Monday, September 27 marked the unofficial start to the 2021-22 NBA season, with a majority of the 30 NBA franchises holding their in-person media day in their respective local markets. For the Minnesota Timberwolves, the day kicked off with an introductory press conference for the new limited partners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez, which we recapped earlier in the day.
I had the privilege of flying in to attend 2021 Timberwolves media day, and have included some of more noteworthy items below that were discussed during each player’s availability.
The afternoon kicked off with NBA Star Malik Beasley, who openly discussed the growth he’s made as a person after what he deemed was a “unique” last year of his life. Beasley confirmed that through a work-release program, he was able to work out daily during this summer, which was evident as he sat on stage looking more filled-out than in previous years.
Maybe the most notable soundbite that came from Malik’s media availability was his comments about the starting lineup and what role he may (or may not) play this upcoming season:
Malik Beasley: “we’re just worried about winning, I’m not worried about what position I play or whether or not I start.”— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) September 27, 2021
Whether or not that energy carries over into the regular season remains to be seen, but with so many lineup options at Chris Finch’s disposal, it’s a positive sign that a player like Malik is expressing (publicly) an openness to coming off the bench.
The on-deck hitter to kick off media day was the forgotten man himself — Jake Layman. When asked about an increased leadership role this season as the second oldest player on the team (behind Patrick Beverley), Layman reinforced his desire to lead by example and do the little things that this team needs to be successful (i.e. defend, rebound, etc.).
Jake Layman says he’s bringing a different energy this season: “You’re going to see a different Jake, a more aggressive Jake.” Says his path to playing time is on defense— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) September 27, 2021
After averaging the fewest amount of minutes per game since his second season in Portland, Layman also stressed a desire to get back on the court and carve out a role for himself in the rotation, which makes sense when you factor in it’s a contract year for the former Maryland Terrapin (a trend that we’ll discuss here in a second).
One of the highlights of 2021 media day was getting to hear Josh Okogie go into detail about his time this past summer with Team Nigeria. Josh talked openly about how much the entire experience meant for not only his teammates but also the country as a whole, and specifically mentioned how excited his family was when Nigeria defeated Team USA in an exhibition game (prior to the start of the 2020 Olympics).
The second-longest tenured Wolves player also discussed being eligible for a contract extension (JO will be a RFA next summer) and reiterated his desire to stay in Minnesota long-term.
Josh Okogie, who is now eligible for a contract extension, confirms that he would love to remain with the team long-term and truly enjoys being part of the Minneapolis community.— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) September 27, 2021
When asked about the transition from Gersson Rosas to Sachin Gupta, Okogie made multiple references to the strong relationship and familiarity he has with the team’s Executive VP of Basketball Operations and the confidence he has in the direction of the franchise. That strong relationship with Gupta will likely come into play if (or when?) the team begins contract negotiations with JO down the road.
The man acquired in the Ricky Rubio trade was one of the more open and transparent players to speak at media day, touching on a variety of topics including his health, defensive versatility, and you guessed it — being in a contract year (I sense a trend here).
Taurean Prince said being traded to Minnesota was a surprise — but “somewhat of a pleasant surprise”— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) September 27, 2021
Prince discussed the transaction this offseason that sent him from Cleveland to Minnesota, saying that at first he was shocked, but that it was a “pleasant surprise” and that he was extra motivated to come in and make an impact on his new team. When asked about any potential distractions stemming from the dismissal of Gersson Rosas, Prince talked about how the game of basketball is so beautiful because it brings people together quicker and stronger than a lot of other things could (i.e. hinting at the idea that front office turnover won’t impact what the players do on the court, at least not in his mind).
Taurean Prince says he could've had ankle surgery in Brooklyn and Cleveland but didn't for team/$$$ reasons. After finally getting arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle in April he's feeling great. Mentioned how hard it was dealing with that injury and sounded #ready to roll.— John Meyer (@meyerNBA) September 27, 2021
Another cool thing Prince talked about was his recovery from ankle surgery and how the nagging injury has impacted his career in the past. As John points out, Prince mentioned that it would have been ideal for him to get the surgery during his first year in Brooklyn, but decided against it so that he could try and help the Nets (and then the Cavaliers) win as many games as possible.
