This afternoon the Timberwolves held their annual Media Day. The players dressed up in their game uniforms, posed for pictures, and took turns answering questions from the local media. Coach and President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders worked the room, and gave his own presser to kick things off.
Tonight, at midnight, the Wolves put on their “Dunks After Dark” special to officially kick off the new season, in Mankato. While I cannot make the trek down to ‘Kato on a Monday night, I was able to get over to Target Center for a couple of hours to see and listen to the new squad.
Player interviews in this setting are notoriously replete with cliches and adages that dodge the question presented. (And, frankly, this is for good reason. See Thaddeus Young’s “26 and 12 never made the playoffs,” which was stupidly pulled from its context and used for click bait by Dime Magazine (and probably other publications)). In any event, the players did say a lot of things and this is my attempt at extracting some loosely-developed and very much subject-to-change opinions from my first sighting of the 2014-15 Minnesota Timberwolves. (Eds note: work obligations prevented me from seeing the final three pressers, including Ronny Turiaf/Corey Brewer, Gorgui Dieng, and Chase Budinger/Mo Williams. Based on what I read on Twitter, Williams was a bit of a revelation in terms of saying interesting basketball stuff.)
Flip was — predictably — oozing positivity and excitement from his seat in front of the media. I found two things he said to be worth mentioning here.
The first is, in my opinion, a good thing. That is that he is going to give Ricky Rubio a lot of responsibility. He said that he is “hard on point guards,” that they are “extensions of the coach” (cliche’ alert) and that Ricky will be “running the show.” I like hearing this because I believe Rubio is best when he has the ball and as much playmaking responsibility as possible. He needs to be the guy who passes to the shooter for the two obvious reasons that he’s so great at finding teammates in scoring position and that he is such a non-threatening chess piece when he’s standing without the ball. So I liked hearing this from Flip.
The second is, in my opinion, more of a question mark. Flip is going to emphasize “shot discipline” — “What is a good shot, and what isn’t a good shot?” I’m not saying that I want to see Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins developed into a future Nick Young-JR Smith combination, but I worry whenever coaches start speaking vaguely about shot selection. Flip specifically talked about the rookies shooting too many threes. That is exactly the sort of thing I hope they do; I want them to extend their range to that efficient zone as quickly as possible. So this point worried me a little bit.
Shabazz & Bennett Slimmed Down
Shabazz Muhammad and Anthony Bennett are noticeably slimmed down. They (mostly Shabazz — AB was pretty quiet) both talked about working with legendary trainer “Frank” in California. When Shabazz was asked if the training was as much mental as physical, Bennett smiled and started shaking his head. Clearly, these guys were asked–perhaps demanded–to do things with their bodies that they had never dreamed of. Shabazz in particular looks like a different player, and person. This is the sort of thing that’s importance can be easily overstated. For instance, how does a slim body improve Bazz’s court vision and passing? But it should help him defend on the perimeter and help the Wolves in their post-Kevin-Love-outlets transition game. It was nice to see. For Bennett, conditioning has been a threshold issue that he has yet to deal with at the NBA level. This year, we’ll find out if he’s a player.
Andrew Wiggins: A Man of Few, Quiet Words
In giving a press conference, Andrew Wiggins is almost like a kind, innocent Gregg Popovich. If asked a question, he answers it in as few words as possible. But he’s not being rude; he’s just not interested in elaborating on a question unless you really press him. He answers the question with one sentence, there’s a long pause, and then he flashes a big smile at the awkward silence.
I did like this quote from Wiggins: “I think I can go into the game and impact the game.” It’s not a cliche’ and it speaks to confidence about being ready to help an NBA team right now. I liked that.
A “halftime” of sorts for the player pressers was when the Wolves introduced Doctors Jon Finnoff and Michael Stuart from the Mayo Clinic to speak about their new facility in Downtown Minneapolis in the old “Block E” building. The docs talked a little bit about bringing the “Mayo model of care” to the two pro basketball franchises in town, and to the community at large. On a more specific basketball level, they talked about some current areas of research that Mayo is taking a lead in, including the prevention of ACL tears; an injury that has wreaked havoc on this franchise in the last five years (Al Jefferson, Corey Brewer, Ricky Rubio.)
For a team that has battled injuries more than most, it certainly can’t hurt to have improved medical management. Their new facility opens officially on Wednesday.
I was going to say that Zach LaVine is incredibly confident “for a rookie,” but the qualifier is unnecessary. He took his seat for his solo-act presser and asked us, “Sup wit y’all?” drawing some laughs with an ice breaker that nobody else thought to include. The dude is just extremely confident, period. I think that’s probably a good thing. Who knows? Jonny Flynn was confident, too. But LaVine is more than happy to have the microphone and speak to the crowd. He is very unlike his fellow youngins in this respect. Wiggins and Bennett are much quieter, at this point. We’ll see how, if at all, this carries over onto on-court persona.
Kevin Martin’s Weird Comment
Kevin Martin repeated a few times that he “won’t be able to get away with some of the things he’s gotten away with for the past few years.” Does he mean bad defense, or what? If so, why would he say that now? Martin was funny, poking plenty of fun at himself along the way. I just didn’t understand this comment that suggested he was doing things while playing for Rick Adelman and Scott Brooks that would no longer fly under Flip Saunders.
Ricky and Pek seem a little bit more ambivalent about things, with a bunch of (very) young new guys, and without Kevin Love. Ricky mumbled something about not wanting to say “one step back to take two steps forward.” Pek wasn’t sure who might develop the same communication with him that he shared with his high-low partner, K-Love. These guys must understand the heavy lifting that lies ahead of them. Thad Young, departing Philly’s Tank Project, seems understandably more excited about the current state of the Timberwolves roster.
Anyway, those are a few takeaways of mine, for whatever they’re worth.