Through First Four Games, Wolves Summer League Players Have Become a Team
Las Vegas has arguably been the liveliest basketball city in the nation for the past few days. With current players, former players, celebrities, owners, agents, scouts and fans out to watch NBA Summer League, people may think a show for the ages was taking place there. They may very well be correct, considering the effort that each player puts forth throughout the showcase.
NBA Summer League is rarely considered the most exciting or pleasurable basketball viewing experience, but for the 360 players taking part in this year’s tournament, it’s their first crack at showcasing their skills against professionals in the offseason. It’s where careers can be born.
The Minnesota Timberwolves’ Summer League roster had the same approach going into the team’s first games--display the players’ skills both individually and collectively, and prove that each one of them deserves minutes in the NBA.
The Wolves began their 2014 Summer League experience on Saturday night, facing the Dallas Mavericks and losing 93-85. Two more games and two more forgettable losses later, and it seemed like there wouldn’t be much to take away from this tournament except some disappointment.
But looking past the final box score, the first three games ended with more positives than negatives. Of course, winning is always preferred, but in the Summer League, individual growth from game-to-game is almost as respected. For the majority of the roster, that growth is exactly what the Wolves got during their first three competitions.
Rookie Zach LaVine evolved his game from simply being a great outside shooter and athletic player to displaying an ability to perform as a defender, passer and finisher in the lane. Kyryrlo Fesenko earned his minutes, not by what he did offensively, but by what he provided defensively. Each player that got major minutes chipped in one way or another, and for the most part all of those players improved and adapted at least one aspect of their game.
Going into Wednesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns, the Wolves were the lowest seeded team to take part in the Summer League tournament. For a team filled with players that improved individually rather than collectively for the first three games, it was expected.
But Wednesday’s contest versus the ninth-seeded Suns proved that this Timberwolves team had learned its lesson. Continual ball movement, relentless defense and a huge effort on the boards earned the Wolves their first win when it counted: during the first tournament game. Despite the 1-3 record, the Timberwolves did what they weren’t able to do previously, and grew as a team.
Notable showings by LaVine (20 points), Gorgui Dieng (a double-double 10 points and 19 rebounds), Fesenko (17 points) and Shabazz Muhammad (16 points and 9 boards) proved that this team has begun to mesh.
The Wolves’ squad is filled with a majority of offensive-minded players, but they were able to display their defensive talents by limiting the Suns to 39 percent shooting and 30 rebounds, while shooting 46 percent and grabbing 51 boards themselves.
Most notable on the defensive end were Muhammad and LaVine – two players that have rarely been known for their abilities on that side of the ball. Muhammad was only 4-of-12 from the floor, but defensively out-hustled the Suns, earning his minutes. LaVine closed out well and was rarely beaten on drives into the lane.
Although it was only one game, the Wolves seem to have learned from their first three, and have grown from individual talents to team players. Look to see if the Wolves continue their cohesive play on Thursday as they face the Sacramento Kings at 3 p.m. CT.