While it remains to be seen just how healthy the former Baylor Bear really is, the vibe you get from both him and Chris Finch is that Prince will have a serious role on this team this season, not only because of his ability to space the floor but also because of the defensive versatility he will bring to the roster:
Taurean Prince on his defensive versatility:— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) September 27, 2021
“I was a rookie guarding Marc Gasol in Memphis and the next game I was guarding Kyrie with the Celtics.”
Emphasized his ability — and desire — to defend multiple positions.
The biggest takeaway from Jaden’s media availability is simple — the kid is ginormous.
Jaden McDaniels says he’s grown a couple inches to 6-9 1/2 or 6-10. Says his hair helps too— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) September 27, 2021
The player who likes going by the nickname “J-Mac” confirmed that he has grown a few inches during the summer, coming in now at roughly 6’10” (seeing him side-by-side with Karl-Anthony Towns this afternoon confirmed that he is indeed in the running for tallest player on the team).
Jaden was also asked about his expanded offensive role during 2021 Summer League and who exactly he models his game after in the NBA:
Jaden McDaniels on who he models his game after;— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) September 27, 2021
“I watch Brandon Ingram, Jonathan Isaac, Pascal, dudes that can do everything.” pic.twitter.com/KcR3DvFcyC
As many second year players usually do in a setting like this, Jaden touched on one of the biggest differences he sees from his rookie year to his sophomore year — the game starting to slow down for him. The former Washington Huskie also came off as super self-aware, making it known that he will likely be the third or fourth scoring option on the floor but that it’s crucial for a player like him (and other role players on the team) to “maximize their touches” and be aggressive when called upon.
The headliner of 2021 Timberwolves media day was Karl-Anthony Towns, who didn’t hold back any punches when asked about the instability and turnover he’s endured during his first six years in Minnesota:
“I’ve been through everything. Death of a head coach… numerous front offices… I didn’t have a chance to build any true relationships with anybody cause there’s always instability… deframed by teammates, been a scapegoat for people…— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) September 27, 2021
Shit hasn’t been easy.”
-Karl-Anthony Towns pic.twitter.com/k3bYICgo0L
As the clip above shows, KAT aired out a lot of frustration on Monday about things that have happened to him in the past — four different head coaches, five different presidents of basketball operations, COVID-19, etc. He also summed it all up by saying “I have always chose that route to keep to myself and to be a professional. And to put this organization first. Even when it required me to be a punching bag to the world, I put the Wolves first, before myself.”
KAT’s latest comments came on the heels of an interview he did with Sports Illustrated, in which he talked about a lot of the same frustrations and life events that he did during Wolves media day. In addition to discussing the impact COVID-19 had on his family and his difficult return to playing basketball, KAT also discussed his desire to remain in Minnesota long-term if/when a contract extension is offered to him next summer (Towns is also in a pseudo-contract year as he will be eligible for a max extension in 2022).
Karl-Anthony Towns on a contract extension in Minnesota:— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) September 27, 2021
“My chips are all on the table, so it’s up to the Wolves, you know? If they give me the chance to stay there I fa’ sho would take it. The ball is in their court.”https://t.co/jS9XsoyR2K
The overall vibe I sensed from Towns while listening to him speak at media day was that of a player with a renewed fire and renewed sense of purpose. How all of that translates onto the court will be one of the biggest storylines to monitor as the season kicks off next month, but Monday’s public statements from KAT set the stage for the 6-year pro to have the sort of “F U” season that many of us have been waiting for.
While Karl-Anthony Towns may have been the loudest voice in the room on Monday, D’Angelo Russell was far and away the most interesting. When asked about his reaction to Gersson Rosas being fired, D-Lo stoutly replied “I didn’t really have one,” confirming a theme from media day that what happens in the front office doesn’t necessarily have much (if any) impact on what takes place on the floor and in the locker room.
