The entire world is filled with strange and unprecedented practices at the moment, and the Minnesota Timberwolves roster not being able to share the same room or engage in any sort of team practice for the last six months is certainly one of them. After a long six months, that has finally changed. It might not be actual, physical games (it likely won’t be for another three months at least), but it’s fresh meat for fans and analysts alike to cling on to.
Individual workouts and five-on-five scrimmages seem to be on the calendar, which is vital for a team who has gone so long without basketball and has, at best, been mired in mediocrity for the better part of the franchise’s history. Unfortunately, we can’t be a fly on the wall. We likely won’t even get more than a sprinkling of footage every day, but in the imaginary world where we get to sneak a peek at the goings-on of the Wolves bubble, there are some things we would be hoping to witness.
The Boys Are Back In Town
Let’s hit the obvious one first — unless you’ve been hibernating in an ice cavern in the Swiss Alps, you would have heard that Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell have only played together for a single game about a million times. While it’s getting tiresome, it’s still true, and we still want to see some footage of the pair syncing up in a pick-and-pop or a thunderous dunk coming from a lob play.
According to President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas, via our own Dane Moore, the pair are both healthy, in the Twin Cities, and rising with the sun to get to work.
Karl-Anthony Towns has been working out at 6am at the Timberwolves practice facility during these workouts (D'Angelo Russell comes in at 7am).— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) September 17, 2020
When asked about KAT's wrist, Gersson Rosas said that Towns and the rest of the Wolves are "in good health".
There isn’t too much more to be said about the men who the front office has been handed the keys to the franchise, but they’re still the most important storyline when it comes to the Timberwolves. They may be close friends, but the duo needs on-court reps to become dynamic teammates. It will be interesting to see how they begin to mesh with each other.
Every year the NBA is littered with workout stories the pump fan bases full of hope. For the Wolves, it’s always been Andrew Wiggins and the promise that he will finally become good. Now, it’s pivoted to Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver, specifically how the pair have tweaked their shot form and are ready to claw their way out of the doldrums of NBA shooters.
Despite impressing as defenders, both wing prospects have failed to cross the 30 percent threshold throughout their careers. If the Wolves are to rocket up the standings like they plan to next season, at least one of the two need to come markedly better from long-range.
Okogie has taken steps in that department by enlisting the work of shooting coach Chris Matthews, more commonly known as “Lethal Shooter.” Working out in California, Matthews is one of basketball’s most popular shooting specialists, with clientele that includes Anthony Davis and Candace Parker.
It isn’t known if Culver has hired a shooting coach himself or if he has simply been working with the staff that the Wolves already have in place, but he has definitely been putting a ton of work into remodeling his shot form. The 21-year-old struggled mightily in his rookie season, from both the free throw line and beyond the 3-point arc, and his protruding elbow and prominent hitch made for nasty viewing.
We have only been allowed to get quick glimpses of the reworked shot (one on Naz Reid’s Instagram and one in the bubble film you see below), but you can see noticeable (and encouraging) differences in his shooting motion.
197.— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) September 23, 2020
Days since Wolves last took the floor together, March 10 in Houston.
That changed today as MIN tipped off their 2-week in-market bubble. pic.twitter.com/w8yY9nfpo2
The Andrew Wiggins summer workout videos never panned out, but there’s still hope that Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver are on the right path. Lord knows the Wolves need it.
In trying to fill the huge chasm left by a Wolves-less world, the hype and intrigue surrounding Jarred Vanderbilt have grown by the day. Ranked 13th nationwide in the 2017 Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI) Rankings, the 6-foot-9 forward is blessed with speed, skill and power, the 20-year-old has the ability to guard multiple positions and operate in a variety of different roles offensively.
Still, he was marred by injuries during his lone season at Kentucky and has only played 115 total NBA minutes throughout his three seasons in the league. It would be a huge step up for Vanderbilt to enter the Timberwolves rotation, but, theoretically, he has the tools to be a snug fit in the front court next to Towns or off the bench backing up Juancho Hernangomez, James Johnson, or an impending free agent or draftee.
In order for that to happen, Vanderbilt will need to show a few things in the bubble scrimmages. First, he needs to be able to be a more consistent shooter from deep. He shot just one triple at Kentucky, but pumped that number up 34 in the 24 G-League games he featured in over the past two seasons. Despite connecting on just 29.4 percent of the small sample size shots, the improvement and development arc is clearly on the right path. He is already a great offensive rebounder, ball-handler and passer at his size, but the deep ball is essential if he wants to grow into a full-time rotation player.
Secondly, Vanderbilt will need to become a more consistent defender, especially considering he is on a Timberwolves squad that desperately craves defensive expertise. By no means is Vanderbilt a bad defender, he has shown more than a few flashes of crisp rotations, fast feet and rim protection, but he needs to deliver that on a play-by-play basis. The bubble will give him the first chance for months to show that he can do that consistently against NBA-level talent.
Schemes and Systems
Outside of the players that pique one’s interest, perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Timberwolves training camp and outlook for next season is the way the systems they put in place on both ends of the floor. It would be very surprising if we were privy to the way they’re going to set things up, but knowing those types of things would make analyzing the team much easier and more interesting.
Obviously, the most important aspect is the defense. Last season, Minnesota was rigid in their beliefs that Towns would play drop coverage in pick-and-roll, as he has for the majority of his time with the team. By all accounts, it was a failure. Even with the dearth of defensive help around him, Towns didn’t seem to be able to grasp the concept any better with renowned defensive mind David Vanterpool leading the defensive coaching staff.
With that in mind, it’s easy to wonder whether the powers that be start to lay the groundwork for a different scheme — perhaps something that allows Towns to get up at the point of attack and move his feet on the perimeter some more. Of course, this would put more pressure on the backline when Towns inevitably makes mistakes, but it seems worth trying considering how bad he and the team were on that end of the floor last season.
Another defensive wrinkle worth monitoring is how the Timberwolves deploy D’Angelo Russell. Last season, they liked to hide him off the ball as much as possible, allowing Okogie or Culver to hound the ball-handler, creating less on-ball mistakes and allowing the defensive shell to stay intact more often. Will they give Russell more opportunity to take defensive possessions head on this season, potentially improving him in the process? Or will they continue to try and camouflage his weaknesses?
Offensively, there is likely less work to be done, but it’s extremely important all the same. Acclimating Russell into an offense that sees Towns as the number one option while making sure someone like Malik Beasley (should he return in free agency as expected) is put in a position to thrive will be a crucial task. Throw in the fact Ryan Saunders will be expecting a first overall pick or incoming trade target to slot in seamlessly and the offense becomes a lot harder to prepare for.
We are likely to see pretty basic stuff on the bubble footage, but it would be riveting to know exactly what kind of schemes the coaching staff is cooking up for the 2020-2021 campaign.
No new updates here — we just love Naz Reid.
From undrafted free agent to starting center within six months, Reid’s rookie rise was probably only a hair short of meteoric. Of course, barring any more ill-health surrounding KAT, Reid won’t see the minutes he did when the franchise center went down with a season-ending wrist injury in February, but he should provide quality minutes as a back-up center if his star continues to rise.
We will love Naz nonetheless, but it would be nice to see him stroking that 3-ball, improving his lateral movement at the rate he did from his freshman year at LSU to the end of the Wolves’ season, and continuing to hone his touch around the rim. With that, Minnesota can breathe a little easier in the trade, draft and free agency market, knowing they don’t have to find a back-up big man who can exhibit similar game style and strengths as Towns.