The NBA preseason is known, first and foremost, for three things: sloppy play, bad shots, and sparse crowds. Still, it’s the first chance fans get to see their favorite team back in uniform, playing real team basketball.
The Timberwolves got their start Saturday night in Anaheim against the rebuilding Los Angeles Lakers, winning 108-99. But the score is irrelevant here. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins played 21 and 26 minutes respectively. Jimmy Butler, the team’s presumed best player going into the year, played just 12 minutes.
This was more a game to get the team loose, get the bench some minutes, and to warm up Tom Thibodeau’s voice for a loud regular season.
While the result didn’t matter, it’s easy and understandable for any fan to get irrational with what they see in exhibition play. It can be easy to overreact. Knee jerk reactions happen. Here are five that could might have come up.
The Wolves won! Playoffs!
The Timberwolves played some fun basketball Saturday night. Not only did Butler, Towns, and Wiggins all look sharp, the entire team participated in fluid passing motions and took (mostly) good shots. That doesn’t always happen in the preseason, especially not in the first game.
If this is their starting point, it could be argued that their ‘to be determined’ point will be that much more exciting. The Lakers aren’t going to be great this year, but the Wolves’ second line was beating their first team. Gorgui Dieng looked comfortable as the bench unit’s first option, and Shabazz Muhammad was the spark people like to remember from last year.
Depth, especially at the wing, was the thing most worrisome about this roster makeup coming into the season. If that can be figured out, Tom Thibodeau will be able to have more fun with his rotations.
Are Taj Gibson corner threes a thing now?
Did anyone see this coming?
He did this twice! And keep in mind, this is in reference to a guy 4-35 from deep over his 8-year career. But in today’s NBA, that doesn’t necessarily matter. Channing Frye saved his career by adding the three point shot in his fifth year. Brook Lopez (who dressed but didn’t play for the Lakers Saturday) went from taking virtually no threes at all, to taking 387 last season alone. That was his ninth season.
Floor spacing was never going to be the strong suit of the Wolves starters this season. At this point, it’s presumed the best outside man of the starting five is either Towns or Teague. If Gibson can step out too, this can alleviate some of that concern.
Andrew Wiggins played consistent, sound defense
Andrew Wiggins has improved steadily and efficiently on the offensive end since he first joined the league. His ball handling, passing, and finishing at the rim have all seen improvements at different points over the last three years. But one big hole in his game remains. He needs to become a better defensive player.
He went up against Brandon Ingram and often won the battles had between the two of them. Ingram shot a lot, but not well, gong just 4-15 in 22 minutes.
But it wasn’t just the numbers. Early in the game, FSN analyst Jim Petersen described a play, featured above, where Wiggins angled himself off perfectly to halt a slash to the rim in its tracks. Most importantly, he did all of that without fouling by keeping his hands up. Any level of improvement on small things like that would be absolutely huge, and add to the defensive muster Butler already brings.
Is it possible to already be sold on Jeff Teague?
It quickly became obvious what parts of Jeff Teague’s game are superior to Ricky Rubio’s. While things like defense are still suspect after one game, Teague has an ability to shoot and score around the rim in a way the Wolves haven’t had at the point guard position in a number of years.
Teague has a craftiness to him, and good footwork for a point guard that mostly keeps his feet on the ground. He has good speed and clearly knows how angles work to his advantage. He is not the passer, nor the defender that Rubio is, but it’s possible to already be sold on what he does offensively, especially scoring the ball.
Butler played just 12 minutes. Is Thibs going to lower their minutes for the regular season?
No, probably not. It’s good to know that Thibs is going to keep the minutes down for his main pieces during the preseason, though. At this point, he likely knows what he’s going to get out of Towns, Butler, and Wiggins. As long as they get their reps early in preseason games, they should be fine to go in the regular season.