D’Angelo Russell said he was on the golf course when he heard the news last week.— jace frederick (@JaceFrederick) September 27, 2021
Said he didn’t have much of a reaction.
He just tried to focus on his next shot
Russell was also asked about his physical health coming off knee surgery earlier this winter and his overall mentality this past offseason:
D’Angelo Russell said he attacked this offseason like it was a contract year and emphasized how great he feels physically.— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) September 27, 2021
Also detailed the strong relationship that he has with Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch.
Similar to his friend Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell himself will be extension eligible next summer, adding to a theme of Timberwolves players who will have extra incentive to perform at a high level this upcoming season.
Finally, the biggest takeaway from the D’Lo media availability was his overall view and relationship with head coach Chris Finch, which already appears to be lightyears ahead of his relationship with his former coach Ryan Saunders:
D’Angelo Russell on Chris Finch:— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) September 27, 2021
“I love that guy. I usually don’t judge coaches that soon, because I’ve had a lot in a short period of time… the credibility is there, I can feel it” pic.twitter.com/cSLW6gLfcJ
If the stunning dismissal of Gersson Rosas or unexpected trade of Ricky Rubio had you thinking that Anthony Edwards might enter his second NBA season a little more subdued, guess again. The man known simply as “ANT” was his typical self Monday afternoon as he discussed his recovery from an ankle injury he suffered during his time with Team USA, hanging out with Adam Sandler, and what he focused on during the summer (aside from bowling):
“Anything with shooting. Mid-range, catch-and-shoot, off-the-dribble, step-backs, DHOs, whatever you call shooting that’s what I was working on.— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) September 27, 2021
- Anthony Edwards on his focus this offseason pic.twitter.com/eI7NJipD9v
ANT also talked about the warm welcome he’s received from fans, coaches, and his teammates since entering the league last season and how he tries to carry himself on a daily basis:
“Man, I just try to lighten everybody’s day up… I’m a fun kid… I’m always smiling, always laughing, I try to lighten the room.— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) September 27, 2021
I just enjoy waking up every morning… I’m gonna make sure everybody around me is having a good time.”
- Anthony Edwards pic.twitter.com/3uBjyOMWVr
Edwards seemed about as unfazed as anyone in regards to the latest Timberwolves dysfunction that took place last week, and appears physically and mentally ready to take the proverbial “leap” in his sophomore season.
McKinley Wright, IV
Another cool part moment from 2021 media day was getting to hear from McKinley Wright, IV, who signed a two-way contract with the Timberwolves earlier this offseason. The kid from Minneapolis, Minnesota talked about this opportunity with the Wolves being a “dream come true” and went into detail about growing up just fifteen minutes away from Target Center and idolizing his favorite player (Kevin Garnett) while growing up.
Wright, known for his defensive prowess during his time at the University of Colorado, also talked about the bond he’s formed with newly-acquired point guard Patrick Beverley, and how much mentoring the veteran has already provided him during their short time together.
Speaking of “dreams coming true,” Leandro Bolmaro couldn’t help himself during his first solo media availability, reiterating over and over again how excited he is to finally be playing in the NBA. When asked about what area of his game he spent the most time working on this summer, Bolmaro quickly pointed to being more physical and continuing to develop his shot:
Leandro Bolmaro, when asked what skill he has worked on the most this summer:— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) September 28, 2021
“I think my physicality and my shot.”
Continued development from Bolmaro in terms of his body and jumper will be crucial, so it’s good to hear that he has focused on those skills this summer. pic.twitter.com/cYTMKZWy1M
When Bolmaro’s media obligations were finished, he walked off the stage taking a huge sigh of relief, joking to a Timberwolves staff member that he hasn’t been this nervous since he was a young kid. It was a really cool moment for a 21-year old player who is clearly still trying to wrap his head around finally achieving his childhood dream.
