I had the good fortune of attending the last part of the Wolves' Wednesday night practice session at Bresnan Arena in the Taylor Center at Minnesota State University. I got to catch about an hours worth of action where the team scrimmaged for 2 curtailed quarters. It wasn't the cleanest of practices and you could definitely tell that these were a bunch of guys just learning to play with one another under a new coach but there were a few notable things that I would like to pass on to all y'all:
- The scrimmage started out with a white team of Corey Brewer, Jared Reiner, Kevin Love, Ramon Sessions, and Wayne Ellington going up against a black squad of Al Jefferson, Jonny Flynn, Damien Wilkins, Sasha Pavlovic, and Ryan Hollins. For those of you keeping track at home, the white team took home braging rights for the night.
- Ryan Hollins has a ridiculous combination of length and athleticism. On the down side, it is pretty obvious that he lacks advanced ball skills and is probably not someone you want on the ball for a great deal of time. That being said, the guy is a bundle of energy and even in a scrimmage it was apparent that he is the most athletic big man the Wolves have had in a long, long time. Long time readers of this site know that we have long called for the Wolves to round out their Jefferson/Love frontcourt with a Joakim Noah/Jason Thompson type player and while we'll need to see him in game action, Hollins fits the physical bill and he will be one of the most interesting story lines heading into the season. Oh, I also caught a peak of Tuesday night's scrimmage during which Hollins put down a slam on...well, the entire opposing squad. BTW: Over at the Strib Jerry Zgoda just put up a good article on Hollins and his potential in the front court.
- David Kahn likes shorts
- One of the most interesting things about watching training camp ball is seeing how hard the free agent invites work to make the team. The most vocal hard worker of the night was former Syracuse guard Jason Hart, who really got after it on defense while being the only guy on the court without a number. The guy wants a roster spot and he's working like hell to get it. Hopefully he can get a number before it's all said and done with.
- In a full arena filled with piped-in music, cheerleaders, screaming fans, and a whole host of other noises, it's pretty remarkable to watch an NBA squad from a few rows up in an empty arena. Watching on TV or from the upper level of the Target Center makes it easy to forget just how vocal and physical of a game professional basketball is. It was especially interesting to hear the interaction between the coaching staff and the players. It was also kind of cool to see a coaching staff that includes Hang Time's Coach Fuller, a Detroit Bad Boy, and the guy who wore the best basketball glasses of the 80s. Note to the Wolves' PR staff: every night at the Target Center needs to be 80s night. If Hungry Like the Wolf isn't played at tip off in about a month I'm going to be pissed.
- Oleisky Pecherov spent the practice jogging up and down the sidelines and talking to the training staff. He also gave out a big cheer to Sasha Pavlovic when he made a three. Perhaps it is a Eastern European thing.
- Jonny Flynn is going to be a very good player but I think he's going to be in for a long rookie season. On several possessions he looked like a seasoned pro; getting to whereever he wanted to go with the ball, making shots, and expertly facilitating action. On others, not so much...to the point where I'm not sure how he could start over Sessions. Assistant coach Dave Wohl spent a lot of time talking to Flynn about his game inbetween plays. Wohl is the 70s bookend to the 80s Rambis/Theus/Laimbeer sandwich (JB Bickerstaff represents the 90s).
- A lot has been made of Al Jefferson's lost weight. I'll just say this: it's pretty striking.
- Kevin Love also looks like a new man. He hit a few mid-range jumpers as well as a nice corner three. As always, he controled the boards and he appears to have focused on defense over the summer. As many of you already know, I'm pretty high on Love and I think he has the potential to be something of an evolutionary player at the 4/5. With his combination of ball skills, shooting touch, and rebounding, I think he has the rare opportunity to be something we don't often see in the NBA: an upper level role player who is effectively unguardable while operating in the gaps of the offense. I honestly think he sees an All Star game before Al Jefferson. Scrapping, getting opponents out of position, crashing the boards, keeping possessions alive; Love is going to dominate these aspects of the game and the better the Wolves get, the more these things are going to be apparent and matter.
- With the new up-tempo offense in place, Corey Brewer is going to have all the chances in the world to prove that he does or does not belong in the NBA. As the weakest offensive link, he will have no shortage of transition opportunities, 3 point shots, and 15-18 foot jump shots in the 1/2 court. The big question for Corey will be this: Does he have a good enough handle to thrive in transition and can he make as close to 40% of his jump shots as possible? He could be the best defender in the Western Conference but if he can't catch a hot pass from Flynn in traffic, dribble effectively in transition, or be a modestly effective jump shooter, he won't be able to balance his net +/- and be of great use to the club. In this context, Brewer was a mixed bag during the scrimmage. His shot looks dramatically better and he has a much more fluid release than last season. When he hit a 15 foot jumper from the corner, he got a big rise out of his teammates. You can really tell guys are pulling for him. He was also very active in transition, using his length and speed to get out well ahead of the defense. On the down side of things, you never know if he's going to cleanly catch a pass in transition and even when he was able to put together a solid drive into the lane he was unable to get to the rim to finish in what you could call a coordinated fashion. I'll say it again: Brewer is going to get a big chance to shine this year. It could work in his favor or it could be quite awkward. Here's hoping for the former.
Ryan Gomes, Ryan Hollins, and Brewer will get all of the open mid-range jump shots they can ask for this year.
- Get used to seeing a lot more cuts in the new offense.
- I'm pretty sure I heard Jared Reiner tell Al Jefferson to warm up the bus about 20 seconds before the scrimmage ended in Reiner's team's favor. I'm not sure Big Al took too kindly to that.
- Papa Glen was in attendance and he looked pretty good for a guy who, according to the newest Forbes list, lost $1.1 billion dollars last year.
Well, that about does it. If my schedule permits it, I'll be back at the Taylor Center for Thursday and Friday night's practices. If there are any questions you want me to ask to the folks on the team, please leave a message in the comments section.