Spring is here (no really, it began two weeks ago), which means summer is coming. For the Wolves, as is often the case, it also means the off-season is coming. Most off-season discussion, here and elsewhere, will focus on free agency and the draft. But what about the players we already have? What will they be doing? More importantly, will any of them improve at playing professional basketball?
During next training camp, there will inevitably be pieces written in the local press about the amazing dedication that Timberwolf X/Y/Z showed in his off-season workout regimen. We’ll read about how he improved his diet and is working with a trainer and nutritionist. We’ll read about what famous veteran players he played daily pickup ball with in Los Angeles, or another major coastal metropolis that is nowhere near Target Center. We’ll read a few puffy quotes from the coaching staff — likely answering the most leading of questions — about how the player looks improved, how the team really needs him and how everybody is expecting big things. I’m a sucker for those pieces and I already know that I’ll be GUZZLING that Kool-Aid.
But will any of it actually matter? Will it make a bit of difference, relative to the work that every NBA player does in 2013? Every NBA player, these days, works out hard. Most of them eat pretty well. Some party hard, but they’re young enough to combine late [summer] nights with elite conditioning and professional dedication to their craft. The thing I wonder — not working or having worked with a pro team — is how much of that off-season work is devoted to basic skill development. I know that I saw video of Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose working on their jumpers. It looked intense and productive and — it seems to me, anyway — it helped each guy become a greater shooting threat and all-around player. I’m sure other players work with trainers and coaches in similar fashion to remove weaknesses and improve as players.
I’m almost done with Breaks of the Game and I have to share parts of the Kermit Washington story. Washington was a bench player on his high school team, miraculously convinced a scout at an all-star showcase (that he wasn’t actually invited to) to offer him a scholarship (based entirely on his incredible hustle for rebounds and loose balls), and befriended a former military friend at American University to help train him into becoming a beastly specimen and outstanding college player that was drafted to the NBA.
But Washington struggled like hell in his first NBA seasons, lacking the skill polish required to play forward at a professional level. As in his high school and college careers before, Washington needed to outwork his peers, and he needed to do it in the off-season.
Halberstam described how the NBA schedule did Washington no favors: