Give the Minnesota Timberwolves credit. They never wavered. Not for a moment. When former Houston Rockets executive Gersson Rosas took over the team in May, a renewed commitment to shooting was apparent. The trouble was that almost nobody on the team was actually good at it.
In the 50 games the Timberwolves played before the trade deadline, they attempted the third-most 3-pointers per game in the NBA. They made only 32.5 percent of them, the worst mark in the league.
Add insult to injury, their starting center Karl-Anthony Towns was making over a quarter of their per-game total, which is far from ideal when you consider that Towns is Minnesota's lone starting big man. Remove him from the equation and the rest of the Timberwolves' guard-heavy roster wasn't even averaging 10 made 3-pointers per night. Rosas came from an environment in which James Harden matched that figure alone from time to time.
That success likely informed his commitment, and certainly guided his mid-season moves. "We heard the criticism," Rosas said after the trade deadline. "Why do you guys play a style you don't have the players for? This is why." When the dust settled, seven new players arrived in Minnesota during a 48-hour flurry. The four of them that are receiving consistent minutes have so far averaged 10.9 made 3-pointers per game, more than the entire non-Towns roster combined prior to the deadline. The Timberwolves built a culture intended to welcome players that hadn't yet been acquired.
Such a culture was necessary for Malik Beasley, who was never quite welcomed as a member of the Denver Nuggets' rotation. Despite shooting over 40 percent from behind the arc last season and acquitting himself quite well overall in an extended stint as a starter, Beasley was the unfortunate recipient of quite a few DNP-CD's in a crowded Denver backcourt. He averaged only 18.2 minutes per game with the Nuggets, down from over 23 last season, and his unsteady role nagged at him. "I wish it (playing time) was consistent, that's just me as a player," Beasley told the Denver Post's Kyle Frederickson in January. It became far more consistent the moment he landed in Minnesota.
Beasley played nearly 29 minutes in his Timberwolves debut, and in an apparent attempt to make up for nearly four seasons of being underused in a single night, he took 13 3-pointers and made seven of them. He hasn't dipped below 32 minutes since, nor has he attempted fewer than five 3-pointers in any game with the Timberwolves. His typical numbers are a good deal higher.
Since the trade deadline, Beasley is fifth in the NBA in 3-point attempts. His 9.6 per game place him just between Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum on that list, but more importantly, Beasley is actually making those shots. His 41.8 percent mark from long distance is an elite figure. Only Harden has averaged more made 3-pointers per game over the full season than Beasley has with his new team.
Those shots are coming from virtually every element of Minnesota's offense. Pick-and-rolls to Beasley serve as little more than a quick attempt to generate a few extra inches of space for his launch zone.
Of course, Beasley was brought in largely to supplement the pick-and-rolls of Minnesota's biggest deadline addition, D'Angelo Russell, and the two have found quick chemistry with the former All-Star on the ball.
Beasley has been given the green light to fire away from anywhere on the floor, and that is translating into unbridled confidence for a player who only weeks ago couldn't be sure if he'd even see the floor on a given night. How else would you explain shots like this?
Beasley has hardly been the only beneficiary of Minnesota's shoot first, ask questions later policy. Russell is averaging an identical 9.6 long-range attempts per game, and in doing so has made a career-best 39.4 percent on such shots. Beasley's fellow Denver castoff Juan Hernangomez is shooting a staggering 48.3 percent on 3s, albeit on fewer attempts and with a far higher likelihood of regression given his typical numbers.
But Beasley's transformation stands out for how predictable it should have been. He averaged 7.8 3-point attempts per 36 minutes for last season's Nuggets -- a figure closer to where he'll land when a healthy Towns returns -- and made over 40 percent of those attempts. As a starter last season, he made 50 percent of his 3-pointers, but in the 13 games that he played 13 minutes or less, he shot only 24.1 percent on such shots. Those samples are small, but they suggest the presence of an elite shooter ... provided enough opportunity.
Minnesota had more than enough opportunity to go around. This was a franchise so dedicated to the long ball that it allowed backup center Gorgui Dieng to take 120 3-pointers in 46 games after attempting 187 in his previous 452. It needed players capable of making the most of those opportunities, and in turn creating more of them for teammates.
Beasley has done so masterfully. Since the deadline, Minnesota has risen to fifth in 3-point percentage while increasing its attempts per game. That wouldn't have been possible without the shots Beasley has made, but nearly as important is the spacing his presence has created. The Timberwolves found and nurtured an elite shooter, and everyone on the roster is reaping the rewards. This is what those early-season struggles were for.