The Minnesota Timberwolves did not play well on Monday night in a 91-82 loss to the Utah Jazz. Tyus Jones looked frequently overwhelmed on both offense and defense, Karl-Anthony Towns was in foul trouble for most of the night, and without Zach LaVine, the Wolves struggled to find a source of scoring for large stretches of the game.
However, this game, and the entire Summer League experience, need to be remembered for what they are: experience, often the first professional experience for players like Towns and Jones, and an opportunity to push them towards their future goals as professional basketball players.
The phrase "it's only summer league" has done plenty of rounds this week, and for good reason. The coaching staff and players take much of the same view. Coach Ryan Saunders was asked about Towns' progress after the game, and specifically what he was worried and not worried about:
"I think one of the biggest things is that he continues to play the right way, continues to play within himself, and doesn't try to force, try to be something he's not. And he does a good job of that, he's been a composed kid with everything. You let some things go, but there's some things, there were a couple times we had to address with everybody, not just KAT, with everybody."
The most important things to take away from summer league are those thing that the coaching staff addresses, which may not be visible on the stat sheet. Towns himself talked about the importance of just physically getting the experience:
"That's just something that comes with time. I haven't played in a while, talking about getting banged up and then trying to shoot a jump shot, but your legs are not there, playing 34, 33 minutes when I'm not used to. It's all a process, every day, every game I'm getting more and more of my legs back, I'm able to go harder every game, and I think that next game's gonna even be a much better game."
In Towns' development, the importance of Kevin Garnett as a mentor has long been discussed as another part of his growth as a basketball player. Part of that process started on Monday in Las Vegas, as Garnett (and Andrew Wiggins) joined the team for practice. Towns talked about the impact that Garnett has already had on him just in Monday night's game:
"We talked more about instead of me having to bang my body so much like I've done in college and high school, be a little more crafty and save my body for later in the game and for later in the week, talking as four games, seven days, you gotta really save your body, you can't be going in there trying to bang all day."
After Garnett's invisibility for much of his time in Minnesota in 2014-15, seeing him at summer league, already beginning to impart some of the mentorship and leadership he's supposed to bring to the franchise, was excellent and meaningful to the members of this young team in Las Vegas. The sky is the limit, and Towns is already looking at it.
I think this year we're going to be very good. I think we're going to be a playoff-caliber team. We just need to stay healthy. We're going to continue to grow and we're still young, we're not even in our primes yet, so I think the biggest thing for us is we're going to continue to grow. We're going to have the veteran leadership, KG, Rubio, Pekovic, so we have the tools needed to be a playoff team, we just need to go out there and execute.
- There were stretches of this game (and of the other two games) where, looking at the available options, Adreian Payne was the most reliable option for the Wolves on offense. Payne was the Wolves' highest scorer with 18 points, and left a few points at the free throw line (7-11).
He's shown the ability to draw fouls on drives, work in the post and get to the hoop, and his jumper looks promising. Payne's well-noted drawbacks aside, he could be more than just a tire fire on the offensive end of the floor, and he has been here.
- Lorenzo Brown scored in double digits again, with 15 points in 24 minutes off the bench. I asked Saunders about Brown's scoring after the game: "He's playing the game, he's taking what the defense gives him. He's shooting open shots, I don't think one of his shots were bad shots, and usually when you're just looking for your own shot, you're gonna take a couple of bad shots, so I think he's playing the game at a good pace, at a good rhythm."
Brown's an intelligent player, a pesky defender, and is showing improved shooting this summer. While not necessarily the long-term option at backup point guard, he's so far ahead of Tyus Jones right now that it would be a travesty not to keep him for this season, and give Jones the time he needs to develop.
- Towns played 30 minutes, and likely would have played more if not for picking up buckets of fouls in the first half and having to sit a lot. Towns explained why he wasn't worried about his fouling after the game. He said, "Our gameplan is mostly go out there and be aggressive. There's a reason they're giving you ten fouls, they want you to get used to the physicality, they want you to get used to the checking, the bodies, the officiating. For us, I'm just trying to use every single foul. If they're going to give me ten, I'm going to try and use all ten. There's no reason I should come out of the game with ten fouls you can use and only have one."
For what it's worth, his coach agreed. "I'm not, not right now. You get ten, so, when his limit is six, then we get worried. Be physical, be aggressive," Saunders said when asked about Towns' foul trouble.
The Wolves will play again on Wednesday, but the time (and opponent) won't be announced until tonight, after games finish in Las Vegas (so around 8:30pm CT). If the Wolves had won, they would likely have been off until Thursday, which Saunders wanted. "You were definitely hoping for them. We've been going pretty hard, in terms of practice and mini-camp, we were hoping to get guys a day off, but that's why you play, you never know where things are going to fall," he said after the game. Towns disagreed. "I'm trying to get back on the court, I'm happy we have no bye. I'm trying to get right back on the court, I can't wait," he said.