2017-18 Kia Season Preview

One Team, One Stat -- Jimmy Butler to ease the scoring burden for Minnesota Timberwolves

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2017-18 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Minnesota Timberwolves, who got a big chunk of their scoring from just two guys.


Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins scored 46 percent of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ total points last season.

Highest percentage of team's points by leading duo, 2016-17


That was the biggest percentage of a team’s points that any duo in the league scored.

That Towns and Wiggins were two of 17 players (teammate Gorgui Dieng was another) to play all 82 games was a factor. But the Wolves also ranked last in the league in bench scoring at just 22.8 points per game.

The star-heavy offense worked well enough for the Wolves, who ranked in the top 10 in offensive efficiency for just the second time in the last 12 years. Scoring 1.9 more points per 100 possessions than the league average, it was Minnesota’s best offensive season since their trip to the conference finals in 2004.

But with the addition of Jimmy Butler, both Towns and Wiggins will need to sacrifice touches and shots. And Wiggins will likely have the bigger adjustment.

When Towns was off the floor last season, Wiggins had a usage rate of 37.8 percent, which would have ranked second in the league. After the All-Star break, he ranked 11th in usage rate.

Wiggins will need to develop his off-the-ball game. Last season, 76 percent of his jump shots were off the dribble.

Towns should have an easier time playing off the other two. He scored 1.23 points per possession as a roll man last season, the best mark among 16 players who averaged at least three roll-man possessions per game. He took 160 more jump shots off the catch than Wiggins did.

Both former No. 1 picks need to pass more. Wiggins and Towns assisted on just 8.7 and 10.5 percent of their possessions respectively, the fourth and 10th lowest assist rates among 45 players with a usage rate of 25 percent or higher in at least 20 minutes per game.

Spacing will continue to be a issue for a team that ranked last in 3-pointers last season, and then traded the guy – Zach LaVine – who made twice as many threes per game as anybody else on the team. Wiggins and Butler were two of six guards/wings who attempted at least 1,000 shots, with less than 20 percent of them coming from 3-point range.

Sacrifices will need to be made defensively, as well. The Wolves ranked 26th in defensive efficiency last season and allowed 110.7 points per 100 possessions with Wiggins and Towns on the floor together.

Maybe if the pair doesn’t have to carry such a big offensive load, they can bring more energy and effort on the other end of the floor.

Wolves last five seasons


History: Season by season results | Advanced stats | Franchise leaders

2016-17: Team stats | Advanced splits | Player stats | Player shooting | Lineups


  1. Have missed the playoffs each of the last 13 seasons. That’s the second longest playoff drought in NBA history, shorter than only the Clippers’ 15-year drought from 1977 to 1991.
  2. Were 10.9 points per 100 possessions better in the first half of games (plus-4.5) than they were in the second half (minus-6.3). That was the biggest post-halftime drop-off for any team in the last seven years (since the Celtics had a drop-off of 11.0 points per 100 possessions in 2009-10).
  3. As a result, they had the league’s worst record (24-22) and six more losses than any other team after leading by double-digits.
  4. One of five teams with a losing record (they were 6-8) when they had a rest advantage (when they didn’t play the day before but their opponent did).

Wolves shooting stats


  1. Took just 24.9 percent of their shots from 3-point range, the lowest rate in the league. Had the league’s highest ratio (1.10) of mid-range shots to 3-point attempts. According to SportVU, 88.2 percent of their 3-point attempts were uncontested, the second highest rate in the league.
  2. Had an effective field goal percentage of 63.6 percent (fifth best) in the first six seconds of the shot clock and just 48.7 percent (10th worst) thereafter. That was the biggest drop-off in effective field goal percentage after the first six seconds of the shot clock.
  3. Ranked 28th in clutch offense, scoring just 97.3 points per 100 possessions with the game within five points in the last five minutes. Only Milwaukee saw a bigger drop-off in OffRtg from non-clutch possessions to clutch possessions.
  4. Were 7.2 points per 100 possessions better offensively in the first half than they were in the second half. That was the biggest OffRtg drop-off from half to half. They shot much worse from every area of the floor in the second half of games than they did in the first half. The only player who took at least 300 total shots for the Wolves and wasn’t a much worse shooter in the second half was Ricky Rubio.

