four big questions facing new Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas. The most immediate and pressing question is whether interim coach Ryan Saunders and/or General Manager Scott Layden will be retained.
But the most fascinating question is this: How does the roster-building and basketball playing philosophy of Rosas, who comes from a Houston organization deeply committed to the sort of ruthless offensive efficiency parsed out by analytics, mesh with the current Wolves roster.
And more specifically: What happens when the efficiency of the Rockets meets the inefficiency of underachieving max player Andrew Wiggins?
The quick answer is that Rosas would seemingly be inclined to trade Wiggins. But the quick reply to that is 1) Good luck, with four years and $121 million left on his contract and 2) Even if he could find a partner willing to make a swap, Rosas would be dealing Wiggins at a very low value and likely would have to take someone else’s salary headache in exchange. It would make the Wolves different, but would it make them better?
The more calculated approach would be to build Wiggins up — so that his value becomes more apparent in a trade or so that he becomes the kind of player who helps the Wolves win.
While we don’t know exactly how Rosas will want the Wolves to play or how much he will dictate that, one imagines he was brought in to build and manage a roster able to execute the style of play that has made Houston both efficient and successful.
This season, Houston were the only NBA team that shot more three-pointers than two-pointers. And the Rockets adhered to the notion that the most efficient field goal attempts are three-pointers or shots at the rim: 78 percent of all their shots fit into one of those two categories. Only the also highly successful Bucks (76 percent) even approached that number this year. The Wolves? They were at 60 percent.
Wiggins in particular? Only 55 percent of his shots attempts were either threes or at the rim — and that was actually a career high for him. A full 30.3 percent of his attempts were either from 10-16 feet or from 16 feet to the three-point line. Guess how many shots the Rockets took from that distance? 7.5 percent of their attempts.
Houston essentially has two point guards (James Harden and Chris Paul), but their closest equivalent to Wiggins on the roster in terms of usage and position is probably Eric Gordon. Know how many shots Gordon took from between 10 feet and the three point line this season? Just 2.8 percent of his overall field goal attempts.
Exacerbating the issue with Wiggins is that he’s never been particularly good at making mid-range shots, and in 2018-19 he was especially bad — making just 34 percent of his attempts from 10-16 feet (league average was 41.3 percent) and 32.9 percent from 16 feet to the three-point line (league average was 40.1).
That said, I’m not here specifically to pick on what Wiggins has done in the past. I’m here to wonder how his skill set fits into a Wolves future now being determined by a basketball boss who comes from an organization with a vastly different philosophy.
The best answer in terms of how it could work is probably this: Wiggins attempted just 26.4 percent of his shots at the rim last season. That was better than 2017-18, but worse than his first three seasons, when more than 30 percent of his attempts came at the rim. To be truly efficient, Wiggins probably needs to be taking closer to 40 percent of his shots (at least) from that close.
Wiggins has made 65.5 percent of his shots from that distance in his career (a mark that would put him right around league average in 2018-19), though last year was a career-low (62.1 percent). We have a lot of data that suggests Wiggins isn’t a great shooter, either form mid-range or from three-point range.
But if he could nudge his three-point percentage up to 35 or 36 next season (from 33.9 last year, so not a huge leap) and more importantly buy into the notion of attack mode instead of jump shot mode — where his athleticism would be an asset — there might yet be hope.
And it might be the only hope.