G League Grind Isn't Always Easy, But Young Wolves Are Making The Most Of It
Excitement is brewing in Timberwolves' land again.
After going 1-12 in the first 28 days of December, the Timberwolves closed 2019 and opened the new decade with a commendable intensity that allowed them to win two of their last three games. Their only loss during that four-day stretch came at the hands of the 31-win Milwaukee Bucks who snuck away with a two-point win over the Wolves on Wednesday.
Robert Covington, Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Napier have played key roles in leading the Timberwolves during the absence of Karl-Anthony Towns (knee) and Andrew Wiggins (flu-like symptoms), but the Timberwolves’ rejuvenated play has been largely inspired by Iowa Wolves G League players Kelan Martin, Naz Reid, Jaylen Nowell and Jordan McLaughlin.
Over the last three games, Martin, Reid, Nowell and McLaughlin have combined for 183 total minutes of playing time and have surely made the most of their NBA court time. This week they contributed a total of 73 points, 36 rebounds, 11 assists, five blocks and a plus-minus rating of plus-4.8.
Missing five players, the whole squad stepped up for the win over Brooklyn pic.twitter.com/tvvCcisMBO
— Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 31, 2019
This shouldn’t be shocking considering how much fun these players were to watch in the Timberwolves’ run to the 2019 Summer League Finals. But to fully appreciate those statistics, you have to consider what life is like for these players who’re moving back and forth from Minneapolis to Des Moines to join the Timberwolves or Iowa Wolves whenever they’re needed. Seriously, whenever they’re needed.
Martin, who played and started in the Timberwolves’ games against the Nets, Bucks and Warriors, returned to Minnesota on Saturday to play against the Cavaliers the day after playing back-to-back games in Golden State with the Timberwolves and in Des Moines with the Iowa Wolves. Martin recorded 17 points and six rebounds in the Timberwolves’ loss to the Cavaliers and at times was the most energetic player on the court for Minnesota despite playing three games in three days in three different cities. Not to mention, he didn’t have much notice before being sent to Minnesota.
KELAN MARTIN OUTTA NOWHERE
— Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 31, 2019
“They called me at 10 o’clock in the morning, my flight was at 11:24,” Martin told members of the media, who responded with laughter out of disbelief, after Monday’s shootaround at Target Center. “So I had to get up and get moving because I was tired from the night before, but I came up, took a little nap, and I just needed to bring energy to the team. I think I did that.”
Martin’s stats from this week corroborate his belief. In his last four games with the Timberwolves, Martin averaged 10.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, was a plus-9.3 and only turned the ball over one time. Dealing with the fatigue of playing six games in eight days is one thing, but his ability to stay mentally prepared for whatever is asked of him is truly remarkable.
“I feel like it’s AAU again,” Martin said. “You just have to get your rest and hydrate as much as possible. I’ve been on a lot of flights, so I just have to be prepared for this. It’s what I signed up for.”
Reid went through similar circumstances when he joined the Timberwolves for Monday’s game against the Nets. Reid was told at 3 p.m. while in Iowa on Monday that he needed to get on a flight to Minneapolis to make it to the 7 p.m. game that same night.
“I mean, the biggest thing was just staying ready, and that’s what I did,” Reid said.
“Anywhere I play, however I play, I always just think, ‘Play the best version of basketball that I can play.’”
Reid finished the overtime game with a career-high 13 points, four rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block in 20 minutes, 29 seconds of playing time. And if you tuned in on Monday night, you would not have guessed that he only had an hour to prepare for the game after arriving at Target Center.
“My game-day routine is just make the last shot taken in warm-ups, so I was able to do that,” Reid said with a grin after the game, noting how comfortable he’s gotten with this way of life that forces him to fly from Iowa to Minnesota on a moment’s notice.
Bouncing from team to team has been pretty seamless for Martin, Reid, Nowell and McLaughlin, but they’ll be quick to tell you that that wouldn’t be the case if it weren’t for the confidence their teammates and coaches have instilled in them.
“I knew we were missing a couple of pieces to the team, and Coach (Ryan Saunders) told me that he was going to give me minutes,” Martin said on Monday. “They believe in me. They told me to shoot it whenever I’m open, just be aggressive, and I think I did that. Just have to be willing to do that every game.”
Before Monday’s game, Saunders greeted Reid by telling him he wanted the 6-foot-9 center to let his shot fly. Since then, Reid has made eight 3-pointers on 34.8% shooting from deep and is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Target Center.
The Naz Reid show. pic.twitter.com/vzzJwldpli
— Kyle Ratke (@Kyle_Ratke) January 3, 2020
“Coming from Iowa an hour before, not knowing what the game plan is and things like that, for him to just tell me those things, it gave me a boost of confidence,” Reid said after Monday’s game.
On Thursday, he credited the growth of his game to the support of his teammates and coaches once again in his postgame interview with Marney Gellner.
“It couldn’t have grown without the help of my teammates here and in Iowa,” Reid said. “They support me, coaches support me; they just tell me to go out and play my game, and without that support, I don’t know how much confidence I’d have. My confidence is sky high with that support.”
The demands of playing in the G League and NBA may be foreign to some, but Martin, Reid, Nowell and McLaughlin’s conditions aren’t atypical. Robert Covington knows this.
Covington was drafted by the Houston Rockets in 2013 but was assigned to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers G League team six times in the 2013-14 season before signing a contract with the Philadelphia 76ers in November of 2014.
“My rookie year, I was on a plane for three and a half weeks every day,” Covington said. “I just tell these guys they have to be mindful of their bodies and try to take care of it. It’s just about maintaining and being professional. It’s more mental than anything just because your body is trying to tell you that you’re tired and of course, that’s going to try and creep into your mind, so you just have to fight through it. That’s what can help you get over that hump.”
Covington’s experience has made him even more appreciative of his G League teammates’ contributions.
“These youngins have really stepped in and really contributed. These past three games, we’ve really seen a lot of growth in each other. What they’ve been doing is really what’s been taking us over the edge a little bit,” Covington said after recording 20 points and 10 rebounds in Thursday night’s win over the Warriors. “They’ve given us an extra boost and they’ve sustained it and have understood that time is limited so you have to make the best of it. We always preach about going out and having fun and playing hard, and that’s the main thing. You don’t want to be up here and have that opportunity taken away because you’re not playing hard.”
Nowell and McLaughlin were assigned to the Iowa Wolves on Friday, and it’s likely all four Minnesota and Iowa players will continue to move around once Towns, Wiggins, Jeff Teague, Noah Vonleh, Treveon Graham and Jake Layman are healthy. However, if they continue to find the right balance of playing within themselves without forcing things to prove their worth, it will be difficult to argue that they don’t belong in the NBA.