By: Jonah Sprinkel
Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and girls! The NBA season is nearly back! After a long, yet extremely exciting offseason the Minnesota Timberwolves are gearing up to make a playoff push and prove the league that they are to be feared on a nightly basis.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves by dreaming of greatness, we must first watch, and possibly suffer through, the growing pains of training camp and the preseason games. I don’t want to sound like a Debbie Downer, I’m simply trying to be realistic. Great teams aren’t built over night. Last season some of us who expected too much from the Wolves were disappointed. Though it should be noted that the 2017-18 Timberwolves have a much, much higher ceiling than any Wolves team since 2003-04.
Saturday, Sept. 30. 9PM. Wolves @ Lakers
Thursday, Oct. 5. 1AM. Wolves @ Warriors (Played in China)
Sunday, Oct. 8. 6AM. Warriors @ Wolves (Played in China)
What to watch for:
This may come a surprise to some, but the point of the preseason is not to win games. The goal should be to improve as team and work out some of the major kinks in both the offensive and defensive systems. With a new alpha dog in Jimmy Butler as well as many new role players, there will be quite a few kinks to work out. I fully expect miscommunication and mental mistakes to be prevalent in these games, especially early on. Obviously, the preseason is much more intricate.
1. Chemistry between the stars
We’ve seen it time and time again with “Big 3’s” in the NBA. Three extremely talented players join forces to try and become a title contender. On paper, these three players should immediately gel and wreak havoc on the league. But everyone is human, and yes that includes NBA stars. It will take time for these guys to figure out their roles. It will take even longer for them to become completely comfortable in those roles.
The preseason hopes to be a crash course in chemistry and unity for the Wolves “Big 3.” Realistically, one of these guys will have to take a bit of a back seat at times. The trick for them is to figure out when to take a back seat and when to be assertive. Don’t expect these relationships to be flawless even after a full training camp and preseason. The “Big 3” in Miami were 9-8 after their first 17 games. That team had LeBron James and even they struggled.
2. Role players fitting in
The Wolves added quite a few new faces this off-season; Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford, Aaron Brooks, Anthony Brown, Marcus Georges-Hunt, Amile Jefferson and Melo Trimble. However, the latter few of those players may only serve to be camp bodies. The team also resigned Shabazz Muhammad to go along with last year’s core of role players; Gorgui Dieng, Tyus Jones, Nemanja Bjelica, and Cole Aldrich.
Each one of these players should have a defined role upon the start of the regular season. Knowing Thibs, he’s already drawn up a plan for where every single player will be on the court for every second of every game. The players themselves will have to grow into those roles and learn how to be effective while deferring to the “Big 3.”
Once again, we’re talking about a change of pace for some of these guys. Both Crawford and Muhammad will be asked to not only be more efficient scorers, but willing passers and defenders as well. Jeff Teague will need to slide into a secondary scoring role without the ball being in his hands for long periods of time. Tyus Jones must be up to the task of being a true backup point guard.
On the other hand, some players will be asked to maintain their previous roles. Taj Gibson, Gorgui Dieng and possibly Cole Aldrich (if he sees playing time) will be asked to do the dirty work; post defense, offensive rebounding, taking charges, disrupting passing lanes, and setting picks. Bjelica must continue to stretch the floor and grab rebounds.
Brooks, Brown, Georges-Hunt, Jefferson and Trimble will attempt to fill the remaining gaps for as long as they’re on the roster.
3. Comfort in the system/communication
It will take some time for every one of these players to be comfortable in this system. Let me say that one more time so it sinks in. It will take some time for every one of these players to be comfortable this system.
The preseason serves as an experimental training ground for guys to figure out what their teammates like and how to communicate with them. Each player must be attempting to communicate on both ends of the floor. It may not work at first. Players may get frustrated. But they must still try and understand where their teammates and coaches are coming from.
These preseason games don’t matter in terms of wins and losses. In two weeks when the Wolves are playing regular season basketball no one will care if the team won or lost any of their preseason games. This is the perfect time to try new things, work on building these new relationships and to attempt to get comfortable playing in a manner that might be unfamiliar.
Outside of the big things to pay attention to there are a couple minor story lines to be mindful of.
a. Backup point guard
Aaron Brooks, Tyus Jones and Melo Trimble should all receive ample playing time during the preseason. It should be interesting to see what Thibs decides to do in terms of minute distribution. Though I don’t expect to see Trimble on the opening night roster.
b. End of bench guys
Anthony Brown and Marcus Georges-Hunt should also see a fair amount of time on the court during the preseason. Though they may not end up being key contributors for the Wolves they could provide solid support from the end of the bench.
c. No Patton
Due to injury, the Wolves 2017 first round pick, Justin Patton, will not get to experience training camp or preseason. For a guy who needs as much time as possible to acclimate himself to the pace of the NBA this is a huge blow. He will need a lot of time in the G-League to catch up to the rest of the Wolves roster.
For the first time in as long as I can remember I am legitimately excited to see the Wolves play preseason basketball. I might even consider staying up until 1 A.M. just to see it! The preseason and even the beginning of the regular season might start slowly for a team. They’re trying to learn their complete identity on the fly while also attempting to end a playoff drought. These early games are the stepping stones to greatness, let’s hope the Wolves can make the most of them.