Timberwolves 2019 Media Day Notebook

by Kyle Ratke, Digital Content Manager

Digital Content Manager

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Here we are at the 2019 Timberwolves Media Day at Target Center.

Normally, at the end of Media Day, I put together a detailed notebook full of quotes. But since we’re heading down to Mankato immediately after, time is a little tight. 

For that reason, here's a quick recap of the day. We'll have more in-depth stories as training camp moves along.

Here we go:

The Top Dogs

First to talk was President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas and Head Coach Ryan Saunders.

The main focus from Rosas early is how this team is building the foundation for not just one playoff run, but multiple years of success. He brings up a good point. We’ve seen plenty of teams over the years sacrifice a lot for one playoff run, but the teams that have the most success are the ones who build from within and build the right culture and atmosphere. 

The team will go to Mankato for training camp for the first time since Flip Saunders was at the helm. It’s an awesome experience for the team that’s more about bonding than anything else. 

Saunders said that it’s a nice trip to get away, along with supporting the city that owner Glen Taylor grew up in and has done so much for.

The Minnesota State University, Mankato basketball arena was funded by Taylor and thusly is called the Taylor Center. 

A big focus for this team in Mankato will be conditioning, as it is with pretty much every team early in camp. Saunders wants this team to have a faster pace. While some think of offense, Saunders said a lot of times, “your defense can become your offense.”

One leader for the Wolves this offseason has been Karl-Anthony Towns. While we’ll get into this a bit later, Towns has emerged as a leader for this team more than he’s ever done before. That’s big for this team. We want young stars to be leaders, but that’s not always easy for a player in their young 20s still growing as a person. Towns has taken that next step.

If you look at the roster, it’s not all that easy to put together a depth chart everyone would agree one. That’s by design. Saunders talked about the importance of competing every day, and the players will dictate their playing time through competition. 

There were questions, as you’d expect, about Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins had a down year in 2018-19, but the higher-ups here are confident in his ability to bounce back in 2019-20 and become more of a leader for this team.

“Andrew Wiggins is going to have a great season,” Saunders said.

For Wiggins, it’s about him knowing what his role is. With all the coaching and personnel changes over the years, Wiggins has kind of been tossed around. I’d bet on a more-consistent season from Wiggins in 2019-20.

No Hand Outs

Jordan Murphy really impressed the team during Summer League. That’s a big reason why the Wolves signed him to a training camp contract.

Murphy said that the biggest feedback he got from the team was that they liked his energy and hustle. While it will be an uphill battle for Murphy to crack the regular-season roster, the fact that he’s in this position is an accomplishment in itself.

For those wondering if Murphy simply got a spot on the team for some good PR considering he played at the University of Minnesota, that’s not the case at all. Murphy is a player who certainly deserves and opportunity.

Another guy who had success in Summer League was Jordan McLaughlin. That led to a two-way contract for the point guard. He could tell from the beginning that something was different about this Wolves team. He noticed that Rosas and Saunders at every event at Summer League, something that’s not always common for the head of the basketball ops department and the head coach in Las Vegas.

Bouncing Back

Back to Wiggins. 

It felt like this offseason was a big one for Wiggins. We saw him plenty on social media getting work in. Of course, if a player’s workouts aren’t on social media, it doesn’t mean they aren’t working out.

In season No. 6, Wiggins is trying to become more of a leader. He mentioned it at the team’s recent trip to the Bahamas and again at media day. For Wiggins, he’s quiet by nature, but he’s trying to speak up more in games and off the court.

Wiggins has dealt with some criticism, as most talented players in the NBA do. Instead of it getting to him, though, he’s looking at it differently and banks it for motivation.

“I never take it in a negative way,” Wiggins said. “Everything I look at is always positive. Keep growing and adding to my game.”

Another quick note - with the Wolves focusing on shot selection more than ever, expect Wiggins to shoot more threes and attack the basket more next season.

Matching Up

The main reason why big man Noah Vonleh signed with the Wolves was because of the timeline.

