Minnesota Timberwolves basketball is back. Well, almost. Training camp with the expanded 20-man roster and preseason is less than a week away. This Wolves team has an identity to figure out. There have been a lot of changes making rotations, and the existing core will have to adjust to playing with the players Tim Connelly brought in.
This will be the first season under Connelly. While he retained many players from past regimes, the most significant changes have come from his decision to trade for Rudy Gobert. He picked up fringe depth players and some familiar faces from his time in Denver to fill out the roster. The players will be essential for navigating the wear and tear of an 82-game season. Luckily, this shouldn’t be a concern in training camp. There are no outstanding injuries besides PJ Dozier‘s ACL, and he’s fighting for a roster spot.
The Wolves will have five preseason games this season after four last season. In comparison, preseason may be less important than the everyday training camp work. But the competitive atmosphere in front of the public and against another roster draws more impact from the outside looking in. It gives us a first-hand example of what the rotations and team will look like before roster cuts and they send players to the Iowa Wolves.
Don’t read into how many minutes players play in the preseason. Last year, the starters often played 20-27 minutes in the first three games, rotational bench players around 15 minutes, and reserves picked up 5-10. However, the final game is worth monitoring because coaches often consider it a tune-up. Chris Finch increased everyone in the rotation’s minutes and did not play fringe rotational players.
It’s worth keeping that in mind because the back end of the rotation is still in question. It all depends on how deep Finch would like to go. He used 11-man rotations last year. A bench rotation of Jordan McLaughlin, Bryn Forbes, Austin Rivers, Jaylen Nowell, Kyle Anderson/Jaden McDaniels, Taurean Prince, Naz Reid, and Nathan Knight leaves two players looking from the outside in for an 11-man rotation.
That’s a good problem to have, though. Organizational depth throughout the season is essential. Coaches minimize rotations in the playoffs, allowing themselves to find the best combinations and fits on the roster throughout the season. The preseason is just the beginning of a long journey for the team’s synergy, which happens with every team every season. That makes finding out how KAT and Gobert fit not as vital as it seems. Things take time to adjust.
For example, this past season, the Boston Celtics were a .500 team heading into the new year. However, they turned things around using small roster and rotational changes, leading them to the Finals. Often, teams that struggle early discover success as the season progresses.
Leandro Bolmaro played backup guard over Jordan McLaughlin in the preseason finale. But by the end of the season, McLaughlin was a treasured passer, playmaker, and change-of-pace player off the bench. Getting his name back in the rotation took him a significant amount of time. Conversely, Bolmaro had his time to shine and couldn’t break through. He was a reserve the remainder of the season, while McLaughlin earned vital playoff minutes.
Similarly, Nowell was in a similar position to McLaughlin. He had to earn his minutes, but he became a bright spot as a bench scorer in the second half of the season.
Also, be sure to look at who picks up usage now that Malik Beasley is in Utah. Players like Austin Rivers, Bryn Forbes, and returning guard Jaylen Nowell stand out the most for this. They all can effectively shoot the three-ball. None do it as well as Malik, but they are all more dynamic players.
As viewers, we should not read too much into the preseason because of how tumultuous an NBA season is. The Wolves have the talent and pieces to be a successful team this season. It always helps out to start well, but there’s no reason to overreact. There’s plenty of time for adjustments in an 82-game season.