So does Flip Saunders want his Timberwolves to take three-pointers or not?

So does Flip Saunders want his Timberwolves to take three-pointers or not?

It might be easy to slough Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders off as just another old school, hates-the-treys NBA troglodyte. Such was the reaction on Wednesday night when this tweet started to make the rounds:

The quick take is an easy one. Andrew Wiggins should be part of the new NBA vanguard, a swingman that can slash as well as he eventually shoots, and he shouldn’t be shooed away from the three-point line by a coach (and team president) in Saunders that will be charged with developing the Timberwolves’ best chance to get out of their decade-long postseason rut. It’s a new game, Flip Saunders, and you need to get wise!


Not quite.

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On Thursday, the Timberwolves released the full context of Flip’s quote, painting him as a not-at-all unreasonable sort that just doesn’t want his athletic soon-to-be-star out there flinging three-pointers without considering other options first.

Take a look:

The issue here is not that the initial reaction was unjust, because Flip Saunders has a history. He’s not chasing Wiggins away from the three-point line, we don’t have a Byron Scott here, but he has encouraged long two-point shots throughout his NBA coaching career.

The Timberwolves rank dead last in three-point attempts and makes this season. This is partially by design, and partially because the team is made up of still-developing offensive players that just aren’t ready to shoot (and especially make) a ton of three-pointers. Wiggins and fellow rookie Zach LaVine shoot about three and a half per game, combined, and not very well (they’ve combined to make fewer than a third of their attempts).

Kevin Martin’s per-minute three-point attempts actually slightly exceed his (mostly pre-Flip Saunders) career per-minute marks from the outside, though fellow pre-Saunders holdover Chase Budinger’s per-season attempts have gone down in Saunders’ first year back in Minnesota. So is this the personnel, or Flip?

Flip Saunders’ teams have routinely ranked in the lower reaches when it comes to three-pointers taken per game. Not counting partial seasons, his Wizards and Wolves teams are typically perched deep into the 20s in threes attempted per contest.

Saunders’ three-year stint with the Detroit Pistons, however, reversed the trend: Detroit was 19th, 12th, and 10th in attempts per contest – with that top ten season giving the Pistons a top four offensive efficiency ranking. The Pistons finished with the league’s slowest pace twice and second-slowest one time during that run, dimming the attempts per game even more – Detroit really was flinging from out there under Saunders.

Even in the mid to late 1990s, though, when most NBA teams were still loath to let fire from outside Saunders’ Wolves still ranked in the low 20s. This is a trend worth paying attention to, some two decades in.

Saunders relies heavily on a lot of guard-around screens and curls, movement that often sets players up for long two-point shots. Players like Terrell Brandon and Wally Szczerbiak became All-Stars in this system, and Kevin Garnett grew into an MVP. Saunders suited their strengths.

Should Szczerbiak and Brandon have taken more three-pointers, though?

Brandon hit for 40 percent of his treys during 1999-00, but he only took just over two a game. Szczerbiak averaged fewer than two per game in seven Minnesota seasons despite shooting 40 percent. The Wolves searched endlessly for a suitable off guard during Saunders’ initial turn there, as clanger after clanger moved through town, so you can’t blame Flip for falling short at other positions – but it’s possible that the line should have been utilized more often. The Timberwolves routinely ranked near the bottom – and certainly they were the worst of any good team – of free throws earned during that time because of his approach.

It is understand able that Saunders would limit the long looks for his youngsters in 2014-15, especially when someone like Wiggins is capable right out of the bat of scoring against studs in their prime. Especially when Wiggins is shooting less than 32 percent. Let’s give the coach time on this one.

The test comes later, when Wiggins and others develop their three-point strokes – which they will, because the form is nearly there. That is when Flip Saunders is going to have to prove us wrong, as we give his team’s three-point totals the stink eye.

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Kelly Dwyer

is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!