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What Did We Learn From the Wolves’ First NBA Summer League Game?

The youngest members of the Timberwolves’ core, Leonard Miller and Josh Minott, shined in Minnesota’s opening game at 2023 NBA Summer League.

2023 NBA Las Vegas Summer League - New Orleans Pelicans v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

Some people and media members say not to dive too deep into NBA Summer League. However, how can fans not? The handful of games teams play in Las Vegas serve as the first looks we get at exciting rookies and other young players trying to make it in the league.

Most of the time, rookies showing out in Vegas isn’t a perfect indicator of how they will play in the upcoming NBA or G League season. However, there are always a few exceptions to that rule.

The Minnesota Timberwolves kicked off the 2023 NBA Summer League Friday afternoon with a 102-88 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. I understand. Reading too much into Minnesota’s first game can lead to unfulfilled hopes, but regardless, let’s examine what stood out for the Wolves’ young core.

2023 NBA Las Vegas Summer League - New Orleans Pelicans v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

Leonard Miller Is NBA Ready

After a stellar season with the G League Ignite team, Leonard Miller was an interesting prospect for many NBA front offices. That’s especially true for President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and his staff. Minnesota was so high on Miller that they were willing to part with two future second-round picks for the chance to select him with the 33rd pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

During the Timberwolves’ first Summer League game, Head Coach Chris Finch joined the NBA TV broadcast crew and shared his thoughts on Miller.

We love his feel. He’s still got a lot of things to figure out, as you would expect. Rebounded at an elite level in the G-League. That translates 99% of the time. He’s got a natural feel for the ball and nose for the ball. His offensive game we’re a little unsure of what it’s going to be. But we know with his feel and his skill, and his ability to handle and pass, that he’s going to fit what we are trying to do.

Expecting an early second-round pick who grew from 6-foot-4 to nearly 7 feet tall in the span of a few years seems highly unfair, to say the least. However, after Miller put up 16 points to go along with 11 rebounds and three steals on 7-for-11 (63.6%) from the floor and 2-for-4 (50%) from three in his Summer League debut, saying that he can impact winning at an NBA level right now seems like a real possibility.

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Regardless of the offense, which is an area of growth for him, Miller will always be competing and leaving it all out on the court. We saw that on full display against the Pelicans. Of course, Miller is trying to make a name for himself at the NBA level, after doing so at the G League level last winter. However, he’s a guy who simply plays harder than most — think of a Jarred Vanderbilt-type impact with more offensive feel, a bigger body, and higher potential as a scorer.

It will be tough for Miller to crack Minnesota’s rotation on day one, with Karl-Anthony Towns, Jaden McDaniels, Kyle Anderson, and Naz Reid all standing in his way. However, injuries are inevitable, and Miller will most likely have a shot at some meaningful minutes during the regular season — similar to what Wendell Moore Jr. did in a few games for the Wolves last season.

Fitting in next to guys like Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert, and Towns will be crucial for Miller to gain substantial playing time. The only way that will happen is if he shoots the ball similar to how he did Friday afternoon, or can effectively guard multiple positions on the perimeter while also cleaning the glass. Minnesota won’t need him to fill it up from downtown. However, being able to space him in the corners will be very important to ensure Edwards has ample room to work in the half-court.

2023 NBA Las Vegas Summer League - New Orleans Pelicans v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

Wendell Moore Jr., the Utility Belt

Being that Wendell Moore Jr. is one of only three sophomores on Minnesota’s Summer League roster, he had some high expectations leading up to Friday. For pretty much every player, the exhibition games in Vegas are their first 5-on-5, full-length run since the season ended. In turn, this makes it very understandable when someone has a rocky start. However, I personally did not expect WMJ to have such a tough start to his Summer League campaign.

In the short stints where we saw Moore Jr. last season in the NBA, he wasn’t wowing anyone with his offense. Rather, it was what he could do on the defensive side of the ball, along with his ability to run the floor. Early in the first quarter against the Pelicans, Minnesota had a very stagnate offense, and with Moore being the primary ball handler, the blame was set at his feet.

In the second quarter, when Finch was at the broadcast table with NBA TV, he also brought up WMJ and his unique versatility.

Personally, I loved the comparison Finchy gave Wendell. Connecting a team and man various positions is crucial to cracking the rotation and being a winning player on a good/deep team. However, not being able to hit open shots and allowing the offense to grow stationary is not a good way to achieve that.

After a lackluster first half, as he kicked the rust off, Moore Jr. helped lead the Timberwolves to their sizable victory. He finished with 15 points, six assists, and four rebounds, and also shot on 3-for-5 (60%) from the floor in the fourth quarter — burying two clutch triples to seal the victory.

It’s hard to find a spot in the rotation for Moore right now. However, similar to Miller, opportunities will arise as the season progresses. Finch said that Moore is a guy who “plays better when he’s surrounded by good players.” And we saw that on display last season. If he can keep developing that outside shot while still having the ability to man different positions, there will be a role for him next season.

2023 NBA Las Vegas Summer League - New Orleans Pelicans v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s Pronounced “My-Not”

Last year during NBA Summer League, Josh Minott stole the show. It was also last year in Vegas where Minott got the nickname “The Lawnmower.” However, this summer, Minott had a slow start against the Pelicans. Minnesota wasn’t looking for him in the flow of the offense, and he just wasn’t getting looks on that side of the ball.

Despite the slow start, Minott took hold of the game early in the second quarter and never looked back — finishing with 20 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks on 7-of-13 (53.8%) from the floor and 6-of-6 from the foul stripe.

After the game, Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report and NBA on TNT asked Minott what it has been like to be disrespected throughout his young NBA career. Haynes brought up the fact that he mispronounced Minott’s name earlier.

It’s really been disrespect my whole life. It’s nothing new. I’m just here to create that respect for myself. There’s always going to be people that don’t know, like you [Haynes]. I’m just trying to set the record straight and let people know who Josh Minott is.

If one thing’s for certain, Wolves fans love Minott’s skillset. The fanbase adores his work ethic on both sides of the ball and his ability to rise up and throw it down hard above the rim. The disrespect that Minott has faced on a national level is real, and for a guy who hasn’t had that much NBA burn, we still don’t know exactly what he is capable of. However, he keeps proving with every Summer League/G-League appearance that he’s getting closer, and closer to being NBA rotation ready.

2023 NBA Las Vegas Summer League - New Orleans Pelicans v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

Other Notable Performances

  • Brandon Williams: 24 points, 3 assists, and 3 steals on 8-of-14 from the floor (potential candidate for Minnesota’s final two-way spot — adding some more depth at the backup point guard position).
  • Brian Bowen ll: 10 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 steal on 4-of-5 from the floor.