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Practice Report | Fast-Paced Wiggins And Saunders' Composure

by Julian Andrews
Web Editorial Associate Follow

The Wolves had their first full practice with Interim Head Coach Ryan Saunders at the helm on Thursday. The team was in good spirits, music played over the speakers, and there was a lot to go over as Saunders continues to make subtle changes to the way the Wolves play.

Something that stood out in the Wolves’ win over the Thunder was Saunders’ composure. In an intense game and in his first head coaching outing, it would have been easy for him to be overwhelmed, but there was no indication that was the case. For Saunders, that attitude is something he cultivates every single day.

“That’s just important to me in life just in general,” he said. “I’m not saying that I’m always going to hold it together, but I’m saying that I’m going to do my best to keep composed and try to get the same me every day, win or lose. Obviously with losses you take those a little harder, but just try to be positive, keep that vibe.”

“He looked like he had done it thousands of times before. He was calm, poised,” said Tyus Jones. “When he was poised that rubs off on the players. He just kept instilling confidence in us, told us to keep making reads, take your shots with confidence, and just play hard.” 

One thing is for sure, Tuesday’s victory was one to remember. That being said, today is a new day and Friday is another important game. That was the focus in practice.

“I understand there’s other things on people’s minds, there’s somebody different standing on the sidelines, but ultimately it’s about us going against a team that we’re going to be battling for playoff seeding with,” said Saunders.

So What Is Changing?

One of the biggest changes Saunders is making is in the Wolves’ pace. He’s trying to get them up the floor faster and get them more opportunities in transition. He’s also having the team run fewer specific sets and spend more time in a more free-flowing style.

“He just was trying to stress it to us since that first day. Just trying to get the ball over half court quicker,” said Jones. “Letting guys make reads of the defense. Playing off one another. Sharing the ball, continuing to share the basketball and I think in that first game we did a good job.”

The other major change Saunders is considering is lengthening the rotation. With Derrick Rose’s ankle improving and the guard nearing a return, Saunders will have one more piece to fit into the Wolves’ system. 

“That’s definitely one of the strong ideas I’m looking at, but I’m feeling it out too,” said Saunders of using a 10-man rotation. “I like to do a lot of things off preparation but a lot of things off feel too.”

That could mean that Josh Okogie, who was thrust into a larger role due to injuries, might end up still finding his way into playing time when Rose returns. Same goes for Anthony Tolliver, who has been excellent in an increased role since Robert Covington went down.

Aggressive Andrew

One huge beneficiary of an increased pace of play is Andrew Wiggins, who is learning to thrive in transition. That was a big reason behind Saunders’ emphasis on pace. Players with Wiggins’ athletic abilities don’t come along often.

“He’s definitely one of the more elite players in terms of getting in the open court,” said Saunders. “Jeff (Teague) did a good job head manning the ball down the sideline, Tyus did a great job. When he can catch the ball and break guys down, Andrew has a great first step, he’s really hard to guard at the rim.”

His point guards understand how important it is to get Wiggins going early and find him some opportunities on the break. Teague has made getting the ball to Wiggins a point of personal emphasis. Wiggins’ 40-point game against the Thunder was no accident, look for him to be a huge part of the Wolves’ transition offense going forward. 

“I feel like transition is easier, especially against a team like OKC cause their half-court defense is so good,” said Wiggins. “I’m good at finishing around the rim and my teammates were looking for me so I was just getting out and running.”

Wiggins said he didn’t see his huge performance on Tuesday coming, but he wasn’t surprised by it either.

“I just felt like I was getting better. I didn’t know I was going to have a game like that, but I felt like I was getting better,” he said. “More comfortable on the floor, back to how I was a couple years ago. Staying aggressive, being aggressive, asserting myself in different ways.”

One Step At A Time

There’s always an emotional high after a win like Tuesday’s, but now the challenge is sustaining that energy through the rest of what promises to be a hard-fought season.

“We’re just going to keep at it,” said Wiggins. “One thing we needed to work on the whole year is consistency. We know that there’s been a few games in a row where we look like we’re a great team defensively, offensively then the next couple games we could be going downhill a little bit.”

Saunders will continue to make subtle changes, and it will be on the players to make sure they continue to implement them and follow his lead as Saunders tries to position the team to succeed. It’s going to be an interesting few weeks—Saunders makes his home debut on Friday. To find out more about the game, check Timberwolves.com, and if you want to be in the building, get your tickets here