Wolves shooting by half


  1. One of two teams (the Lakers are the other) that has ranked in the bottom five in defensive efficiency each of the last three seasons. They’ve had a worse-than-average defense in 10 of the last 11.
  2. Have ranked in the bottom five in opponent effective field goal percentage in eight of the last 10 seasons.
  3. Last season, they were the only team that ranked in the bottom five in field goal percentage in the restricted area (26th) and on other shots in the paint (28th).
  4. Allowed their opponents to take 16.1 percent of their shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock, the highest rate in the league. And their opponents’ effective field goal percentage in the first six seconds (64.3 percent) was the second highest mark.
  5. According to SportVU, only 13.2 percent of their opponents’ 3-point attempts were contested. That was the lowest opponent rate in the league.
  6. Allowed a league-worst 114.8 points per 100 possessions in the second game of a back-to-back. Were 6.9 points per 100 possessions better defensively when they didn’t play the day before. That was the biggest rest-no-rest DefRtg differential in the league.

Wolves four factors


  1. Even though LaVine was lost for the season in early February, the starting lineup – Rubio, LaVine, Wiggins, Towns and Dieng – played 880 minutes together, the second highest total among all five-man units. Its average of 21.5 minutes per game was the highest mark among lineups that played in at least 20 games together.
  2. Their post-injury starting lineup – with Brandon Rush in LaVine’s place – was the league’s seventh most-used lineup at 596 total minutes.
  3. Rubio, Wiggins and Towns played 2,138 minutes together, most among all three-man units.
  4. Allowed 112.6 points per 100 possessions with LaVine, Towns and Wiggins on the floor together. That was the worst DefRtg mark among 92 three-man combinations that played at least 1,000 minutes last season.
  5. Had some success (plus-10.6 points per 100 possessions) in limited minutes (151) with Rubio on the floor with Tyus Jones.


  1. Among 76 players with at least 200 pick-and-roll ball-handler possessions, Jimmy Butler had the highest free throw rate (getting to the line 21.2 percent of the time).
  2. Butler had an assist/turnover ratio of 2.62, the second highest mark among the 45 players with a usage rate of 25 percent or more.
  3. Butler committed just 1.4 fouls per 36 minutes, fewest among players that played at least 1,000 minutes last season.
  4. Jamal Crawford isolated on 25.3 percent of his possessions, the highest rate in the league. The 0.92 points per possession he scored on isolations ranked 30th among the 54 players who had at least 100 isolation possessions.
  5. Crawford was the only player to hit multiple shots from the backcourt last season.
  6. Gorgui Dieng had an effective field goal percentage of 55.1 percent on 108 shots in the last six seconds of the shot clock, the best mark among 64 players with at least 100 attempts in the last six seconds. Towns (51.0 percent on 157 attempts) had the fifth best mark.
  7. Jeff Teague led the league with 243 assists on shots between the restricted area and 3-point range, with 41 more assists on mid-range shots (172) than any other player. Rubio ranked second with 210.
  8. According to SportVU, Teague was the ball-handler’s defender on 1,937 ball screens last season, almost 200 more than any other player (Kemba Walker ranked second at 1,739).
  9. Teague attempted 46 free throws per 100 shots from the field. That was the second highest free throw rate among starting point guards, behind only that of James Harden (57 per 100).
  10. Karl-Anthony Towns led the league with 14.1 points in the paint per game and ranked second with 4.7 second chance points per game.
  11. Towns (47.2 percent) and Butler (45.1 percent) were two of the 12 players who shot 45 percent or better on at least 50 clutch shots. Butler shot 59-for-62 (95 percent) on clutch free throws, the best mark among players who attempted at least 25.
  12. According to SportVU, Andrew Wiggins had the highest usage rate (56.8 percent) on ball screens among 92 players that used at least 500. That means that 56.8 percent of the ball screens he used resulted in a shot, turnover or drawn foul by Wiggins or the screener. But he was the least likely to pass to the screener (just 12.8 percent of the time).

NBA TV’s Wolves preview premieres at 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Oct. 3. See the full preview schedule here.

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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