Training Camp Report | Growing Leaders And A New Game On Defense

The Wolves returned to practice on Tuesday after their preseason game in Iowa on Sunday. While the results of their preseason games thus far has left much to be desired, getting a chance to see the team in game action gave players and coaches a good idea of what needs to be both worked on and built upon in practice.

Coach Tom Thibodeau was quick to praise point guard Jeff Teague, who is a leader for the team in terms of what he says, but more importantly what he does on the court every day. Thibodeau also discussed the continuing growth of Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns.

“The important thing is to do the right things each and every day even on days when you don’t feel like doing it,” said Thibodeau. “The important thing for us is what we learned last year, and I think we learned a lot. To get to the playoffs you learn from your experiences and I think that teaches you how to win. When you look at veteran players, they’ve been through wars, so they get an understanding of all the little things it takes to win. So that’s what they have taken from last year, now they have to do it on a consistent basis.”

It takes time to get on the same page at the start of the season, especially for a team like the Wolves who didn’t see a ton of one another over the summer. Forward Taj Gibson thinks the team is in good shape, but as always, there’s a learning curve.

“We just got to play a lot harder,” said Gibson. “The game speed is going up, guys are starting to compete more and more as the preseason goes on. We’re still working some kinks out, but it’s fun, I’m enjoying the experience, enjoying the ups and downs. Nobody thought everything is going to be easy.”

There was also a lot of talk at practice about the Wolves’ defense. While Thibodeau rejected the idea that the Wolves had a bad defense last year, pointing out that their starting unit was one of the league’s best, he said that the bench had to improve and the starters had to continue building on their work. Gibson also had some good things to say about how to build a good defense.

“First you got to have strong communication with teammates, and you got to want it,” he said. “You got to have a lot of heart, got to put your teammates first and try to just understand your job and understand that it’s mano a mano sometimes and it’s trying to lock down a guy.”

Sometimes defense comes easier for the starting lineup because they always play together—the communication and trust that defense requires is easier to create between a group of players that are consistent than a second unit that might look slightly different every night or be formed of many different combinations of players. That effect is only compounded by a league that’s getting faster and more prone to switching. Individuals have to do more and team communication is more important than ever. 

“You look at everybody across the league now everybody’s switching,” said Gibson. “You have to be able to guard multiple positions, you have to be really agile to be able to guard stretch fives and stretch fours. It’s a new game now.”

Quick hits:

  • Wiggins continues to be fairly critical of his own performance. He’s not satisfied with a repeat of last year’s slightly underwhelming effort. He’s putting in a lot of extra work and said he’s still searching for his rhythm—a task that is even more difficult in the preseason when he doesn’t see as much volume.
  • Thibodeau continues to be very complimentary of the way the Wolves rookies are working hard in practice and focusing on getting better and better every day. How much that translates to playing time remains to be seen, but it’s always a good thing to hear that a coach likes his players’ attitudes.
  • Lots of questions about the Jimmy Butler situation, with the same answer coming from everyone—we’re focused on the players that are here.