Tom Thibodeau wants the Minnesota Timberwolves to shoot 3-pointers. Yes, the famously old-school coach, whose Chicago Bulls teams weren't exactly the Golden State Warriors in that regard, told ESPN's Brian Windhorst that he would like to see the Wolves fire away:
When examining how the Wolves can break their 12-year playoff drought, Thibodeau immediately pointed to the 3-point line. The Wolves finished 29th in 3-point attempts and makes last season.
"We gave up nine [3-pointers] a game, and we made only five and a half," Thibodeau said. "That's like starting the game 10 points behind."
Thibodeau's Bulls teams weren't 3-point heavy. They were 28th in attempts in 2013-14 and 29th in 2012-13, though in his final season, they improved to 16th. Some of that, of course, was due to personnel. But his focus on it now is part of the old-fashioned coach's attempts to evolve.
"We're a work in progress," Thibodeau said, perhaps even talking a little about himself. "We've got to close the gap."
Only the Milwaukee Bucks shot 3s less frequently than the Timberwolves did last season under Sam Mitchell. This itself was a major storyline in Minnesota. Mitchell insisted he was not anti-3-pointer, pointing to his old Toronto Raptors teams, but told MinnPost's Britt Robson last January that the discrepancy was simply about personnel: "Who is going to shoot them?" Mitchell said.
In fairness to Mitchell, he relaxed his stance later in the season. Zach LaVine, for example, went from shooting 3.1 3-pointers per game before the All-Star break to 5.4 3-pointers per game after it. In April, the Wolves took 20.9 3-pointers per 100 possessions, which is 4.2 more than their season average.
Nonetheless, Thibodeau is correct to say Minnesota was essentially starting every game in a 10-point hole. In today's NBA, shooting and spacing are essential, and Thibodeau has always understood that. Even when he drew criticism for Chicago's offense, his defense was geared toward taking away 3-pointers and shots at the rim. Last season's Wolves, however, surrendered 25.9 3-point attempts per 100 possessions, the seventh-highest mark in the league. You can bet that stat will be different this year.
The question now is how many Minnesota players will take 3s with confidence. Ricky Rubio attempted a career-high 2.5 3s per game last year, making 32.6 percent of them, but defenses still routinely dare him to shoot. Nemanja Bjelica has a chance to help the Wolves as a stretch 4, but he it's unclear how big of a role he'll earn. Rookie guard Kris Dunn might not be a true floor spacer immediately, but he expanded his range over the course of his college career.
Unlike most teams, Minnesota has the luxury of being able to play 5-out because Karl-Anthony Towns has 3-point range. Andrew Wiggins could have much easier driving lanes if he consistently made open 3s, too. If the Wolves make a huge leap this season, it will be at least in part because of Thibodeau helping them close the 3-point gap.