Newcomers quickly give Timberwolves' 3-point shooting surge
ST. PAUL One of the Minnesota Timberwolves' key offseason objectives was to improve their outside shooting. The results have been quick and surprising. After seven exhibition games, the Wolves lead the NBA in three-point shooting, hitting 59 of 1...
One of the Minnesota Timberwolves' key offseason objectives was to improve their outside shooting. The results have been quick and surprising.
After seven exhibition games, the Wolves lead the NBA in three-point shooting, hitting 59 of 133 attempts for a .444 percentage. Perhaps the most significant factor in the Wolves' early success is that four of the team's top six three-point shooters were not on last year's roster, a group that ranked 26th in the league in long-range shooting.
Newcomers Martell Webster, Anthony Tolliver, Sebastian Telfair and Wesley Johnson have made a combined 32 three-pointers, validating the efforts made by Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn and coach Kurt Rambis to upgrade the team's perimeter play.
"Our three-point shooting has changed our whole identity," said Wolves forward Kevin Love, who ranks sixth in the league (13 of 22, .591) during the exhibition season. "It doesn't allow teams to just pack it in the paint on us. It opens up a lot of aspects to our offense. Teams will have to play us different."
The Wolves' offense struggled most of last season because of the lack of consistent outside shooting. Al Jefferson was the primary scoring option in the post, but teams often threw double- and triple-teams at him, showing little concern for somebody hitting an outside shot.
The frustration led to Jefferson's trade to Utah in the summer, a deal that signaled the beginning of a new approach in Rambis' triangle offense.
Of the Wolves' top six three-point shooters this preseason, four are forwards: Love, Tolliver, Webster and Johnson.
Rambis has given nearly every player -- with the exception of centers Darko Milicic, Nikola Pekovic and Kosta Koufos -- the freedom to shoot a three-pointer "if they're open and it comes within the rhythm of the offense."
"Our shooters keep defenses spread out, but they still have to make good decisions," Rambis said. "The strength of our offense comes when we move the ball well and everybody makes proper cuts. We found out last year that if you don't have shooters, teams can just clog the lane on you."
Though it's the exhibition season, the Wolves have nearly doubled the number of three-pointers they make per game, from 4.91 at the end of last season to 8.42. The three-point production has helped the Wolves build a 5-2 record going into their final exhibition game Friday night in Milwaukee.
Even Milicic, who could see his shot attempts dwindle if the three-point shooting continues, was impressed with the results.
"I like to score, but I like to pass, too," Milicic said. "If I see somebody open on the outside, I'm going to pass it to them because I believe they're going to make the shot. I feel real comfortable with the way the guys are shooting."
Roster cuts: The Wolves waived free agents John Thomas and Jason Hart before Wednesday's practice.
Thomas, 35, a forward who played at the University of Minnesota, had been slowed by a hamstring injury since the second day of training camp and did not play in an exhibition game. His practice time also had been limited.
Hart, 32, a nine-year veteran point guard, played a total of 12 minutes in three games and did not score.
The cuts left the Wolves with the maximum 15 players on the roster. Rambis said more roster moves might be made before the regular-season opener Wednesday against Sacramento.
NBA teams are not required to keep 15 players. Twelve can be active for regular-season games with up to three on an inactive list.
Injury report: Webster's sore back kept him out of Wednesday's practice. He missed Tuesday's game and is questionable for Friday night. Rambis said the team is looking at "best possible solutions" to help Webster, the team's third-leading scorer (12.3) and a valuable performer off the bench.
--Milicic participated in all phases of Wednesday's practice after struggling the past three days with muscle spasms in his neck and shoulder. Milicic sat out Tuesday's game against Indiana but said he would play Friday night.
"I'm still a little stiff, but I'm feeling a lot better," Milicic said. "It felt like I had a rock in my neck."
Milicic said he would continue to undergo treatment to help relieve the soreness.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.