An anachronism as recently as last season, the Timberwolves in only three regular-season games have indicated they’re ready to join the 21st century and the modern NBA.
Last season, only Milwaukee attempted and made fewer three-point shots a game than the Wolves did.
So far this season, the Wolves are averaging fewer than four more three-point shot attempts, but make nearly three more a game, an average of 8.3 made compared with 5.5 last season in a league where the three-point shot now rules.
Three-point shooting has improved under new coach Tom Thibodeau, but he says not as good as it will be.
“We’re a work in a progress,” Thibodeau said. “We have some guys who are more than capable. Guys are working hard at it.”
More than capable in particular if you’re talking about young star Zach LaVine. He has made as many three-pointers as he has missed in three games so far. That’s 11-for-22 after he went 5-for-9 on threes and scored 31 points in Tuesday’s 116-80 victory over Memphis in the Wolves’ home opener.
He has made at least three threes in all three games so far and led the Wolves on Tuesday when they shot 60 percent on threes and limited the Grizzlies to 16.7 percent
“It’s easier that way,” LaVine said.
Thibodeau wants his team to shoot more threes than Wolves teams have in recent years, when statistics-crunching fans sometimes wondered if their team’s coaches knew that three is worth more than two.
“If they’re the right ones,” Thibodeau said. “You want to take the right shots. That’s the most important thing.”
What Thibodeau wants is what he calls “rhythm” three-point shots taken in the flow of his team’s offensive strengths. That means shooting when the floor is spread by properly positioned players and the ball is passed to the open man after the defense collapses.
“Those are great threes to take, and we’re capable of making them,” Thibodeau said. “When you put pressure on the rim, when you sustain your spacing, a lot of good things can happen.”
With a small sample size, LaVine, Brandon Rush, Andrew Wiggins and even rookie Kris Dunn all are shooting .500 or better. Shooting 37.5 percent so far, Karl-Anthony Towns, too, is a three-point threat, particularly unusual for such a big man.
Collectively, the Wolves are shooting 41.7 percent on threes. That’s a number they can’t sustain, but it’s a sign their work is paying off.
“I think we do have some pretty good shooting,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve worked on it quite a bit.”
Possessing arguably the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, three-point crazy Golden State shot 41.6 percent and made an average of 13 a game last season.
“We all can shoots 3s,” LaVine said. “We just have to have the confidence to shoot them and the willingness, too. Get open ones, that’s the main thing. You don’t want to take contested ones. You want the open ones. They’re the easiest to shoot. I think we can be really good at it.”
Last season, Wiggins shot 30 percent on threes. He has taken seven so far and made four. It’s way early, but that’s 57.1 percent.
“Everyone worked hard over the summer,” Wiggins said. “I worked a lot. My shot was probably the most important thing I worked on this summer, the thing I spent the most time on. We came in and Coach Thibs is on us about threes. After practice, before practice, during practice, we get up a lot of shots. It helps when you have some great three-point shooters.”
In their first three games, the Wolves have both won and lost at least partially by the three.
The Wolves went 12-for-20 on threes Tuesday. Memphis made only four of 24.
“It’s kind of a hard to beat a team when they shoot the ball that well,” said Rush, part of Golden State’s three-point shooting circus the past two seasons. “I think we’re going to be a really, really good three-point shooting team.