By: Dan Slaubaugh
The Minnesota Timberwolves opened preseason play Wednesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder giving the Target Center faithful an opportunity to see their favorite basketball team front and center for the first time this season.
The Wolves were without starting point guard Ricky Rubio (quad strain), Nikola Pekovic (still recovering from right achilles), and Tayshaun Prince, who had recently undergone a dental procedure. Nonetheless, it gave the youth of the team a chance to showcase their skills against one of the top tier teams in the league.
The first quarter was something to forget for the Wolves defensively, giving up 42 points with 14 of those coming from superstar Russell Westbrook. Oklahoma City shot 79% and hit 13 of their last 14 shots which may have been a shocker with how much defensive work the Wolves have put in the first week of training camp. Of course, the Wolves do have one of the youngest rosters in the entire league so it will take some time for them to really show improvements on the defensive side. The first quarter wasn't all a lost cause though, with Karl-Anthony Towns impressing chalking up 10 points leading the way for Minnesota. The Wolves trailed 42-28 heading into the 2nd quarter.
The 2nd quarter was much better for a Wolves team who were already trailing by 14 points with Kevin Martin, Gorgui Dieng, and Nemanja Bjelica leading the way offensively. Martin finished the 2nd quarter with 9 points in 10 minutes of play on 3-6 shooting, which also included a couple nice bounce passes to Dieng for easy buckets. Defensively, they held Oklahoma City to just 19 points on 42% shooting, which was much of an improvement to the first quarter.
To summarize the second half, it mostly consisted of the Thunder getting easy buckets at will and the Wolves looking lost defensively. There were some bright spots, however, mainly including the Wolves bigs -- Towns, Dieng, Bjelica. Towns and Dieng both ended up with 18 points a piece showcasing their smooth mid-range jump shots and post up games. Bjelica was mighty impressive on both sides of the court. I'll catch up on that later.
Lets get to the notes. Just a reminder that this is the first game of the preseason so no need to overreact, just some thoughts.
Quiet night for Andrew. Finished with 7 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist on 2-7 shooting. Took a back seat to Towns and Lavine most of the night. I know Wiggins has a "passive personality" but that can't be seen on the hardwood. Minnesota needs him to be their guy, and he needs to have that mentality. Of course, Rubio will make a big difference in creating shots for Wiggins, and everybody else on a nightly basis.
Was a rough night for Zach after being awarded the starting 2 guard position. Statistics look worse than his on court play though. Finished with 8 points, 3 assists on 2-11 shooting. Was aggressive -- attacked rim often even though results wasn't what he wanted.
It just wasn't fair for Tyus having to face a top 3 pg in the NBA in his rookie debut. He struggled, just like a rookie point guard would be expected to. Finished with 0 points, 4 assists, and 2 turnovers in 24 minutes. The most important thing for him last night was getting his feet wet and gaining experience. Needs time to grow.
Seemed much more calm and comfortable than in Summer League play. Finished with 18 points, 5 rebounds on 8-12 shooting. Displayed many qualities we knew he possessed in knocking down a couple mid-range jumpers, scoring in the post, and stellar defensive play blocking 2 shots. Also threw down a monster dunk over Mitch McGary. Very stellar debut from the #1 pick.
Very efficient play from the 3rd year big man. Finished with 18 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists on 6-8 shooting. He's clearly carried over the confidence he gained from AfroBasket play this summer. Overall, he was impressive.
It was hard for Bazz to get into a rhythm. Finished with 6 points on 2-10 shooting. The prowess was there but he forced up to many shots on offense. Would like to see him catch and shoot more. If he can improve his perimeter game this season, he's gonna be sooo good, and sooo fun to watch.
This guy is only a rookie by title. The team clearly improves with him on the court and the offense runs much more smooth with him out there. He's someone who doesn't need the ball in his hands to be effective. His passing game was on full display, he can bang in the post, and has a great feel for the ball. He's a smart player and so far he's lived up to the hype.
Played like the Kevin Martin we all know. Finished with 9 points in 10 minutes on 3-6 shooting. If he agrees to a 6th man role off the bench it could really bolster the 2nd unit's offensive firepower. Time will tell how that all plays out.
Was very impressed with Rudez. Didn't force anything and played good defense. He has good size for a defender and it shows. He showed his nice perimeter touch with a couple treys, which is something the Wolves could use once injuries start to pile up. He finished with 7 points on 2-4 shooting (2-4 3PFG) in 17 minutes of play. I'm slowly starting to become a fan.
Didn't play much. Doesn't need to. Finished with 0 points and 1 rebound in 8 minutes of play. It is a delight having him on the bench. His value to the team is immeasurable.
Didn't get a ton of playing time (12 mins) because of how well Bjelica played. Finished with 4 points, 4 rebounds on 2-4 shooting. Stayed within himself, didn't do anything spectacular or horrible. Will receive valuable minutes in frontcourt sometime this year through injuries, performance, etc. Not much else to say.
Just like Kevin Garnett, he didn't play much and doesn't need to. Simply doesn't need the experience the young pups do, particularly Tyus Jones. Finished with 4 points, 2 assists on 2-2 shooting.
A little saddening watching LoBro play considering I do not believe he will make the regular season roster. He is a smart point guard, who has improved immensely. He provides solid defense and can run the offense smoothly. Finished with 7 points and 3 turnovers on 3-4 shooting.
That's all I have for this one. Minnesota travels to Winnipeg, Manitoba on Saturday for a matchup against the Chicago Bulls. The game will be televised on NBATV.