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Bjelica and LaVine Impress During Scrimmage

Thoughts from last night's Timberwolves scrimmage.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Timberwolves held an open scrimmage at Target Center to showcase their new squad in preparation for Wednesday night's preseason opener against Oklahoma City.

While the event didn't bring nearly the hysteria of the Summer Showcase 15,200 fans showed up for the open scrimmage in July fans still turned out to get a free look at the new-look Wolves. Tyus Jones, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Kevin Garnett, and Karl-Anthony Towns suited up in black jerseys. Andre Miller, Kevin Martin, Shabazz Muhammad, Adreian Payne, and Gorgui Dieng started in white.

Nemanja Bjelica, Damjan Rudez, and Kleon Penn played as the black team reserves. Lorenzo Brown, Tayshaun Prince, and Nick Wiggins came off the bench for the white team. Nikola Pekovic was in attendance, but still remains out as he recovers from debridement and repair surgery on his Achilles.

Ricky Rubio has been held out of the last couple practices and ultimately didn't play in the scrimmage, according to Sam Mitchell, because of a slight quadriceps strain. In positive news, the training staff considers this to be minor. Sitting him out was simply precautionary to ensure his availability for the start of the season.

The black team easily defeated the white squad, 68-54. Timberwolves PR tweeted out the unofficial final stats.

Beyond the numbers, the scrimmage brought a few interesting developments, most notably Bjelica's supreme passing ability. His feel for the game was outstanding. He proved to be, at least in this setting, a rookie only by title. Whether it was his drive-and-kick game, where he found LaVine and Rudez wide-open on the perimeter on multiple occasions for three's, or his consistent work on the offensive glass, Bjelica had the look of an established NBA player rather than an ill-prepared rookie.

"Coach said we beat the white team because we moved the ball a lot," Bjelica said. "Everybody was open. Everybody took good shots. So that's why we had a big advantage during the game."

Similar to what Rubio has shown throughout his career, Bjelica was incredibly unselfish. His superb court awareness was on full display as he consistently looked for (and made) the extra pass when defenders collapsed on him. In the simplest form, when the defense started to shift, he knew exactly what to do with the ball.

"Yeah, if you're in the corner and he's on the wing, you know it's coming to you," LaVine remarked when asked if he enjoyed playing with Bjelica. "Him and Damjan move the ball really well."

If there was one major takeaway on the night, it was Bjelica's readiness to log minutes during his rookie season in Minneapolis, and ultimately be the secondary creator if the guards aren't getting the job done. "I like it a lot," Wiggins said when asked about playing with the Serbian point forward. "He's very skilled, he can shoot the ball, and he's an amazing passer."

LaVine joined Bjelica as the other player that particularly impressed. The players and coaches have talked about how LaVine has stood out early in training camp and he showed exactly what they've been mentioning.

"Everything's not new to me. Training camp last year, everything was new," LaVine said. "I didn't know what was going on. I'm getting hit by picks by a dude like Pek, paralyzing my body [laughs]. ... I feel good. I worked out really hard this summer."

An open scrimmage certainly caters to his playing style, but LaVine's performance wasn't all flash and zero substance. The Wolves second-year guard made smart decisions with the ball in his hands, dishing out five assists, either to backdoor cutters or Rudez behind the arc, and looked comfortable off ball. He drained all three of his triples on catch-and-shoot attempts.

Late in the game, he also hammered home one monster dunk after gathering a loose ball in the middle of the court with nobody in front of him. "I feel a lot more comfortable," he said. "It comes with experience. All of the stuff I did last year, I'm able to see it easier now."

Other quick takeaways

  • Karl-Anthony Towns showed a little bit of everything on the court. There were clearly some jitters, as he was eager to impress fans that came to see the No. 1 pick, but Towns showed a few sweet moves near the basket, an ability to protect the rim (though at least two of his blocks, by my count, were goaltending), hedge the pick-and-roll, crazy dunks, and the potential to facilitate.
  • We saw typical stuff out of Muhammad during the scrimmage. He attacked the basket with no reservations (at times getting tunnel vision), looked to score in the paint with his left-handed hook, and consistently played bully ball. He looked hungry to get buckets, which is exactly what the Wolves need from him off the bench.
  • Tyus Jones showed the ability to knock down three's. If my memory is correct, Jones knocked down three triples. Here's one of them...
  • Wiggins on the defensive tone through training camp and the scrimmage: "We're getting into guys, playing more physical, trying to closeout stronger, and trying to play our man to their weakness."
  • Rudez can really shoot from deep. As he told reporters on media day, that's the purpose he serves on the basketball court, and he proved his worth in that department. Moreover, the ball simply doesn't stick in his hands offensively; he either rips it from deep or swings the rock right away. I can dig that.