By: Dan Slaubaugh
After a three-month hiatus, Wolves basketball has finally returned. The competition, of course, is watered down to overseas stars, undrafted prospects, and highly-prized new rookies. But there are still storylines to be had, and things to watched for amongst the teams competing in Las Vegas.
The Minnesota Timberwolves feature three players -- fifth overall pick Kris Dunn, Tyus Jones and Adreian Payne -- on their Summer League roster that in all likelihood will be on the 2016/17 roster come opening night. With that, there is still one roster spot up for grabs heading into the regular season. The Wolves could go several routes in filling that final roster spot whether its through trade, free agency, or even perhaps bringing in a Summer League standout.
It's not likely, but if head coach Tom Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden fail to fill out the roster in the next few months, they could turn to a Wolves D-League standout who played ridiculously well in Vegas -- whoever that may be.
In the meantime, Dunn, Jones and Payne will be the guys to keep an eye. Here's a breakdown of some things you can watch for concerning their development as players.
Can Kris Dunn play with Ricky Rubio? The question has loomed over the Timberwolves after Dunn was drafted. Hopefully, assistant coach Ryan Saunders (who will coach the Summer League squad) will have Jones and Dunn share the backcourt a few times to test how Dunn plays off the ball and could then cooperate with Rubio. Dunn already possesses some encouraging traits that lead many to believe he could play the two-guard, including his ability as a slasher and his ability to get open off screens.
However, Dunn is the type of player who will shine brightest with the ball in his hands -- as most point guards are. But the Providence product's elite physical abilities allow him to get to the rim with great efficiency and fluency. During Summer League on the offensive side of the ball, Dunn should look to limit his turnovers and abuse the less-athletic guards that may try to defend him.
Defensively, prepare to watch Dunn harass opposing Summer League point guards. His alien-like 6'9" wingspan and strong defensive IQ will allow him to pin opposing offenses in bad situations not just during Summer League, but also during the NBA regular season.
Jones showed glimpses of what he can become last season, especially down the stretch. On the offensive side, limiting turnovers, orchestrating an offense and adequate three-point shooting are what will allow Jones will make it in the NBA. Because of his size, his ceiling is probably filling a backup point guard, and it's difficult to see how the former Blue Devil will have any role on the team next season if Rubio and Dunn stay healthy.
If Jones wants to exhibit development and growth as a player in these next few weeks, he'll need to exhibit all the qualities it takes to effectively run a unit. Getting guys open, finding the open man, being a leader, hitting shots and limiting turnovers. The team will need that from a Summer League veteran in Jones and if he can flash those skills, it will indicate development.
This will be Payne's third consecutive Summer League appearance and unfortunately for him, a third consecutive appearance probably means you haven't made it very far in the NBA.
A year ago, he probably had the best Summer League stint on the roster, averaging 14.2 points and 8.4 rebounds in 30.8 minutes. He was active, aggressive and decisive on both ends. However, he has yet to demonstrate those skills in the regular season.
"Payne is probably running out of chances, despite having an intriguing profile. Players who are this big and athletic that can shoot from deep are relatively rare, but Payne hasn’t been able to consistently demonstrate his skills or a solid basketball IQ. He needs a strong summer as much as anyone."
Payne's ceiling could very well be simply a Summer League star -- but let's hope not.
The rest of the group
Reiterating above, if Thibodeau and Layden fail to fill out the roster in the next few months, they could take a look at someone who shined in the D-League. With that, there are a handful of intriguing players that could shine in Vegas. And if they do, there is a great chance they will receive at the least an invite to training camp.
For analysis of the potential breakout players, you can read Zach Harper's excellent piece of the full Summer League roster or CrunchTime Blog's breakdowns of two guys they are intrigued by in Coty Clarke and Keith Benson.
Schedule for the Wolves 1st round of games
Friday, July 8, 7:30pm, Thomas & Mack Center: vs. Denver (ESPN)
Sunday, July 10, 5:00pm, Cox Pavilion: vs. Toronto: vs. Toronto
Monday, July 11, 7:30pm, Thomas & Mack Center: vs. Cleveland
When the 1st round of games conclude, the Wolves will then play a minimum of two more games in a tournament format to be decided by the first round's results.
Last season's Wolves finished 1-4 in Las Vegas. Hopefully they can put on a better showing this year and make some noise in the tournament round.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the games. Go Wolves.