You can only take so much from three mostly meaningless preseason games, but that’s not the way our brains work here at Canis Hoopus. We are absolutely going to read way too far into these 149 minutes of exhibition action and making sweeping declarations that will probably look foolish within a week. Nonetheless, it is truly fun to try to read through the lines and figure out what was real, and what was merely the result of the shortened offseason/preseason environment. Let’s get some Minnesota Timberwolves #takes from the CH crew.
What was the biggest positive development from the preseason?
Mike: I mean, it has to be Jarrett Culver, right? I haven’t taken the time to look into the box-score stats for the total preseason, but he just looked like a completely different player. It looked like the extra weight he added will be functionally useful for him both as a driver and a defender, and he even made his free throws! Simply being passable at the free throw line would open up so much for him.
More than anything, the kid looked confident. That’s the most important thing. It had been awhile, but Culver looked like the kid who was a star at Texas Tech that led his team to the national championship game. Really, he looked like the player we thought we were drafting last year. I know the coaching staff may not make this change this quickly, but I’d have a hard time starting Josh Okogie over Culver on opening night.
Kyle: If we’re being honest, there’s only one answer here and (like Mike said above) it’s Jarrett Culver. Between having Karl-Anthony Towns fully healthy again, the return of Ricky Rubio, and the insertion of the number one overall pick Anthony Edwards, JC definitely fell off of many people’s radars (myself included).
I’ll be honest — much like a scenario where you get a new puppy and immediately start giving your older dog less attention, that’s how I approached Culver entering his sophomore season. I was still high on the Texas Tech alum, but selfishly had already moved on to someone younger who had greater upside and possibly less warts in Ant-Man.
Back to Culver — is this recent surge sustainable, or is it just another example of “it’s just the preseason”...? Only time will tell, but if the player acquired in a draft night trade back in 2019 can take a sizable leap in year 2, that changes a lot of what I think about not only this current roster, but the future of this entire organization going forward.
YoLeo: As an integral member of the Jarrett Culver Hype Squad (S/O Michelobius and twinstalker) and someone who dug through every minute of his film this summer to make a defense compilation video, I don’t think I need to further hype him up more than what my colleagues have already done.
Instead, I want to focus on Anthony Edwards. Ant-Man came into the league with about as low of expectations as any #1 overall pick since the other Anthony that the Cavs drafted. Of the many question marks, perhaps the biggest one was: Will and/or can he play defense?
On a team as starved for defenders as the Timberwolves are, Edwards has proven to be up to the task. Despite being a 19-year-old rookie who hasn’t played organized basketball in nearly a year, he has flashed some impressive moments. You can call it recency bias, but he has shown way more skills than I anticipated this early. If he continues to improve at this rate, he’ll likely win the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year by award.
What was the biggest disappointment from the preseason?
Mike: For me, it was the play of Juancho “Hollywood” Hernangomez. The Wolves signed him to a 3-year (2+1) deal in the offseason, with the hope being that Juancho could hold down the starting PF spot moving forward. Granted, he got to camp late so is surely just behind in terms of getting into a rhythm and getting into shape, but he looked like the third best power forward on the roster behind Jake Layman and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (before RHJ was eventually cut). The Wolves have a lot riding on his shooting ability, since he doesn’t bring much else to the floor. Hopefully he’s just rusty (very possible), because otherwise that contract is going to be a bit of a bummer.
Kyle: Mike is stealing all the good answers here, so I’ll pivot from ranting about Adam Sandler’s latest co-star and talk about just the overall on-court product in general. Yes, the game against Dallas was much better, and that’s probably all that matters, but those first two matchups against Memphis (at home!) were really concerning. I know the entire roster has been off for the longest period in their careers, and getting into game-shape is only possible by, you know, playing games.
Maybe I’m to blame and shouldn’t have put much stock into those first two “scrimmages” against Ja Morant, but I was expecting to see guys in better shape, crisper sets on offense, etc. Again, the Dallas game reinstalled a lot of the optimism I’m carrying into the upcoming season, but I’d be lying if I said I had a great time watching the team thus far (insert “it’s just the preseason” rebuttal here).
YoLeo: I knew it was going to take some time and I haven’t given up on it based off just a few preseason games, but I’ve been disappointed in the D’Angelo Russell & Karl-Anthony Towns duo. I’m talking about them as a pair, not individually. Russell has been gettin’ some buckets. Towns is understandably in an extremely rough mental place, though I’ve actually been rather pleased with his defensive effort and adjustments (he still has a long way to go, like not doing jumping jacks whenever an opponent enters the paint).
