In his tenure as head coach of the Chicago Bulls, Tom Thibodeau firmly established himself as a defensive-minded coach.
Now coaching one of the most dynamic young teams in the NBA, Thibodeau has to adapt to his team as much as they need to adapt to him. One way Thibs apparently plans to adapt is by making an adjustment with Minnesota’s three-point attempts, which he wants to see more of, as he told ESPN’s Brian Windhorst:
“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.”
Thibodeau is taking shooting seriously. Minnesota recently hired shooting coach Peter Patton, former DePaul standout and disciple of the famed San Antonio Spurs shooting coach, Chip Engelland.
Minnesota was 29th in the league in threes last season, largely due to personnel. On average, their opponents shot nine more threes per game than they did last season, per Basketball Reference. But this has just as much to do with personnel as it does the system or mentality. The Timberwolves still don’t have one player on the roster who is considered a shooter.
Maybe inheriting this kind of explosive young nucleus is taking Tom Thibodeau to a new place in his coaching philosophy. The fact of the matter is, floor spacing and outside shooting is huge in today’s game, which is driven by offense and scoring. I wouldn’t expect Thibs to abandon his defensive propensities, but with this kind of potential it appears that he might be willing to embrace more offensive thinking.
Simply shooting more threes will lead to at least a few more makes per game for the Timberwolves (it won’t necessarily lead to more wins, but Thibodeau is right about needing to close that scoring gap).
You have to take them to make them. There are players on this team who can stretch the floor and knock down those shots, including their primary big, Karl Anthony-Towns. Still, hiring a trusted shooting coach and encouraging more threes isn’t going to magically make the Timberwolves a three-point shooting team. But the fact that Thibodeau is directly addressing this area suggests a possible progression in his approach, which has an immediate correlation with how these young Timberwolves are going to compete and evolve under his tutelage.