You never know what to expect from a West Coast road trip. A team could sweep through Texas or California in a week. This may include an excursion to Arizona or up the coast to Portland. Because of this, there’s usually a balance in the schedule.
It’s unlikely you play several consecutive games against top teams. At least that hasn’t been the case unless it was a Texas trip in the mid-to-late 2000s.
This time, the Timberwolves took a three-game sample of the league’s talent. First, they were blown out by the Warriors. Then the embarrassing loss in Phoenix before salvaging the trip with a respectable win in Utah. Sure, the Wolves should have gone 2-1 on the trip but they’re still 8-5 on the season and well-positioned in the conference.
It was the end of the 2015 season and Shabazz Muhammad had just shot 39.2 percent on 3-pointers. With that kind of efficiency, he would both be a valuable player and one that was well-compensated for a premium skill. That type of efficiency is enough to warrant playing despite other weaknesses in his game.
It’s now been two years since we’ve seen that player. Muhammad shot 28.9 percent in 2016 and 33.8 percent last season. Going back to March, Muhammad is just 6-of-49 on 3-pointers (12.2 percent) in 34 games. He’s 0-for-8 in 13 games this season.
To struggle with your shot is one thing; slumps happen to everyone. At this point, this is looking more and more like who he is.
His production seemed sustainable as a second-year player. After all, he didn’t play much his rookie year and when he did, it was in garbage time. In his lone year at UCLA, he shot 37.7 percent from deep. Hitting nearly 40 percent of his treys didn’t seem to be terribly fluky.
For whatever reason, it appears that Muhammad’s 2015 season was a fluke. Maybe we should have noticed the low volume of attempts (1.3) while playing 22 minutes per game. Maybe teams simply figured out that he could easily be goaded into bad shots. But the fact that he’s taken so few attempts from 3 this season appear to be indicative of a player who has lost confidence in his shot.
He’s not even attempting to shoot through it, which means that he’s easier to defend than normal. Opponents can force him to his weak hand knowing that his go-to left-handed hook shot is coming. These are just some of the reasons that Muhammad is having the worst season of his career.
It was about two weeks ago that the Timberwolves had a top-10 3-point shooting team. This was unusual for a team lacking apparent shooters. The team concluded its road trip and left us with a glaring question: Is the efficiency sustainable?
After the Golden State and Phoenix games, the team had combined to shoot 9-for-44 (20.4 percent) from deep. That could be attributed to the Warriors’ defense and curious shot selection against the Suns. Or it could be their shooting regressing to the mean.
Then came the Jazz game. This is where things get confusing. The Timberwolves connected on 10-of-20 3-pointers on Monday night. Suddenly, the Wolves finished their trip shooting 45.3 percent on 29-for-64 shooting.
We’ll have to wait longer to figure out who this team is. Maybe they can shoot, maybe they can’t. Perhaps they shoot this well for eight more weeks or eight more games. It looks like we’ll havef to wait a few more games to find out.
Yes, this is about Jimmy Butler.
After losing to the Warriors, Butler declared that the old Jimmy Butler was coming back. No more deferential Butler that passes up his own shots. Admittedly, it had been strange to see Butler defer so often after being one of the league’s best scorers a year ago. Since the team was winning, it was difficult to complain too much.
The New Old Jimmy Butler debuted against the Suns. Butler shot 5-for-17 from the field that night. The only redeeming aspect of his performance was his 14-for-16 shooting at the free throw line. While it was good that Butler was so effective getting to the line, his shot selection was poor. There were many contested and off-balance, leaning jumpers that fell harmlessly off of the rim.
These are shots NBA players can make better than anyone in the world. But when someone is trying to get in rhythm while trying to shift their mindset from facilitator to scorer, it’s not ideal. We saw that even a player like Butler is susceptible to forcing the action. Butler’s shots did not come in the flow of the offense and rather than going straight up with the shot, he fell back on fadeaways and leaners. These types of shots can be crutches at times.
However, it seemed Butler got closer to figuring it out on Monday night. Butler shot 6-for-12 against the Jazz with a much better shot selection while still hitting nine free throws. The Butler we saw on Monday was more of the scorer the team needs than the one we saw in Phoenix.
After getting the best of his matchup with Jeff Teague at Target Center, it was Teague’s turn to get the best of Ricky Rubio on Monday.
Teague finished with an efficient 22 points in 37 minutes to go with three boards and assists. Finding consistency from night-to-night hasn’t happened yet in Minnesota but he’s valuable when he’s “on.” That was against Rubio, a point guard with a solid defensive reputation.
Meanwhile, things are not going well for Rubio in Utah. The former Wolf is averaging a career low in assists and a career high in turnovers. Furthermore, Rubio has come down from his late-season hot streak last season and shooting 28.3 percent on 3-pointers on 4.6 attempts per game.
Rubio’s struggles continued on Monday. He shot just 1-for-7 from the field, including 0-for-6 from deep. Having four assists and rebounds helped some but not having a proper Gordon Hayward replacement and missing Rudy Gobert leaves the Jazz’s weapons depleted. As a result, the Timberwolves were essentially on a power play when Rubio was on offense.
In all fairness, Teague did not play a perfect game. He had a couple of careless turnovers in the fourth quarter, including one in which he overdribbled before getting the ball poked away in traffic. That lack of decisiveness hurts the team and benefits the opponent.
The truth is, both players have pros and cons. What we saw on Monday was the set that the Timberwolves preferred: the more offensive point guard who downgrades slightly on defense. The Jazz may now be realizing some of the challenges the Wolves faced in trying to win with Rubio.
I haven’t done this before but using Basketball-Reference and an online number generator, I’ve chosen one random player from the team’s past. This time, it’s Brad Sellers.
You may know Sellers best as the player who lost his job to Scottie Pippen in Chicago. Sellers was later traded to Seattle — a frequent Bulls trading partner at the time — for a first round pick in 1989. Sellers wasn’t long for Seattle as he was dealt at the next trade deadline for Steve Johnson, who is a random Timberwolf himself.
The 7-footer left for Greece after the 1990 season but returned for the 1992 season with the Detroit Pistons. However, Sellers and the Wolves weren’t done crossing paths. Along with Lance Blanks, Sellers was traded to the Timberwolves for Gerald Glass and Mark Randall before the start of the 1993 season. The Wolves also received a conditional 2000 conditional second-round pick that that never conveyed.
Sellers played 68 games as a Timberwolf, averaging 2.7 points and 1.5 rebounds per game on 36 percent shooting. It’s safe to say that he was near the end of his NBA career when he came to Minnesota but would play in Europe until his late-30s.