SAN FRANCISCO – Over and over this season, Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders has not been upset when the Wolves take and miss a lot of three-pointers.
To a certain extent, that’s expected when you take 38.7 per game from that range — fourth-most in the league. They hit only 32.6%, 29th in the league.
But to Saunders and the Wolves front office, the threes are still valuable even when they miss. It makes opposing defenses guard the three-point line and opens up driving lanes. It also creates long offensive rebound opportunities, rebounds that are more likely to fall into their hands.
But one thing that has been bothersome to Saunders is the Wolves’ inability to finish at the rim once they get there.
The Wolves are fifth in shot attempts per game (31.9) in the restricted area — one of the most efficient areas from which to shoot. That’s a good sign for the Wolves. It means they’re getting the kind of looks they want when they get into the paint. But they are shooting just 60% at the rim — 21st in the league.
“We worked on that in practices and I don’t think it’s going to be a one-day fix,” Saunders said. “But I like that we’re top five in frequency at the rim, top five in three-point frequency. Just not top-five in efficiency in either of those.
“I think that does show that the shots we’re getting are shots that we want and shots the system generates.”
So how do you get better at that? How can you practice finishing when every drive in a game is different? Defenders are coming at the driver from different angles, and he may have to contort his body different ways to avoid contact or avoid a blocked shot. It’s not as simple as just shooting three-pointers over and over again.
But Saunders said the Wolves have contact drills in practice designed as best they can to simulate what happens at the rim.
“But a lot of it is the game situations,” Saunders said.
Andrew Wiggins said finishing better just comes down to “concentration” and instinct in the lane. Wiggins knows that the most optimal shots are near the rim but that sometimes the defense might require he shoot a floater. In that moment he doesn’t exactly have shot charts and efficiency metrics running through his head. He’s just trying to get as open a shot as possible, wherever it is.
“I don’t think too much of it when you’re driving,” Wiggins said. “I try to get all the way to the rim. It’s like a reaction. Someone cuts you off, then shoot a floater, or if they’re back too far, I’ll shoot a floater … it’s more just reaction.”
Dusting off Vonleh
The knee injury to Karl-Anthony Towns meant the rotation at center changed over the three games before Monday. Gorgui Dieng became the starter and saw an uptick in his minutes. It also meant Noah Vonleh saw significant playing time for the first time in nearly a month.
Vonleh averaged 15 minutes over the three games entering Monday after he didn’t play at all in nine of the previous 12. This came after Vonleh was a regular in the rotation for the first few weeks until Dieng got those minutes back. Saunders had nothing but praise for how Vonleh handled his time on the bench.
“He’s been one of the best guys I’ve ever seen, and I don’t say that lightly, in terms of handling the situation,” Saunders said. “Just staying ready, trusting that he’d get another opportunity. There’s a reason he’s been productive in his minutes. That’s because he’s professional. He’s a good person and he’s stayed ready.”
Towns missed his fourth consecutive game Monday. Shabazz Napier also missed the game because of an illness.