Five months after the end of 2018-19 season for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the 2019-20 season kicked off with the media day on Monday, Sept. 30. Before heading down to Mankato, Minn., Gersson Rosas, Ryan Saunders, and all 20 players took turns in answering journalists’ questions, shedding some light on their new plan of action.
That plan of action, starting with training camp, will be three-fold, according to head coach Ryan Saunders, and will consist of conditioning, defense, and shooting.
“For us to be a faster pace team, we need to be in better shape, and we all understand that,” said Saunders. He went on to point out that this part of the plan is well underway, as most players have already been working out for over a month.
“This summer was different,” echoed Andrew Wiggins. “We’d work out two or three times a day. … There’s been a lot of changes, for the better. The team got together a lot earlier than before. Before we’d show up at training camp. That means a lot.”
Working out and building team chemistry is something that indeed started last August in the Bahamas on a trip that was largely organized by center Karl-Anthony Towns. It obviously was a success, with many players mentioning during the press conference that they not only already enjoyed playing with each other, but also enjoyed their budding relationships off the court.
“When I was a rookie, I didn’t really talk to anybody until training camp. When we were doing media day last year, I didn’t know anybody,” explained Josh Okogie. “The camaraderie that we’ve built since the guys got drafted and traded, it’s huge.”
Gorgui Dieng agreed, saying, “I’ve been here seven years and I’ve never seen this in the past. Players, coaches, everybody was here at least two weeks before training camp. That shows a lot.”
“When times get tough, I feel this team will stick together,” added Towns.
Just as many players commented on the culture change, as well as the new unity and energy.
“This isn’t the team I’ve been playing against the last two years, this is a whole new team,” noted Jordan Bell as soon as he arrived in Minnesota.
“The energy is different, the vibe is different, everything about it is different,” said Jeff Teague. “It’s more upbeat and everybody is focused. Ryan has a philosophy he wants to go by and I’m buying into it, I think the whole group is.”
That philosophy includes a healthy dose of defense, which brings us to our next topic.
Defense, defense, defense
The word defense was on pretty much everybody’s lips, starting with forward Robert Covington, who is ready to “do all the little things to help us win.”
Forward Jordan Bell also stated he intends to be a defensive force and not “just a shot-blocker.”
Even rookie guard, Lindell Wigginton (Iowa State), who is destined to spend most of his first year with the Timberwolves’ G-League team, the Iowa Wolves, wants to “bring a nice pop on the defensive end.”
Guard Andrew Wiggins evidently got the memo and understands the need for the whole team to “be more consistent and limit the easy shots the other team gets.”
As for the offense, the direction is unequivocal: speed. The new roster was assembled to bring youth and energy to the team, and Saunders made that clear in his opening statement.
Jeff Teague, now 31 years old, is clearly amped up about it. “I’m the oldest guy on the team, and I still feel like I’m pretty young, so that’s amazing. We’re going to be playing very fast with all the young guys that we have [and] the energy every night should be great.”
With teams such as the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors making a living from the three-point line, all players will be encouraged to shoot from deep. That includes Bell, who has “never done it in the NBA” but was told by Saunders to “just keep shooting.” That also goes for forward Jordan Murphy, who will be working on shooting safely in the G-League.
Guard Shabazz Napier confidently declared, “I’m an aggressive guard, that’s easy to me,” and Wiggins said he aims to “limit longer twos and long-range shots.”
The offense will finally be a position-less one, something that both Saunders and Rosas have been alluding to since day one.
Goals and assignments
Though roles and positions won’t be set until after training camp, most players know what their role (or rather, roles) will be this season.
Robert Covington should play power forward, but will probably come off the bench at first following last year’s knee injury. “We’re going to ease into it. … We don’t want any setbacks.”
Noah Vonleh will be playing both power forward and center, “depending on the matchup [and] the team.”
Though Karl-Anthony Towns is again expected to be the top scorer on the team, he aspires to be more of a facilitator. “I’ve always loved passing, getting everyone involved on the offensive end.”
Rookie guard Jarrett Culver envisions himself benefiting from Towns’s generosity while coming off the pick and roll. As for his position, “I’m ready to do point guard and shooting guard. I’ve been going back and forth my whole life.”
Forward Keita Bates-Diop also expects himself and others to play multiple positions, saying he’s “one of those guys who can play multiple positions” and adding that “all of us will be bringing up the ball at some point.”
Lastly, Jordan Murphy, Lindell Wigginton, Kelan Martin, Jordan McLaughlin are expected to refine and expand their skills while playing for the Iowa Wolves. Whether Naz Reid, Traveon Graham, and Tyrone Wallace play in Minnesota or in Iowa will depend on their success during training camp. With a $1.4 million contract to his name, Jaylen Nowell is destined to join the Timberwolves roster but will likely be going back and forth between the two like Bates-Diop did during his rookie campaign.
Assistant general manager Gianluca Pascucci was recently named general manager of the Iowa Wolves. This is a clear sign that the Iowa Wolves players are to be developed, rather than forgotten about.
Though no revolutionary announcements were made during media day, Timberwolves fans should at least feel confident that the coaches and players share a new determination to play hard, play fast, and play together.