Top 5 Things to Look For During Training Camp

A Timberwolves Training Camp Central Exclusive Story | Presented by HBO Home Ent

Alex Conover
Web Editorial Associate

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Top 5 things to watch for during training camp

When the Timberwolves head down to Minnesota State University-Mankato for their annual training camp on Oct. 2, there will be no shortage of story lines. Much has happened in the last year, and with plenty of new faces on this year’s roster, Timberwolves.com has compiled the top five stories that fans should be keeping track of.

5. Nikola Pekovic’s fitness

Center Nikola Pekovic is no stranger to the weight room—that's no secret. Neither is the fact that Pekovic came to camp this summer about eight pounds lighter and, already one of the strongest players in the NBA, seemingly stronger than a year ago.

“I can’t really explain it, I just like to be in the weight room,” Pekovic said. With the help of assistant coach Bill Bayno, Pekovic trained in his home country of Montenegro and trimmed to 278 pounds. Everyone in the organization is hoping that the loss of a few extra pounds might keep some stress off of Pekovic’s right ankle, on which he suffered painful bone spurs for much of last year.

Pekovic not only trimmed down—he did so while continuing to lift weights and adding lean muscle. Just from observing some early open gyms, it’s clear that he has a different physique. Eyes across the league will be on him as he presumably opens the season as the starting center and continues to develop as a player.

4. Derrick Williams’ new role

Pekovic wasn’t the only Timberwolves player that lost weight this offseason. In an effort to become more of a small forward, Derrick Williams dropped down to around 230 by the time he reported to Training Camp. Besides fitness, Williams also studied the pick-and-roll and worked on becoming more explosive off the dribble.

When Williams was drafted with the second overall pick in 2011, a few things were clear: He was a prospect with incredible athleticism, but his position in the NBA was undecided. Since Kevin Love has locked down the power forward spot in Minnesota, Williams has focused on his preferred position of small forward. Other players competing for time at that spot will be new acquisitions Andrei Kirilenko and Chase Budinger. If he does not win a starting role, Williams will likely continue to provide supplementary minutes at the 3 and 4.

3. The shooting guard rotation

Last year’s minutes at shooting guard were mostly taken up by Wes Johnson and Martell Webster—two players that are no longer with the franchise. The only returner that saw significant minutes is Luke Ridnour, and he will likely play quite a bit of point guard with Rubio injured.

That leaves Minnesota with a couple of options. Three-time NBA All-Star Brandon Roy was signed in the offseason, but the health of his knees still remains to be seen. Even if he is ready to go, his minutes may be limited as a precautionary measure. Newcomer Alexey Shved has the height and length to play the position, but how much time will he really see in his rookie year? What about second-year player Malcolm Lee, who bounced back and forth from the D-League and battled injuries last year? Don’t discount Chase Budinger, a very athletic player who is probably best suited for small forward, but in coach Rick Adelman’s system, the two wing spots tend to be interchangeable.

2. Team chemistry

Unless something unexpected happens before the season, the final roster will probably have seven new faces to join the seven remaining players from last year. It was hinted at the end of last season that the team attitude needed some improvement, and Kevin Love made it known that he wanted more veterans in the locker room. His wish was granted as former NBA All-Stars Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy were added along with solid young players in Chase Budinger, Alexey Shved, Greg Stiemsma and others.

As with any major roster shakeup, chemistry needs to be re-established. How will the team assimilate? As the season goes on, you will see improved connections between new teammates, but there may be some early bumps in the road for this revitalized roster.

1. Point guard rotation

At Ricky Rubio’s media availability last week, the injured point guard declined to put a timeline on his return. It’s assumed that he will miss at least a month or two of action, leaving a large gap at the position. The Timberwolves won five of their last 24 games following Rubio’s injury—making it clear that they are a different team without him.

While plenty of new players were added to the roster, none were at point guard. Time last year without Rubio was split between veterans J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour, with rookie Malcolm Lee seeing some spot minutes. This is likely the most uncertain position going into the new season, and Minnesota can’t afford to play like they did late last season again. It will be interesting to see who Adelman picks to lead the team at the beginning of the season.

 


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