Stars and duds from the Wolves scrimmage


The Minnesota Timberwolves took to the Target Center floor Monday night to give fans a taste of what is to come in the 2015-2016 season.

Minnesota suited up against Minnesota for four ten-minute quarters. The team split into two separate squads, Team White and Team Black. Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic did not play but were in attendance.

The White Team consisted of guards Andre Miller, Nick Wiggins, Kevin Martin, and Lorenzo Brown, forwards Shabazz Muhammed, Tayshaun Prince, and Adreian Payne, and center Gorgui Dieng.

The Black Team was made up of guards Tyus Jones, Zach LaVine, and Andrew Wiggins, forwards Nemanja Bjelica, Kevin Garnett, and Damjan Rudez, and centers Karl-Anthony Towns and Kleon Penn.

Yours truly was in attendance, and the following are some notes I took away from the Wolves scrimmage:

Players Who Stood Out:

Tyus Jones stood out the most. He connected on all three of his three-point attempts along with a driving layup and looked confident and in rhythm. The young point guard looked poised and mentally prepared for the game and handled the ball well. Perhaps he could back-up Ricky Rubio for the Timberwolves this season despite the signing of Andre Miller?

Zach LaVine easily looked like one of the best players on the floor throughout the scrimmage. His shooting was confident — a shot LaVine may have been working on during the off-season was a fade-away 12-18 ft. jumper from the baseline. While he may have only converted one of these shots, he attempted a ton of them. The sophomore guard also gave the crowd a reason to cheer as he threw down a breakaway slam on a fast break.

Nemanja Bjelica was playing his first organized “game” with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and if there’s one thing he didn’t look like he was doing, it was playing his first organized “game” with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Bjelica showed incredible court vision, firing passes around the court.

On one possession, he made his way on a drive into the clogged lane, and on a play in which a rookie would often force up a contested shot attempt, Bjelica simply fired a pass from above his head across the court to a teammate in the corner for an open three.

On the radio broadcast the Wolves rookie forward said that he felt “comfortable with the ball in his hands”, and his play definitely backed up that statement. He also knocked down a long-range jumper, showcasing his shooting ability.

One negative on Bjelica’s game tonight was on a fast break as he intercepted an intended alley-oop pass intended for Zach LaVine, preventing a highlight from occurring. You can’t wear a Wolves jersey and do that. Highlight-ruining aside, he was terrific, and it will be exciting to see what he can do over the course of the season.

Also, although it’s entirely possible that forward Damjan Rudez could be one of the players cut as the roster is trimmed, he was another one of the bright spots from the scrimmage. His three-point shooting was on full display as he spaced the floor for the Black Team and also displayed some athleticism running the floor. The Wolves don’t exactly have a plethora of three-point shooters, so keeping Rudez could be a possibility.

Players Who Disappointed:

Shabazz Muhammad looked like he’d reverted back to his rookie self.  It was a somewhat confusing offensive effort, as Muhammad forced up a few wild left-handed hook shots that clearly weren’t there. Although he knocked down one three-pointer, he didn’t show much sign of an expanded repertoire in his  game on the offensive end.

The third-year guard/forward hangs his hat on hopefully being able to be a scorer off the bench for the Wolves in the future, but he didn’t show the growth that has been hoped for. However, it is just a scrimmage, and players are still getting back in the swing of things. Hopefully, Muhammad can show us evidence of an off-season of work to be less predictable offensively.

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Watching Andre Miller playing point guard tonight was tough to judge. On one hand, he’s a well-seasoned veteran who has no reason to be excited or motivated for a pre-season scrimmage at the beginning of October, so we should cut him some slack. On the other hand, Miller looked slow, old, and a little uninterested.

It made me wonder if the Wolves should actually put Tyus Jones in the D-League. With Jones’ confidence and shooting, he looked like clearly the better option to back-up Rubio, even if he goes through a few growing pains. Perhaps Miller would be better suited to ride the bench and coach from there?

Finally, I know Kevin Martin said he feels younger in an interview earlier now that he’s playing with the likes of Kevin Garnett, Andre Miller, and Tayshaun Prince, but he looked rusty and declining tonight. Part of it was the lack of play-makers on the White Team, with Shabazz not contributing much and no one else being known as an offensive threat.

However, Martin wasn’t hitting the shots he usually hits, and it was a little awkward to watch his offensive game. Thankfully, the veteran guard won’t be in the situation where he’s the only player on the floor who can score this season (hopefully), but it still would have been encouraging to see him hitting more looks, even if it’s only to increase possible trade value.

The Big Two?

There’s not much to say about Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns after this game, simply because they looked like themselves as we know them so far.

Andrew Wiggins shot a lot of off-the-dribble jumpers, including an impressive 18-foot shot from above the free throw line while on the move in transition. With a post game developing well from last season, it was exciting to witness his mid-range game starting to become more dangerous and consistent. He wasn’t really tested defensively, as everyone in the building knew where Shabazz was going with the ball, so we’ll have to wait to see how he’s improved from that aspect.

Karl-Anthony Towns looked a little frantic and flustered, fumbling rebounds and passes. He also goal-tended one shot and sent another one into the stands that could have easily been plucked out of the air and thrown to an outlet man.

On the plus side, however, Towns made a sweet running hook over Gorgui Dieng and a few more in the paint.  He was also an intimidator in the lane for the White Team, especially after a couple of nice blocks and shot contests. The rookie just needs to shake off the nerves and play with a bit more confidence on the court!

All in all, it was a fun game to watch, and for the first time we were able to see this Wolves team making plays on the floor. Only 22 days until the start of the season!

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