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Practice Report | Tackling The Home Record And Free-Throw Shooting

by Katie Davidson
Digital Content Associate

The Wolves are off to a historic start when it comes to their ability to win on the road.

The Wolves improved to 5-2 in away games after their 112-102 win in Utah on Monday and have now matched their best seven-game road start in team history, which came in the 2015-16 season.

Winning on the road is a huge feat in this league, especially when you’re playing with a relatively new team and, not to mention, a completely new system. But to avoid finishing with a record similar to that of the 29-53, 2015-16 squad (don’t worry, the Wolves are on pace to do this), Minnesota needs to start taking advantage of their home games.

While the Wolves’ win percentage on the road is fourth-best in the league, their home win percentage of .375 from their 3-5 home record ain’t great.

Let’s look at the records of the Wolves’ road and home opponents before we get too bent out of shape.

 So far, the Wolves have played Brooklyn (6-8), Charlotte (6-9), Philadelphia (9-5), Washington (4-8), Memphis (5-9), Detroit (4-10) and Utah on the road (9-5). Those teams have a combined record of 43-54.

Miami (10-3), Milwaukee (11-3), Golden State (3-13), Denver (10-3), San Antonio (5-10), Washington (4-8), Houston (11-4) and Utah (9-5) have all made their way to Target Center and post a 63-49 combined record.

So, the Wolves’ home schedule has been a bit more challenging than what they’ve dealt with on the road in the first 15 games of the season, but I think head coach Ryan Saunders’ thoughts on his team’s road success carry some weight, too.

Saunders told reporters he and his assistants were having a conversation about the Wolves’ irregular home and away records before Thursday’s media availability.

“I was just having a conversation with the assistants; it’s something we’re trying to talk about,” Saunders said. “This is my 11th year in the NBA, and there are times where sometimes teams do go through struggles at home opposed to the road. A lot of times on the road, it’s that the people in your traveling party are the only people in that state who want you to win, for the most part — or in that arena. There’s a common closeness that you feel in terms of banding together to try to work towards the end goal.”

I honestly had never thought of this point or the effects it could have when teams return to familiar territory where they’re surrounded by their fans.

“Sometimes that can make you get more comfortable at home,” Saunders said. “We have to guard against that. We’ll try and take some steps, but it’s something we’re looking into.”

Jeff Teague also spoke to the media before Thursday’s practice and didn’t have a definitive answer for his team’s 3-5 home record. Instead, he turned to another issue the Wolves faced in their home loss to the Jazz on Wednesday night — inefficient shooting.

“I’m not sure. We’ve just got to shoot the ball better, I guess,” Teague said when asked about the reason for the Wolves’ 3-5 home record. “We missed some easy shots yesterday — mainly myself — and some free throws.”

Ah, the free-throw shooting. Anyone who took a peek at Wednesday night’s box score should be glad Teague brought up the Wolves’ shooting from the charity stripe. The Wolves finished 11-for-21 from the line and lost by eight. That hurts.

It wasn’t just last night that cashing in on freebies was been a problem for this team. The Wolves are currently averaging a fifth-best 26.1 free-throw attempts per game but are only hitting 74.7% of those attempts, which puts them at 21st in the league in free-throw percentage.

Saunders, with a strained smile, also addressed his team’s free-throw shooting on Thursday.

“It’s a repetition thing, and it’s a rhythm thing and it’s a routine thing, I believe,” Saunders said. “Our guys are working at it. I need to dive a little deeper to see if playing fast is an issue, and we’re not going to stop playing fast, but it’s whether maybe we need to shoot free throws after running (in practice) — things like that to simulate more of a game-like environment.”

Treveon Graham also believes the Wolves’ increased pace of play may have something to do with the free-throw shooting woes, but he also mentioned the importance of being confident when he steps up to the free-throw line. Right now, he’s is focusing on carrying that confidence with him everywhere on the court.

Graham led the Wolves in scoring in the second quarter of Wednesday night’s loss after knocking down two 3-pointers, but overall this season, he’s shooting just 33.6% from the field and 18% from beyond the arc. Nevertheless, he and his head coach continue to believe in his shooting abilities.

“Me and Coach talk a lot, and we’re always thinking the next one’s going to go in, so I’m going to keep shooting,” Graham said. “(I’m) just trying to keep that confidence up. Come here and get the repetitions in and at some point they’re going to start to fall when I get into that groove.”

Saunders shared his confidence in Graham and said all of his players have the green light to take good shots — for the most part.

“Yeah, guys have a green light,” Saunders said, “but I’ll preface it with you don’t have a green light at all times. These guys know, and they’re smart basketball players and smart teammates. You’re not going to shoot a shot just to shoot it. You’re getting shots within the offense because we’re working on it every day.”

When you implement a new system, it may affect the way your team plays at home, how it performs at the free-throw line and its shot selection. Saunders and his players know this, and while they’ve addressed the weak spots that need to be dealt with, they also know it’s a work-in-progress that might run into some short-term bumps in the road while building for the long-term.

“We’re going to continue to be a work-in-progress,” Saunders said, “but we like where we’re trending.”

Notes

- Saunders said the Wolves do not expect to have Jake Layman back for Saturday’s home game against the Suns and compared Layman’s injury to turf toe. “We don’t expect to have him on Saturday, and we’ll see how it goes and we’ll see how it is with the swelling.”

- Robert Covington has scored 193 points in the first 15 games of the season. One hundred twenty-six or 67% of his points have come in the first halves of games. Covington recorded 10 points in the first half of Wednesday’s game but was held to one point in the final 24 minutes of play. The Wolves also played with their slowest pace of the season on Wednesday, and Saunders believes there’s some correlation. “(We’ll) continue to try to get him in transition,” Saunders said. “When we get out in transition, he’s able to trail in that high quad (and hit) 3s. I think sometimes when we do look a little bit slower or our pace isn’t as high as we’d like it to be, sometimes that renders him less effective than if it was at a higher pace.”

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