The Timberwolves this season have built a belief system based on high-value shots, which in blunt terms comes down to prioritizing attempts at the rim and three-pointers over everything in between.
Within that framework, the Wolves have done an excellent job — ranking No. 4 in the NBA in percentage overall shots taken from three-point range (.426) and No. 9 in shots from 0 to 3 feet (.296), according to Basketball Reference. Higher-value shots are at least part of the reason Minnesota is a surprising 10-9.
Inside the broader shot value chart, though, is a nuance the Timberwolves have failed to exploit until very recently: three-pointers from the corners.
The value of those shots is even higher because corner threes are the shortest shots worth that much — 22 feet as opposed to 23 feet, 9 inches above the break, that spot on the court where the line changes from straight to an arc. NBA teams this season are making 35.6% of three-pointers overall but 38.9% from the corners.
For much of the season, the Wolves ranked dead last in shooting percentage from the corners; in their past three games, though, they are 11-for-18 on corner threes — a league-best 61.1% in that span.
Here are some factors that have influenced that uptick, as well as some notions of how the arc could trend even further upward.
• Some of the improvement comes from a straight line correlation: Keita Bates-Diop is playing more, and he’s been excellent from the corners this season. He’s 9-of-13 on corner threes, including 5-of-8 in the past three games.
“I think Keita’s had a big boost with that,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said Monday. “He does a good job spacing the floor. Sometimes when he’s playing the stretch 4, he’s got a little bit bigger guy on him. A lot of times when you’re in those situations where a big guy has to guard out of the corner, he might not be used to guarding baseline penetration or being in a help position. Keita’s been shot-ready along the perimeter.”
• Good ball movement is essential for getting looks in the corners because it typically involves more than one pass to get the ball into the corner.
To that end, the Wolves had 13 total attempts from the corners in road wins at Atlanta and San Antonio but just five in their home loss against Memphis.
“The ball movement, especially within that road trip in Atlanta and San Antonio, was very good,” Saunders said. “I did not love our ball movement (Sunday), which I thought was a big reason why we were not successful.”
Even with good ball movement in two of their past three games, the Wolves’ 18 corner three attempts were tied for seventh-fewest in that span. And for the season, just 16.8% of all threes attempted by the Wolves have come from the corners — fifth-lowest in the league.
• Not all shooters love the corners because without a backboard to look at there’s a change in depth perception. It even matters which corner to some shooters; a righthanded shooter, for instance, tends to prefer the left corner because the natural shot arc won’t put the shot in danger of glancing off the backboard. Saunders, a lefty, jokingly asked me not to look up his shot chart data (though he was 1-for-1 from three-point range in his Gophers career). But he said he did prefer the right corner.
“And a lot of times it depends on, I believe, something called a dominant eye,” Saunders said. “If you’re a right-eye dominant, left-eye dominant, that plays into it.”
But the bottom line is the Wolves are making more of those shots lately. Now they just have to work on taking more of them.