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Wolves Summer League: What to Watch For

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A few things to keep an eye on in Vegas.

NBA: Preseason-Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a strange free agency period for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

D’Angelo Russell threw the entirety of Wolves World into a tailspin when he backed out of his proposed deal that would have seen him sign a 4-year max deal in the Twin Cities. Instead, he landed with the Golden State Warriors and Minnesota’s front office was left searching the free agency market leftovers.

Thus far, they have acquired Shabazz Napier and Traveon Graham via trade with the Brooklyn Nets and signed Jordan Bell, Noah Vonleh, and Jake Layman. While all three make for decent pickups, especially on league minimum deals, they aren’t the type of big game fans had been hoping to catch.

It seems likely that the core of this team will be locked in for next season. Fortunately, we will get to see some of them, along with some other fresh faces, at the Las Vegas Summer League starting on Thursday.

You can find the entire roster below.

With a squad that features multiple players who are likely to see game time in the big leagues next season, it’s should be a fun 10 days of Wolves basketball. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the key things to keep an eye on.

Okogie’s Offense

After a rookie season that saw him quickly become a fan favorite, we know what we’re going to get from Josh Okogie. He is going to bring energy, tenacity, and stellar technique on the defensive end and bring it consistently. We also know he is a fairly smart cutter who can jump out of the gym when given the opportunity.

However, his 3-point shooting and jumper in general were a disaster. As was his ball-handling ability. He connected on a frightening 27.9 percent for the season, despite attempting a tick under three triples per night. If he could combine his stellar (and hopefully still improving) defense with a more consistent handle and jump shot, he would be a handful on both ends.

After an offseason working with the new Wolves coaching brass, it will be interesting to see how much he has improved his biggest flaws. If he can nail over 35 percent from deep and show some capacity to initiate offense, fans will be foaming at the mouth at the thought of his sophomore season.

Ballin’ Bates-Diop

Coming into last season as a late second-round pick, Keita Bates-Diop wasn’t expected to feature much. But through injury and trades, a spot opened up for him toward the end of the season, seeing him play over 500 minutes and even started three games.

With that high-level experience in his bag, one should expect KBD to really shine in the Summer League format. He didn’t put together a breathtaking rookie campaign by any means, averaging just 5 points and 2.8 boards with a 48.9 percent true shooting percentage, but Vegas is always a big step down from the real thing.

Bates-Diop can score from all three levels and provide some handy defense with his gangly arms, so look for him to show flashes of brilliance. His game fits the bill of former summer league MVP’s like Kyle Anderson and Josh Hart, so with some wins and some luck maybe he can lift some hardware.

Pablo’s Play

In case you hadn’t heard, new Timberwolves offensive coordinator Pablo Prigioni will be the coach for the Summer Wolves, his first chance to show the fans what he has in store. Obviously, the overall talent deficiency and lack of preparation will prevent him from using the exact schemes he plans to when the regular season rolls around, but it will at least provide a keyhole-sized look.

While speaking to Zone Coverage’s Dane Moore, Prigioni gave a glimpse into how he plans to run things.

“The idea is to be an unpredictable offense.” he said. “Everybody now has advanced scouts everywhere, so the idea is to design an offense that helps us to be unpredictable. It’s going to turn into a read-and-react offense, which requires a level of IQ of a player, and it’s going to help them develop that IQ.”

It sounds like he going to let the players play rather than boxing them into a certain offense from the get-go, which sounds fun. Hopefully it lends itself to some high-scoring, fast-paced play.

Place Chasers

Our aforementioned names, Josh Okogie, Keita Bates-Diop, and Pablo Prigioni, all have one thing in common: They are already cemented into their jobs next season. However, that isn’t the case for all of the squad.

Mitch Creek and Jared Terrell, who were roster bodies last season for Minnesota, will be looking to impress enough to get another crack, as will second-round pick Jaylen Nowell. Undrafted free agents Tyus Battle and Jordan Murphy will be in the same boat.

Undrafted LSU big man Naz Reid is already signed to a two-way deal for the upcoming season, which will see him playing in Iowa with the Wolves G-League affiliate and allows him to spend up to 45 days with the big boys. Even with that assurance, Reid will be aiming to impress in front of the coaching staff and front office.

Captivating Culver

By way of one of the strangest and most nonsensical rules around, Timberwolves lottery pick Jarrett Culver can’t officially be named in the Summer League roster until July 6th, which will force him to miss the first game.

When he does join the team in Vegas, which could be for the second or third outing, there will be plenty of captivated fans watching his every move. Criticism rained down on Gersson Rosas and his front office cohorts when they missed out on Darius Garland in the draft, so starting off with a bang will help alleviate some of those concerns.

Question marks have been raised over his 3-point shooting, while a lot of fuss has been made about his stout defending. It will be intriguing to see if those skill sets live up to their respective hype.