3 Takeaways From Timberwolves Fan Fest

Photo Credit: Brad Penner (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Timberwolves brought in October by offering an event they called Fan Fest. This was a fancy way of branding an open practice, similar to what the Wolves did last season when they held an open scrimmage at the Target Center. Crunch was in midseason form, and the players were excited to be there. Fan Fest is an easy way to engage the fanbase while also getting a pulse on the excitement surrounding the team.

Here are my three takeaways found from Fan Fest:

High Attendance

There were a bunch of people there. No, really.

Tickets were free, a great way to get people in the doors. However, the high attendance suggested a level of anticipation that hasn’t been seen for Timberwolves basketball in quite some time. At least 75% of the lower bowl was full, and the cheers were loud and proud like a regular-season game. It was a marked improvement in attendance from last year’s open scrimmage before the Summer League, suggesting that the team is trending in the right direction.

It is a change of tone for a franchise that has spent the better part of the last 15 years in despair. The trade that brought Rudy Gobert to town appears to have awakened the sleeping giant that is the Minnesota basketball fan base. Despite media coverage to the contrary, Minneapolis is a basketball town.

Lately, the problem has been the lack of a winning product. However, the years of patience have paid off, and the Wolves look primed to make a deep run in the Western Conference if everyone on the team can stay healthy. Coupled with the sky-high potential of Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels, the model of winning looks sustainable. With the right hires being made in the front office and a great coach in Chris Finch, there is a realistic shot that we live in a world where the Timberwolves are a force to be reckoned with. If the Wolves keep building on this momentum with more fan-oriented events like this, the Target Center could turn into one of the more raucous home courts in the NBA.

Jaden McDaniels Looks Great

Speaking of upside, McDaniels looked every part as good as the offseason hype has made him out to be. His muscles looked more defined, his handle was noticeably tighter, and he was easily hitting corner threes. I’ve written about tempering expectations for the young forward in the past, but he looks more than ready to shine.

Much has been made about Minnesota’s acquisition of Gobert and what that will mean for D’Angelo Russell. But the Timberwolves’ true X-factor this season lies in McDaniels’ potential to take a third-year leap. The team desperately needs his defensive versatility, as usual. Still, they will rely on him as an alternative scoring option when the going gets tough for the two major tandems.

The Timberwolves will primarily run their offense through two two-man combos: the Edwards-Towns pairing and the Russell-Gobert pick-and-roll. If those duos cannot get anything moving for whatever reason, the team will need to find an alternative option to get going and take the pressure off the superstars. Almost by default, McDaniels falls into that role. Many are pointing at Jaylen Nowell becoming one of the primary scoring options for the bench units. But until Nowell proves he can be less streaky, that role belongs to McDaniels.

In any scenario, expect the offseason McDaniels hype to be more truth than smoke. Everything is falling into place for him to place a stamp on the league this season.

DLo Steps Up

While everyone was present at the open practice, it wasn’t Towns or Edwards who addressed the crowd. Nor was it Gobert. Russell grabbed the mic and talked to the fans at the first opportunity. He thanked everyone for coming out and relayed his excitement for this upcoming season. The speech itself wasn’t the most special, but it matters that he took that role.

Russell has consistently been stepping up as a leader for this team, and it always seems to come at the most critical times. Towns has never been a vocal leader of this team, and Edwards’ recent actions would dictate that he should not be at the forefront of the Wolves’ image for a while. Gobert is too new and not as brash as someone like Patrick Beverley, so that job falls on Russell.

Given his contract situation, it is encouraging that Russell is showing commitment to these players and this fanbase. He’s had his ups and downs since joining the Timberwolves, and many have soured on him after his lackluster playoff performance. To his credit, Russell has been an ultimate professional through all of the noise, setting an excellent example for the rest of this team to follow.

As the Gobert acquisition was indeed made with Russell in mind, it would behoove him to make the most of his time here in this final year of his contract. The intent is obviously to keep him around, but he may very well play himself out of the Wolves’ price range. In what could possibly be his last year in Minnesota, Russell is a player to watch as he looks to regain his form and set the record straight on who he can be as a playmaker.

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Photo Credit: Brad Penner (USA TODAY Sports)

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