The Ryan Saunders era has brought change and energy to the Timberwolves, but how much different is the team with the 32 year old running the show compared to former head coach Tom Thibodeau?
Saunders has penalized players in practice for taking long 2-point shots in an effort to get the team to take more valuable 3s, essentially begging them to catch up with the rest of the NBA. But the numbers, albeit only a seven-game sample size, aren't going to blow anyone's mind.
The Wolves averaged 28.7 3-point attempts per game under Thibodeau and so far are averaging 29.9 attempts with Saunders as coach. Minnesota hit 10.2 3s per game under Thibs but so far with Saunders they're making only 9.7 per game.
The good news: they're shooting more 3s, just not very many more.
The bad news: they're making just 32.5 percent of their 3s under Saunders.
The shooting percentage is bound to go up when Robert Covington, an outstanding shooter from long range, returns from injury. When that will be is anyone's guess, but he'll replace Josh Okogie in the starting lineup and get things going in the right direction from deep.
Saunders has sped up Minnesota's offense and it's evident in the numbers. Points, shot attempts attempts and free throws are up compared to what they were with Thibodeau.
- PPG: 114.0 (111.4 under Thibs)
- FGA: 93.3 (90.6 under Thibs)
- FTA: 29.9 (24.5 under Thibs)
- Pace: 102.8 (101.1 under Thibs)
- Offensive rating: 111.1 (109.4 under Thibs)
The differences aren't overwhelming, but they're trending up and that's a good sign. Plus, the number of free throws they're taking per game is way up, which comes with taking more shots and getting up and down the court faster.
What's even more encouraging is that all of those numbers are up despite the Wolves shooting 43 percent under Saunders. That's dead last in the league since Thibodeau was ousted on Jan. 6. They were 22nd in the league (45.2 percent) with Thibs on the bench, so if the shooting ticks up just a bit their points and offensive rating will only improve.
Not only that, but the turnovers haven't increased. They averaged 13.2 per game under Thibs and just 13.3 with Saunders.
Minnesota's defense has left something to be desired with both coaches, but Saunders hasn't had a chance to work with Covington. Again, Covington's eventual return from injury will make the Wolves better on both ends of the floor.
Still, there are encouraging signs for the Wolves, who find themselves one game under .500 (23-24) and just two and a half games out of the top eight in the Western Conference entering Thursday's road game against the LeBron James-less Lakers (tip-off around 9:45 p.m. on FSN and TNT).