Sure, summer is cool and all, but how many more days are needed to work out in your head the fit of Rudy Gobert next to Karl-Anthony Towns in one of the NBA’s best front-courts? Or the leap Anthony Edwards is going to take in the heralded third season of his career?
It’s officially the start of the NBA season, I don’t care what anyone says. Training camp starts Tuesday and we’re just under four weeks out from the start of the regular season. But every Minnesota Timberwolves player (that was not sick) met with the media Monday, and there were a few nuggets that were particularly interesting. I’ll touch on three of them.
Austin Rivers, Come on Down!
I’ve watched a lot of Wolves press conferences in my life. One would argue too many; yet, I still find myself pretty blown away at how Austin Rivers articulated his process and expectations in joining the Wolves on Monday.
For someone entering his 11th season as a former top-10 pick off of multiple lucrative contracts, and still regarded as a premier perimeter defender, Rivers’ intro didn’t quite feel like it. Instead, it was a humble and self-aware veteran who knew what he was capable of and almost foresaw the impact he could make on a still-young group of players. As widely reported, Rivers’ contract is a partially guaranteed veteran minimum.
“I didn’t really care what the deal looked like. I just wanted to come here and play basketball. All that other stuff takes care of itself,” he said. “Then the money and all that kind of stuff ends up coming when you do it for the right reasons.”
The reasons certainly seem to be right for the time being. Rivers was a pleasant second wind for an ailing and injured Denver Nuggets squad last season. In the absence of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., the former high school and Duke standout went into Denver midseason and bolstered the Nuggets’ perimeter defense and spacing around Nikola Jokić. I touched on net rating a bit in my trade values piece, but a couple interesting pieces to expand on...
“I have no self-interest in my own stats. It wouldn’t do anything for me. It’s not every realistic...so my only intention is to win”.
After today, I have a lot more confidence in his role on this team than I previously did. I would even wager that he sees substantial minutes this year. Jordan McLaughlin cut out minutes last year for his ability to initiate offense and make the ball less “sticky”. I wonder if Rivers sees a similar arc from his ability to defend and hit open shots.
He also has a great taste in movies.
Here’s the exact moment that Austin Rivers and I became best friends: pic.twitter.com/jRtZaIxkmT— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) September 27, 2022
D-Lo Keeping Expectations on the D-L
To be fair, D’Angelo Russell has never really spoken about expectations since his arrival in Minneapolis, not even at center court the day he touched down.
"Y'all got some talent around here now." -- D'Angelo Russell— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) February 9, 2020
Said he loves the energy around here, finishing his address of the home crowd with... "keep that shit goin"
He’s been through a few learning experiences in his career, and now seems to err on the side of caution in grabbing headlines. But one headline that grabs itself heading into the 2022 season is his contract. Russell is on an expiring max deal that he inked after his All-Star season in Brooklyn, and likely won’t get the same type of money on his next one. But there’s no hard feelings on either end.
“The money’s in free agency, so if that’s what you’re about, tap into it, no frustration,” he said. “The organization has treated me as great as it could possibly go, and the people that are here now have obviously showed their love toward me and how much they want me to be here. That’s all I can ask for.”
There’s clearly a reason the Wolves want Russell to stick around as well. He holds the keys to activating the front-court to its fullest potential with his playmaking chops, and the Wolves are at their best when you pair that with a shotmaking guard.
Karl-Anthony Towns dunk, created by the pick-and-roll pass from D’Angelo Russell pic.twitter.com/bMIVFcOzNA— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) December 22, 2021
The record imbalance last year is maybe the most interesting part; Minnesota was 7-10 (.411) without D-Lo and 39-26 (.600) with him.
A Defensive Evolution
The Wolves had one of the best defenses in the league last season...for the first half of the year. Admittedly, it wasn’t a sustainable model.
We’ve got to move into a little bit more of a nuanced defense where we’re reading situations and dictating strengths, weaknesses and points of the floor where we want people to be, etc.,” Minnesota head coach Chris Finch said. Finch likened last year’s defense to winding the team up and having them chase the ball, flying around and creating points off turnovers to make up for their lack of rebounding.
RT if you love this Wolves defense pic.twitter.com/ilS72QFucb— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) January 10, 2022
But that changes this year. Part of it has to do with the length that the team is now equipped with. Jordan McLaughlin and Bryn Forbes are the only players on the roster under 6-foot-4. 6-foot-10 Jaden McDaniels will be moving to what appears to be a full-time role on the wings, something he embraces after adding weight this offseason.
“I feel like it’ll bring out the whole versatility. Shoot, like everyone on our team like 6-6 and above, so it just makes it a super lengthy team,” McDaniels said. “It will help us fly around easier and knowing that we have a strong core.”
Tim Connelly referred to newcomer Kyle Anderson as “one of the league’s best Swiss Army Knives.” With Gobert now anchoring the paint and KAT needing to get more into rotations, he’ll need to live up to his title on that end.
“I think I can fit in with any defense in this league. Just like you do on offense, try to make plays on defense,” he said. “I like to rebound. That means I get to push the ball up the floor, so I’ll be looking to rebound and get easy offense on the other side.”
Transition will be evermore important this year with the elimination of the take foul, which the Wolves took advantage of quite a bit last year.
Beginning this season, there will be a heightened penalty (1 free throw + possession) for intentional fouls committed by defenders which deprive the offensive team of a fast-break opportunity. See below for an educational video regarding "Transition Take Fouls": pic.twitter.com/aOf1ZrqAu5— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) September 26, 2022
Marc J Spears was in Phoenix today and compared the vibe of Suns media day amidst the big-time scandal involving disgraced team governor Robert Sarver to “a funeral”. Players on the Celtics were thrown questions left and right about the looming issues involving their once-esteemed head coach. Steve Nash couldn’t deny that Kevin Durant asked for him to be fired.
Although Anthony Edwards has to answer for the homophobic video he posted to his Instagram on September 10 and take further accountability as an individual, outside of that, the vibes around this team continue to be high. Today begins the training camp process of taking all of these words and figuring out how they fit together tangibly before they take the floor next Tuesday night in Miami for the preseason opener.