Yesterday, the inestimable Henry Abbott wrote a must-read piece on 3-point shooting and what the NBA Finals taught us about the importance of treys in the league. Although he never mentioned Minnesota by name, his findings are a good indicator as to why the Wolves struggled last year.
NBA coaches have long been far too timid with 3s — merely attempting more has long predicted winning more games, thinking which is only slowly catching on. 3-point shooting has long been seen as a condiment, a little something to sprinkle onto your time-tested offensive diet.
When your opponent packs the paint like the Spurs did, 3s quickly become even more important. They go from being condiments to survival food. Either you can get the defensive players scrambling far from the hoop to close out shooters or you cannot. Either you can punish opposing coaches for playing two plodding 7-footers (by making them run out to cover someone far from the hoop) or you cannot. Either you can efficiently turn possessions into points even without layups, or you cannot.
If you cannot do those things, you’re basically done.
There’s no denying that the Wolves were done last year. Minnesota shot .305 from 3-point range, good for 30th in the NBA and well below the range in which the 3-pointer is a good, efficient shot. Opposing teams adjusted accordingly, and before long, the Wolves were trapped within themselves: Unable to space the floor with shooters and as a result, equally unable to create efficient shots.
Minnesota’s two most recent signings are indicators that the Wolves were well aware of their struggles and are now intent on fixing them. Chase Budinger will return to Minnesota — hopefully free of any lingering effects from his torn MCL suffered last November — while Kevin Martin will join the backcourt and, essentially by default, will almost certainly take over the starting shooting guard role. Here’s the breakdown on their contracts:
- Chase Budinger: 3 years, $16 million
- Kevin Martin: 4 years, $28 million
As has been pointed out elsewhere, this brings Minnesota to within $4 million of the salary cap which essentially precludes Andrei Kirilenko’s return. This has been cause for quite a bit hand-wringing around the internet, as most people are less than thrilled that Minnesota went from a middle-of-the-pack defensive team to a lower-end defensive team with the two signings. Everything Minnesota has done over the past couple of years has been geared toward one thing: Keeping Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio on the team long-term. Will being a contender for the eighth seed in the playoffs be enough to keep Love interested?
It’s impossible to say for sure, but unlike a lot of commentators around the internet, I like these deals. Consider:
- Minnesota’s starting five is likely now Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger (OR SHABAZZ MUHAMMAD!! BELIEVE THE HYPE!!!), Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. That’s two steady 3-point shooters (don’t forget: Budinger shot 48% from the corners in his last season in Houston), an enormous presence in the post and the high pick-and-roll, a magical unicorn point guard and an all-world power forward. Minnesota’s offense will be undeniably explosive.
- Defense, individually, will be a problem. But an NBA defense should never be built around individuals. The best defenses are team exercises (and don’t forget: Minnesota’s coach once fashioned the league’s fourth best defense with a roster that prominently featured Mike Bibby and Peja Stojakovic). Minnesota, of course, won’t be as good at defense as Miami — a team with elite athletes and an excellent Xs and Os coach — but they might be middle-of-the-pack, and a middle-of-the-pack defense might do the trick with a high-powered offensive roster like Minnesota’s.
There are a lot of directions the Wolves could go from here in the offseason, but they don’t have a lot of cap room left. Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea are both movable players who could play nice roles on other teams. Derrick Williams might be enough to entice a rebuilding GM (and it’s worth noting that there are going to be a LOT of teams in the Tank-for-Wiggins sweepstakes who might be interested in a player with a lot of upside like Williams who also won’t conveniently win you any games). And, of course, there’s the ever-present problem of Nikola Pekovic’s looming restricted free agency.
But whatever happens next, signing Martin and re-signing Budinger addressed Minnesota’s biggest need and, perhaps, fixed the Wolves’ offensive spacing problems. For my money, we should view this as a good thing.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.