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Three Thoughts on the Timberwolves’ Preseason

The Timberwolves’ preseason has not been pretty but there have been a few storylines worth following.

NBA: Preseason-Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

We all know it’s foolish to overreact to preseason. Whether the on-court product is good or bad, making definitive conclusions from these exhibitions is rather silly. Fringe NBA players play more than normal and veterans are seldom invested in these games. These are just a couple of reasons why you cannot always make judgments from the preseason.

While all of that is still true, we have a blog to run. Saying “everything is meaningless — see you in the regular season” does not make for good content. We now have two fresh Minnesota Timberwolves preseason games under our collective belt and have observed a handful of takeaways that may (or may not) translate going forward.

Much of what we have seen thus far has been bad. The Wolves have looked like a young, out-of-sync team looking to shake nine months of rust off. It is clear this roster is going to need time and adjustments to come together. This team clearly isn’t a final product and I guess that offers some solace.

Regardless, not everything has been terrible — some of what we have seen has even been encouraging. Whether these things will truly carry over to the regular season remains to be seen.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson deserves a place on this team

Hollis-Jefferson is one of those minor acquisitions your favorite team makes very later in the offseason. At the surprisingly young age of 25-years old, the former Nets and Raptors big man has both experience and plenty of career ahead of him. He made an impression on fans and the team by scoring 16 points in 15 minutes and with his hard play.

“My job is to come in and create a spark. Come in, compete, play hard. That is what they brought me here to do. Watching in the first half, looking at what was going on, there are some things that we have to work on, go to practice, watch some film, talk about it and then execute it,” said Hollis-Jefferson after Monday’s loss to Memphis. “I would say staying ready and being ready on defense is something big for us that we have to lock in for the whole 24-second shot clock and just stay solid.”

This next statement should surprise no one, but this team needs a frontcourt player with Hollis-Jefferson’s abilities and work ethic. I know this is shocking to hear from the guy who championed the careers of Jeff Adrien and Craig Smith, but Hollis-Jefferson can play.

Moreover, RHJ wants to be here. He didn’t sign with the Timberwolves because he was desperate for an NBA job. When asked who he sees his game fitting with, he said “everybody” and added, “everybody loves playing with someone who works hard, someone who competes, someone who brings the spark.”

Hollis-Jefferson not only is the same age as Karl-Anthony Towns, but the two have a pre-existing relationship dating back to the third grade. RHJ is also a former teammate of D’Angelo Russell and is familiar with Jake Layman, Juancho Hernangomez, and Anthony Edwards. These types of former relationships become even more important in a condensed season like this one where many (young) teams are scrambling to establish chemistry.

Keeping Hollis-Jefferson does mean making another difficult roster decision, but given the team’s needs upfront, keeping him makes perfect sense. The fact that his game complements the rest of the roster and that he wants to play here are all bonuses.

Jarret Culver remains interesting

There’s no denying Culver’s rookie season left a lot to be desired. In a crowded backcourt rotation, there are no guarantees for someone like Culver. This is not a great sign for a player who was a first-round pick from the current front office in 2019.

Culver’s latest preseason sample is small — and will remain as such with just one exhibition left — but Wolves fans should hope his recent production is a sign of things to come. In 20 minutes per game, Culver is averaging 8.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game. He’s also shooting 45 percent from the field and even chipped in a couple of 3-pointers.

Does it hold, who knows. It seems that Culver has continued working on his ball-handling, as evidenced by this play:

Culver’s handle here is impressive. Culver gets De’Anthony Melton to turn his hips thinking he can shade Culver right into his help, but Culver goes behind the back and gives himself enough time to get to the rim for the bucket.

This isn’t necessarily new. Look at this move from Culver last season:

There are still many reasons to be intrigued by Culver. We see that he had the speed and size to get to the basket last season, and has reportedly added more mass this offseason. On a team that will be scrounging for bench scoring, the opportunity is there for Culver to take that job. Who knows, maybe he can start by season’s end.

Culver’s rookie season may have been a bit of a letdown but it is way too early to give up on him.

How much should we worry about Anthony Edwards?

Look, there’s no way to spin a player shooting 26 percent from the field over two games. Edwards and other rookies are in the unenviable position of having a truncated offseason, no summer league, or months of team workouts. Many of these players are teenagers and trying to desperately adapt to a new league.

While Edwards’ production has underwhelmed early on, it’s evident his confidence rises every minute he’s on the floor. The Timberwolves are in the fortunate position to let him play through these early struggles.

Edwards scored 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting on Monday night. We see with each shot attempt that he seems to be learning what he can and can’t do. Shooting through his struggles is absolutely what he should be doing right now.

Same goes for the turnovers. Sure, Edwards turned the ball over five times but he grabbed two steals and blocked a shot. Defensive playmaking isn’t the same as good defense, but you want him to be active on both ends and any forced turnovers can offset his own mistakes.

What Edwards should do more of is get to the line — through two games, Edwards is averaging just two trips to the line. That’s not enough for a player who is 6’6’’ and 230 pounds. He has the desired size for a premier wing player and should get used to the level of contact attacking the basket in the NBA. The good news is Edwards shot four free throws on Monday after zero in his first game.

Long term, you obviously want to see him grabbing more than four rebounds but there’s still plenty of time. The game also needs to slow down for him. You can see him looking to make the perfect decision every time he touches the ball instead of just making the right decision. For instance, the dribble handoff he attempted to run with Ricky Rubio at the end of the clock after several seconds with the ball in isolation. Edwards overthought for so long that he had no other choice but to toss the Spanish Unicorn a last second grenade.

The good news is that Edwards seemed engaged in the game but has a lot of learning to do. Unfortunately, he may have to take his lumps without the benefit of a full training camp and offseason and summer league. Edwards is going to get a lot of on-the-job training — he has a ways to go but it’s way too early to start worrying excessively.