Vonleh said he had three other offers, but what went into his decision was the Wolves matching up with his timeline. Vonleh just turned 24 and a lot of players on the team are right in that age range.

You Can’t Make This Up

What an offseason it was for Naz Reid.

He went from undrafted, to signing a Summer League contract with the Wolves, to signing a two-way contract and then an NBA contract. This all happened within three months and shows you just how much Reid continued to impress the Wolves.

For Reid, he said the biggest thing for him is just to be the best version of him.

“Obviously, it’s not the best feeling to not get drafted,” Reid said.

Now, he’ll get to use that as motivation both playing in the NBA and quite possibly the Iowa Wolves.

Leading The Way

Along with the culture shift in Minnesota this offseason, we saw the leadership of Karl-Anthony Towns grow. He led the trip to the Bahamas, which he called “huge” for the team.

One of the biggest takeaways?

“Naz can’t sing. At all.”

Towns praised the new guys for going on the trip. Of course, it’s not something they had to do. 

Towns is one of the most versatile bigs in the NBA. Something to watch for in 2019-20 is Towns acting more as a facilitator. He has a great feel for the game. Don’t be surprised if we see the offense run even more through him. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see him grab defensive rebounds and start a break by himself. 

The Wolves won’t go undefeated in 2019-20, Towns said. So for any who had a bet like that in Vegas, I apologize. But he did promise Wolves fans one thing.

“The team’s going to be unified, cohesive, be together, and be the best team we can be every single night,” Towns said.

Onto Year No. 2

For Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop, their rookie season was a learning one.

Okogie exceeded external expectations and Bates-Diop was able to learn in the G League and from veterans on the bench.

During the offseason, Okogie was able to play with Nigeria in the FIBA World Cup. He called this season his third because of his experience with that.

His goal in the offseason was to improve on being smarter with how he played. Okogie plays extremely hard, which is fun to watch. But in 2019-20, he said he needs to be smarter about when he picks his battles. 

Bates-Diop noticeably worked on his body. He looked bigger, in a good way. Another point of emphasis has been his 3-point shooting. 

Familiarity

Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham both join the Wolves after being traded via Brooklyn.

They both have experience with new assistant coach Pablo Prigioni from last season, and Napier has experience with David Vanterpool from their days in Portland.

Napier described how that has helped him immensely over the last month in a half during his time in Minneapolis. It gives him two more outlets to chat with on a personal level. Those types of relationships are invaluable.

As for Graham, he missed 47 games last season with various injuries. One person who held him accountable and kept his head up was Prigioni. Prigioni led him in workouts, made sure he was at all of his rehab sessions and on days when Graham didn’t have great energy, Prigioni made sure that changed real quick.

With Prigioni, Vanterpool and Saunders, the Wolves have a coaching staff that really does care about the players as people. 

Gotta wrap up here before we make our trip to Mankato.

Here are a few more observations:

  • Gorgui Dieng said that he’s capable of spacing the offense more if he has to, but did say the midrange jump shot is still a valuable one if you can hit it.

  • Could we see Jordan Bell shoot more this season? We’ll see. The team is pushing for it, but Bell still isn’t comfortable with it. He’s trying to find a balance right now.

  • Jeff Teague said that this offseason compared to last is “totally different.” “It’s upbeat. Everyone is focused.” After undergoing season-ending ankle surgery last season, Teague is ready to roll and seems excited to play with a team that will push the pace.

  • We can expect to see rookie Jarrett Culver play some point guard this season. It also feels like the Wolves are grooming him to play big minutes at the position in the future as well. He'll work with Teague to get down some of the specifics of the position. The more players who can lead an offense, the better.
  • This story deserves more space . . . Robert Covington described how he hit a mental low last season while recovering from a season-ending knee injury. With the help of Saunders, Covington talked to a therapist and got his mind right. We’ll have a long story on this, but the way players in the NBA are talking about mental health is such an encouraging sign.

We’ll be checking in from Mankato soon and will have Media Day videos up shortly. 

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