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3 Timberwolves Storylines To Watch Before Training Camp

by Kyle Ratke, Digital Content Manager

Digital Content Manager

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It’s hard to believe, I know.

Here we are, just three days away from Timberwolves Media Day and four from the starting of 2019-20 training camp.

Where does the time go? That’s a deep question and is a little bit sad if you really think about it, so we’re going to move along from that.

While it’s been a wild offseason in the NBA, it’s also been pretty crazy for the Wolves. The team hired Gersson Rosas as President of Basketball Operations. There’s no more “interim” before Ryan Saunders’ head coaching title. There’s a brand-new coaching staff. Out with Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose and Tyus Jones, and in with Noah Vonleh, Jake Layman, Jarrett Culver and Shabazz Napier, among others.

Let’s take a look at three Timberwolves storylines to keep an eye on as 2019-20 training camp opens.

KAT The Leader

If one thing became obvious this summer, it’s that Karl-Anthony Towns is the centerpiece of this team. 

You mean building around a historically good big man who can do pretty much everything offensively and is growing defensively is a good idea?!

Why yes. I do mean that.

In 2018-19, Towns averaged 24.4 points and career-highs of 12.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. This was all playing about 2.5 minutes less than he did the season prior. Towns shot 51.8 percent from the field, 40 percent from the 3-point line and 83.6 percent from the free-throw line. 

Is Towns a 50/40/90 candidate in 2019-20? 

While the Wolves building their team around Towns seems obvious, what’s not always obvious is when a young player becomes a leader. A lot of times, we want these guys to come in and instantly become leaders. That’s not how life works. I know when I was 22, I wasn’t a leader. Unless the definition of leader was eating a lot of Doritos and playing a lot of video games. In that case, I’m still a great leader!

Towns, 23, is entering his fifth season. He made it clear that he wants to be the leader of this team on and off the court. As Rosas has said more than a few times, it’s action over words. And Towns has made good on those actions. Along with Saunders, he traveled to Bell’s charity game in California this summer. Just recently, he came up with the idea for the Wolves to take a team-bonding trip to the Bahamas. Most of the players said that was something they’ve never been involved in before and talked about what a special bond this group already has. More than any other sport, basketball has a personal level to it. Look at teams throughout history that blow up or succeed. What happens in the locker room can sometimes be more important than what happens on the court.

Look for Towns to be at the front of whatever the Wolves do this season. 

Don’t Sleep On Napier

I was really surprised there wasn’t more excitement when the Wolves traded for Shabazz Napier. Over the last two seasons, Napier has been one of the best backup point guards in the league. Two years ago, he was part of the three-headed monster with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, and last season he did the same with Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell.

He’s coming off a season in which he averaged 9.4 points and 2.6 assists per game (both career highs). While his 3-point percentage dipped to 33.3 percent, he’s just two seasons removed from shooting 37.6 percent from the 3-point line on 4.2 attempts per contest.

One thing the Wolves needed badly last season when Derrick Rose wasn’t on the floor (which happened 31 times) was a boost of scoring from the bench. While Tyus Jones did a great job of protecting the ball, he’s more of a floor general rather than a scorer. Napier should be able to add some scoring to the bench and will be a competent replacement for Jeff Teague if he misses time. 

Let’s also not act like Teague is an injury-prone player. While he missed 40 games last season with various injuries, he’s played 712 out of 804 possible games (88.5 percent) in his career. Hopefully 2018-19 season will just a blip on the radar.

One thing that intrigues me is Napier’s story. If you’re old enough, you remember his two titles at UCONN. And then after LeBron James did everything but put billboards up in Miami begging the Heat to take Napier 24th overall, things kind of fell apart for Napier. 

Napier lasted just a season in Miami before being traded to Orlando. There it was when he realized that while he could blame others, this was on him. He needed to figure out this NBA thing, and in a hurry. While the fame from UCONN will never die, that doesn’t mean a whole lot in the NBA.

He was traded by the Magic for cash considerations to the Blazers. For a team that has needed a point guard since the Jameer Nelson days, it shows how much the Magic thought of Napier that they were willing to give him up for cash considerations. In Portland, he started to figure things out. He played a career-low 9.7 minutes per game in his first season, but he was starting to realize what kind of work went into the day-to-day life of an NBA player. By 2017-18, he was the third ball-handler in the offense and erupted for five games with 20 or more points and double digits 27 times.

For every Napier story, there are about a dozen stories of guys flaming out of the league. 

It speaks to the person Napier is that he didn’t give up through a pretty rough time, and kept pushing on. Now he has a huge opportunity this season with the Timberwolves. I’d bet on him taking advantage of it.

Where Will Culver Play?

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see Culver in Summer League thanks to NBA trade rules which is a conversation for another time. 

That has fans itching to see the team’s first-round pick in game action.

Culver did attend team workouts in Las Vegas and has been putting work in all offseason. When it comes to working hard, you won’t find many people who go above and beyond like Culver does. The guy is literally always in the gym. Morning. Afternoon. Night. He’s quite popular at all hours here at Mayo Clinic Square.

The question now is where Culver will fit in. A lot of that will be dictated by him. Culver fits in best as a shooting guard, but at 6’6, he has the size to play some small forward. The biggest question fans have been asking on social media sites has been whether or not Culver can be a point guard-type player for this team. 

It’s something we saw him do at Texas Tech, so it’s a fair question. I’d say it’s unlikely that we’d see Culver ever play a pure point guard position, but we could see him be the lead ball handler of an offense for spurts in a game, similar to what we saw from Andrew Wiggins last season. 

We should learn early where the Wolves plan on using Culver during the first few training camp practices in Mankato, and throughout the five preseason games.

A big reason why the Wolves selected Culver is because of his versatility on both ends of the court. The NBA is turning into more and more of a positionless league and having a player like Culver, who can fit in multiple spots, could prove to be pretty invaluable. We’ll see how quickly that can come to fruition. 

Media Day starts on Monday at 12:30 p.m. You can livestream all interviews at Timberwolves.com/live and the team’s Facebook page.

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