However, the pair of them have been far from the offensive dynamo that they’ve been sold as. Again, I’m willing to be patient and give it a lot more time, but it appears they have no offensive chemistry or synergy. Sure, they’ve only played just one regular season game and two preseason games together, but I expected the two “all-stars” to gel more seamlessly. For as much as they both struggle on defense, it will be a long season if they don’t absolutely bring it on offense.
What were your first impressions of Anthony Edwards?
Mike: Mostly positive, given what my expectations were for him. Ant has had merely a cup of coffee with the NBA team thus far, and to expect a 19-year old kid to come in and immediately light it up was not realistic. Those same expectations will apply throughout the first several months of the regular season. For Ant, it’s really more about the process than the results early on. He’s got an NBA body and seems like he’ll be a plus in the locker room. Hopefully he improves as the year goes on, but I’m not going to fret about poor shooting percentages this year. One thing that struck me was just how dumb the Andrew Wiggins comparisons were. It’s not necessarily a slight to Wiggs either, they’re just really different players. That always felt like a lazy take, and I think it looks worse now than it did before.
Kyle: I’m all-in. Again, I know I’m guilty of being far too optimistic most of the time, but there’s something about this kid specifically that just hits different.
Is he young? Yes. Does he take some bad shots? Absolutely. But for me it’s just how that kid (emphasis on “kid”) carries himself, the way he handles the media, etc. that has already won me over. It might take some serious time to get him up to NBA speed and for the coaching staff to truly unlock his potential, but I’ve already heard more promising quotes from him directly and from his veteran teammates in six weeks than I did in all of Andrew Wiggins Timberwolves tenure.
YoLeo: See my question one answer. I wouldn’t quite go so far to say I’m an Anthony Edwards stan (that right still belongs solely to Ricky Rubio), but I do have a certain affinity for him after I spent the last four months watching his YouTube highlights after the draft lottery results. There’s been quite a few positive impressions he’s made on me thus far. I talked about his defensive potential earlier. I was pleasantly surprised by his vision and playmaking ability. However, I was most impressed with his soundbites, like this gem:
“Man, it’s hard to guard screens in the NBA. Them dudes big. Them dudes settin’ them screens... they be big. Once I watch enough film on that, it’ll become easy for me because I’m pretty big also.” SMUT.
What other player(s) stood out to you?
Mike: The only other guy that I really took a lot from was NBA Star Malik Beasley, and that was only because he made headlines ... for saying he wanted to be an All-Defense level defender in the offseason. The Wolves gave Beasley chances here and there to be the point-of-attack defender against Ja Morant and Luka Doncic, with varying levels of success. Morant mostly torched him, and while Beasley wasn’t super technically solid, it did seem like he was able to irritate Doncic a bit, which counts for something.
The great Dane Moore talked about this on a recent podcast (subscribe), but it’s likely the Wolves wanted to see if Beasley could be their break-glass-in-case-of-emergency third point-of-attack defender behind Culver and Okogie. He isn’t a great candidate for that job, but it seems like it could (maybe?) be worse.
Kyle: Hand up — I was on the record this summer as someone who was just punting on the Jaylen Nowell experience. Between being a second round pick, the drawn-out contract negotiation from a year ago, and then his inability to flash when given opportunities last season, I thought the former Washington Huskie was a lost cause.
I was 1000% wrong. Again, #ItsOnlyThePreseason, but I have thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve seen from Jaylen so far, and it gives me significant hope that he could be a steady contributor going forward. Will finding minutes for him be difficult? Absolutely. But his ability to handle the ball, create his own shot, and HIT said shot on a consistent basis is something that good teams never have enough of, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him making an impact on this roster as the season progresses.
YoLeo: Damn, Kyle stole my answer! We’ve also talked at length about JC and Ant-Man already. There are a few other candidates here like Jake Layman (I have a semi-humorous story about him that I’ll save for another time) or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (goodbye my friend), but I’m gonna go with a hipster answer: Jaden McDaniels. He’s played a staggering 19.5 total minutes this preseason, but he’s boasted an mammoth 7.4 blocks per 36. That’s good for a 17.7 BLK%. For reference, the NBA record holder is Manute Bol at 10.8 BLK%. All hail your new paint protecting lord!