In mid-January, I wrote a long post about a major failing of the Timberwolves’ offense: their tendency to shoot a lot of long 2-pointers, the least efficient shot in basketball. At the time, they were taking the highest percentage of overall field goal attempts in the NBA from between 16 feet and the three-point line, while they were taking the lowest number from three-point range.
The Wolves still hold those places, but in the last month-and-a-half, they had shown at least some improvement in their percentages. At the time I did the original post, the Wolves were taking 26 percent of their shots from that dreaded “Long 2″ distance. Now, even though they still lead the league, that number is down to 24.7. In the same time, they’ve seen a small uptick in the most efficient shots: from three-point range (up from 18.9 percent of shots taken to 19.1 on the season) and from 3 feet or closer (up from 28.1 percent to 29 percent).
Not surprisingly, there was a correlation in offensive efficiency. In the month of February, in fact, the Wolves led the entire NBA in points per 100 possessions (111.9, better even than Golden State). Their record for the month was 5-6 — an improvement over past months, though still not great because of some shoddy defense.
Still, the offense was humming. Free throws played a big role, but so did better efficiency on shots.
All of this is a long windup to what was, at least for one night, a regression Wednesday against Wizards in the Wolves’ first game in March, a 104-98 loss at Target Center.
Former Wolves coach Randy Wittman (who infamously, according to Kevin Love, didn’t want the forward shooting 3s here), might eschew all the benefits of “analytics,” but his team sure played last night like the one more attuned to the finer points of where to shoot — at least when it comes to shots away from the basket.
For the game, from what I can piece together from stats and shot charts, the numbers were startling and almost a perfect mirror:
The Wolves made 11 of 28 shots (39.3 percent) from between 16 feet and the 3-point line and made 5 of 14 from 3-point range. That’s a total of 16 for 42 on long jump shots, for a combined 37 points.
The Wizards were almost the exact opposite. They made 11 of 29 from three-point range and 4 of 14 on those long 2s. That’s a combined 15 of 43 on long jump shots … for a combined 41 points.
The percentages made for the Wolves were nicely in line with their season numbers. But a whopping 28 of their 75 field goal attempts were those inefficient long 2s (37.3 percent).
There were more issues than just that — including a bench that was badly outplayed and outscored Wednesday.
But at team that had been working toward better efficiency while scoring at a high rate in February had a lapse Wednesday. The Wizards scored four more points than the Wolves on long jump shots in a six-point win.
Analytics are about huge data sets and sample sizes, but sometimes one game can show a difference. Wittman said recently that “analytics haven’t won a ballgame,” but the numbers sure added up for his team last night.