While the list of Timberwolves transactions this summer was relatively short, one of the top moves made by Minnesota was re-signing Jarred Vanderbilt to a three-year deal after a prolonged RFA negotiation. During his time speaking to the media, V8 talked about how free agency was the first time in his professional career where he was able to “choose his destiny” and how excited he is for an expanded role under Chris Finch.
In addition to playing an important role defensively, Vanderbilt also told reporters how much he’s been working on developing his offensive game this summer, especially his outside shot. It remains to be seen whether or not Vando will actually unleash some of his new offensive skills this upcoming season, but any growth whatsoever in that part of his game would go a long way in helping round out his overall skillset and could provide for a valuable front court teammate next to Towns.
Speaking of fitting next to Towns: NAZ REID.
Naz Reid on his fit alongside Karl-Anthony Towns:— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) September 27, 2021
“I’ve been able to learn from KAT since like 7th grade… I’ve been able to watch him shoot 3s, handle the ball, then pass it…
I’ve actually started to inherit that into my game.” pic.twitter.com/oFAl0BElHF
In addition to talking about his current fit on this roster (specifically alongside KAT), Naz also detailed his ever-growing work ethic and how his mentality has changed from his time in college to his time now in the NBA:
“Everything matters, that’s something that I didn’t know going into college and coming into the NBA. Every single thing matters. You can’t shortcut anything, you can’t take days off.”— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) September 27, 2021
- Naz Reid on his transformation from high school to the NBA pic.twitter.com/lWQ6hcJGdN
As the former LSU Tiger continues to develop, I’d expect a major role for Naz Reid this season, both as a compliment to Towns in the front court as well as manning the backup center spot when KAT is on the bench. Naz’s competitive spirit and hatred for losing really was apparent during his media availability on Monday, which could lead to an increased role off the court as well.
No player appeared more excited to be back in Minnesota and to start playing basketball again more than Jordan McLaughlin. The other “J-Mac” on the roster talked about a weight being lifted off his shoulders after signing a standard multi-year contract with the team, and said his focus again this season will primarily be on playmaking and and setting up his teammates.
When asked about the biggest thing he’s taken away from his time playing for Chris Finch, McLaughlin described Finch’s “will to compete” and ability to put guys in the best position to succeed. Similar to last season, I’d expect to see McLaughlin play a majority of his minutes alongside another guard like D’Angelo Russell, allowing D-LO to play more off-ball while McLaughlin sets the table for the second unit.
The best analogy of the day came from Jaylen Nowell, who compared this upcoming season to an artist’s third music album:
“I look at it as, in music, an artist’s third album that makes-or-breaks their career.”— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) September 28, 2021
- Jaylen Nowell on year-3
I have high hopes for Jaylen in 2021-22. pic.twitter.com/F503N2xXJx
Nowell went on to discuss how this season is sort of a make-or-break year for him, and that he wants to once again show the coaches and his teammates that he’s more than just a spot-up shooter. Jaylen also talked about how cool it was for him specifically being a Seattle native to have Alex Rodriguez joining the team and how much he wants to learn from him about what it takes to be a complete professional in the league.
Last but not least — Nathan Knight. The other notable free agent signing from this summer discussed the key reasons he chose to sign with Minnesota — including a youthful roster, enthusiastic coaches, and a general feeling of “being wanted.”
Knight capped off his media availability — and media day as a whole — by describing the importance of a strong culture in regards to winning basketball games. He discussed how the Atlanta Hawks (his former team) turned their season around last year not by making a substantial trade or signing a marquee player, but by simply making a change at the top (in this case the head coach) and how the trickle down effect led to a renewed vision and collective “buy-in” from the entire organization.
Although Nathan Knight hasn’t been with the team long enough to fully understand anything about the checkered history of the franchise, this type of perspective when it comes to “creating a culture” could go a long way for a young group of players, coaches, and front office members who will all enter the 2021-22 season with extra incentives and motivation.