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Practice Report | Changing Up Scrimmages, Facing Jimmy Butler

by Julian Andrews
Web Editorial Associate Follow

The Wolves held practice before going on the road to face the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday. Minnesota is coming off a big win against Anthony Davis and the Pelicans, and they sit just 1.5 games out of the No. 8 seed in the West. Getting a win on the road would be a big boon for the squad as they head into a stretch of games against Western Conference opponents later in the week. 

That’s the attitude that the players and coaches have at least, but scan the headlines over the next 24 hours and you’ll likely see a lot of focus on something else…

Playing Jimmy

There’s an understandable tendency to make the Wolves’ first game against the Sixers since they completed the trade that sent Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton to Philly in exchange for Dario Saric, Robert Covington and Jerryd Bayless. However, the Wolves truly are approaching it as just another game.

“It’ll be a good game, a good exciting game. Competitive, but like any other game really,” said Andrew Wiggins. 

“The NBA is fun and serious, but at the same time I’m just focused on getting the win,” said Taj Gibson. “I’m not worried about seeing Jimmy because I see Jimmy all the time in the summer.” 

Whatever you want to make of the beginning of the season this year, the important thing is what’s happening now—something that Interim Head Coach Ryan Saunders has emphasized, not just in terms of playing Butler, but for the Wolves’ mentality every day.

“That’s a daily thing in terms of not getting caught up in other things, other storylines, which we talked about a lot as a team last week,” said Saunders. “We just want to focus on who we have in front of us next and also who’s in our locker room. If we take care of ourselves we’ll take care of things.”

In the post-Butler era of the Wolves, Karl-Anthony Towns and Wiggins have come up big for the team. Their time with Butler helped them learn some valuable lessons about how to approach the game, and they’ve taken their play to new heights in filling the role his departure left open.

“They’ve matured so much this year as far as just going to different arenas, hearing different crowds, understanding what needs to be done,” said Gibson. “Just trying to stay focused on the it’s all about us mentality. It’s going to be a hostile environment, but this is a test to see how far we’ve been as a team, how far we can go, and I’m looking forward to it.” 

Practice Wrinkles

Saunders has added a few extra layers to the Wolves’ scrimmages in the last week—mostly to keep things interesting as the season gets towards its midpoint, but also to emphasize shot selection. One thing the team tried was making long twos, which the team defines as the space between the college and high-school three-point line and the NBA three-point line (not jumpers from the elbow), worth negative points.

Nevertheless, when it comes to games, Saunders trusts his players to take the right shots. 

“We tried to put rules and stipulations in, one because we’re in January, the season can get long at times, so giving guys different things they can think about. We do want to emphasize more three-point shots as well as more layups. Those are statistically better shots in terms of points per possession,” said Saunders. “We played one game where that was a minus one just to condition ourselves and try some new things, but ultimately these guys have been playing basketball their whole lives, and if they got a good shot, we’re confident in their shots.”

Saunders is quickly adjusting to being a head coach and he has been trying out some new things, despite having to learn the duties of being at the front of the bench on the fly.

“There’s lot of people that want and need your time in a lot of ways, so time management has become more important,” he said. “Then also it’s having to really just having to rely on assistants to take some of the load off you in terms of scouting and things like that. We’ve done a good job so far though.”

Quick hits:

  • Saunders has liked what he’s seen from Tyus Jones. He’s always had a lot of faith in the young guard and Jones has responded with some excellent play as of late. Jones takes on a bigger role when there are injuries but continues to find a way to see the court even when the Wolves’ backcourt is at full strength. Having another ball-handler on the bench gives the Wolves some interesting options, including multiple-point guard sets and the ability to run the offense through players other than the primary ball handler.
  • On the injury front, Jeff Teague went through almost all of practice on Monday after twisting his ankle again in Saturday’s game. It’s been a tough run of injuries for Teague but it’s looking like he’s avoided something more serious. Still no news or timeline for Covington as he rehabs a bone bruise.
  • There is no set-in-stone plan for Derrick Rose’s status on back-to-backs. He’s had a few injuries this year so the team is being careful with him so as not to push things. He sat out Saturday’s win as a precautionary measure. Saunders said there’s no hard and fast rule that he will not play in back-to-backs, rather it will be more of a decision that’s made with Rose day-by-day.

The Wolves will have shootaround in Philly on Tuesday morning before taking on the Sixers at 6 p.m. CT. We’ll keep you updated on everything over at Timberwolves.com.