In their last televised game of the preseason, the playoff-hopeful Timberwolves easily defeated the blown-up and rebuilding Celtics. It’s difficult to glean much from a preseason game, and doubly so when the opponent is severely undermanned and the score differential stretches beyond 20 in the second half. Had the result been flipped and the Wolves were blown out, there would be reason for some panic; especially since Rick Adelman played his starters for almost as many minutes as they will log when the games count. But the game played out about like it should have — at least if you are a Wolves fan with some degree of optimism for this season — and the execution was just inconsistent enough to make certain conclusions difficult to come by.
The pick-and-roll defense doesn’t look particularly good. The Wolves will not be “blitzing” ball screen this year the way that Miami and other more athletic teams will. With a more conservative approach, then, there shouldn’t be breakdowns leading to open baskets near the rim, or over-helping in ways that leave wide open shooters in the corners. Those things happened sometimes, in this game. But there were also positives on that end. Corey Brewer, while sometimes getting burned — including once on the wing so badly that Gerald Wallace walked in for a big dunk — was disruptively aggressive and parlayed some loose balls into transition offense. Nikola Pekovic continues to “wall up” (h/t Jim Pete) and play solid if not spectacular position help defense. I mean, they held their opponent to 89 points. The defense couldn’t have been too bad.
My takeaway from this game — or my thought after watching it anyway — pertains to the team’s three-point shooting. Without digging into the gory details, you already know this was a weakness last year. The Wolves were the worst perimeter shooting team in the NBA by a wide margin. Tonight, they shot 25 threes, which is kind of a lot. They made 10 of them — good for 40-percent accuracy — which is very good. Kevin Martin, the roster’s offseason shot in the arm, converted an impressive 5 for 8 from downtown. Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved, a pair of young guards in desperate need of better shooting efficiency, shot a combined 3 for 5 from three.
But I’m most interested in the team’s best player, Kevin Love. Love shot 8 threes tonight and made 2. That’s high volume and mediocre accuracy, but it’s just one game. I don’t care about the 2 for 8 statistic itself. What I’m interested in with Love is whether — and if so, how — he’ll be able to combine a high three-point shooting volume with: a) accuracy; and b) his other offensive skills, especially offensive rebounding.
For a pair of reasons, I’ve always been a huge proponent of Love shooting as many threes as he can.
The first is obvious: He’s a great shooter.
It seems like it would stand to reason that a recent NBA Three-Point Champion should shoot a lot of those in games. Especially with the increasing evidence showing threes to be an efficient shot, in general.
The second reason why I like seeing Love shoot threes is that I don’t like the common alternative sets, on this team. In an 82-game Wolves season, there are bound to be a lot of games where the offense can be described as follows:
“Kevin Love posted up a lot, held the ball a lot, flailed and flopped around against a bigger defender, and complained to the refs when calls were [appropriately] not made in his favor.”
Maybe this is just aesthetics, but I always enjoy the Wolves games more when Love is burying jumpers set up by Ricky Rubio’s superb passes.
Watching tonight’s game, it struck me that Love is not getting the typical “stretch 4” type of looks from three. He’s often moving, for one thing. Whether he’s popping off of a pick, or catching a pass at the top as a trailer, it didn’t seem like he was in the ideal, “set” position when catching passes behind the arc. Pick-and-pops great and all — especially since Love is good at executing them — but he shouldn’t have to move too far or too fast to get in that position. The trailing threes really seem difficult. I say this maybe from my own experience (I’ve never thought it easy to “stop and pop” whether dribbling or catching, especially from 24 feet) but also from Love’s experience. Check out his shot chart from two years ago, when he was last healthy:
Love was great on the wings, where he is often floating or popping off of a pick. He’s pretty average at the top of the key, where he often shoots after trailing a secondary break. It’s hard to run, stop, and pop a 24-footer. Even for an NBA three-point champ.
All of this is to say… well, that I’m asking more questions than providing answers. I don’t know how many threes is ideal for Love to shoot every night, and I don’t know what types of plays are best to set him up there. One idea would be more Pekovic-based pick-and-roll action with Love simply spotting up. That’s a nice scoring strategy and doubles as some needed rest for the team’s high-minutes MVP. I’m sure Rick will come up with other ideas.
But in Love’s 2 for 8 performance tonight, it seemed like he was expending too much energy to expect good results on his three-point attempts.