The Wolves took the court Monday for their second to last day of practice before they open the season in San Antonio on Wednesday night. While the results in the preseason haven’t been great, players and coaches feel like they’re in decent shape.
“We got a lot of work to do, but I would feel like that in any circumstance,” said coach Tom Thibodeau. “That’s what the season is all about too. You don’t have everything figured out in a day or a week or three weeks. You can be playing well and all of a sudden you go into a tailspin. Usually that occurs when you start to relax or take shortcuts, so we know we have a lot of work to do.”
For Karl-Anthony Towns, the key for Minnesota is translating the energy and intensity the team has in practice into games. The Wolves run practices at game speed and compete very hard in camp so physically the players are ready to go but the focus and commitment to every single possession needs to be there in game situations. For his part, Towns is certain the team can pull things together.
“We come in here and have great practices. We always have great practices and the competition is high and the intensity is high, it’s just about doing that now in a game and sustaining it for 48 minutes,” he said. “So do I feel confident? Absolutely. I feel confident in the guys we have in the locker room, I feel confident in the competition that’s here in practice, I feel confident in everyone’s talents. So I feel very confident going in, we just got to do what we need to do.”
Veteran Derrick Rose has been through his fair share of training camps and said that he doesn’t put much stock in preseason record. He said he’s been a part of teams that won all their preseason games that had bad season and vice versa.
“It’s all about what you take out of it,” said Rose. “As long as personally, if you’re out there playing hard and doing what you’re supposed to do, it’s for the betterment of the team. Everybody’s not going to have that chemistry right now, it’s going to take time, period.”
The biggest area of concern for the team heading into the regular season is certainly their defense. The Wolves’ players will be the first to admit that they gave up way too many points in the preseason. Like many other areas of their game, players feel like they have the tools, they just need to execute in games.
“If we play defense the way we’re supposed to and we play defense the way we do here in practice, we should have no problems against most of the teams in the league and other teams it’ll be a great fight,” said Towns.
For two of the Wolves’ players, Wednesday’s game is more than just the start of the regular season. Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop will both be suiting up for their first-ever NBA game. Thibodeau has been impressed with their effort so far and loves the energy they bring to the group.
“They’ve embraced the learning aspect of it,” he said. “It’s like anything else, if you’re doing it for the first time you have to develop an understanding of it. I think coming and doing the right things each and every day, and just be a sponge, learn as much as you can but bring energy. That’s what I think both young guys are doing they’re bringing a lot of energy to our team.”
While the energy is important, it’s also key for rookies to slow down and play smart—that’s the message Towns has been sending to the two young players every day.
“It’s an experience they need to savor and enjoy. I told them the same thing KG told me my whole rookie year and I still abide by today: slow down and breath,” said Towns. “When you’ve got athletes like that you just got to tell them to calm down and play smart.”
Okogie and Bates-Diop feel prepared and ready for the moment, but there’s no doubt it’s a big achievement to play in their first NBA game. All those hours at the gym, the sweat from countless hours of practice, it’s all paying off.
“It will be a dream come true,” said Bates-Diop. “I’ve dreamed about this since I was a kid, so when I finally get out there it’ll be a dream realized.”
- The team is mostly still focusing on themselves and the work they have to do, but there’s been some game-specific preparation for the season opener in San Antonio as well. Though it’s strange to prepare for San Antonio without Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili, there are still dangerous players on the Spurs.
- Rose said that the guards have been working with Tyus Jones to get him to play more aggressively—forcing him to shoot in scrimmages, encouraging him to be more assertive.
- Thibodeau expects the playoff battle in the West to be similar to last year—quite a few teams with very similar records fighting for limited spots.
- Everyone who was asked said that practice is different with Jimmy Butler’s return. Having such a talented player back competing again adds another dimension, and Butler is someone who always practices extremely hard.