Not one day after I published an article telling Minnesota Timberwolves fans to pump the brakes on a stellar Jaden McDaniels performance at a Seattle Pro Am game, I found myself at one here in Minnesota. Timberwolves youngsters Wendell Moore Jr, Josh Minott, and Nathan Knight suited up to play in the Twin Cities Pro Am at Minnehaha Academy. This is the same high school that has produced recent talents Chet Holmgren and Jalen Suggs, who have also featured at Pro Am games at their alma mater.
These games, put on by the Twin Cities Pro Am organization, have become a community staple for basketball fans to come out and enjoy some free entertainment. They run for most of the offseason, boast a high level of local talent, and the games are always free to attend. It’s a major bonus to see current and former NBA players play in the games, but otherwise, it is an extremely well-run organization and a great night out.
On Tuesday, the spotlight was on two rookies, Moore and Minott, and Knight. Moore and Minott recently signed their rookie contracts, while Knight signed a two-year standard deal with the team after spending last season on a two-way. All three of these players will provide important depth for a suddenly deep and well-fleshed-out Wolves roster for the 2022-23 season. Each player has their upsides and weaknesses. Therefore, this exhibition match was a good opportunity to watch all three of them for fun without scrutinizing or overreacting/overblowing any part of their games.
Their opposition wasn’t afraid of the young Wolves players, either. The Lambchops jumped out to a commanding lead in the game, with the first timeout being called as the team featuring the Timberwolves was down 28-13. The talent level of the Pro-Am players was high — Minnesota has been producing young basketball talent at a high clip. The opposing team even had a player who embodied Patrick Beverley with every fiber of his being. He spiritedly antagonized the Wolves players, referees, and people in the crowd. These players were a ton of fun. But most of all, they were legitimately good.
Despite their talents, the NBA players still stood out above the rest. The game began with Knight exerting his will on his opponents, drawing a quick foul and then hitting a 3 to score a quick five points. Knight served as a point-forward for most of the game, displaying a handle that he otherwise never gets to use during an NBA season while also operating behind the 3-point line for many of his shots. Quite a few went in. However, that did not stop him from operating in the paint, blocking shots and emphatically dunking whenever he could.
Minott looked like a player that would feast from the minute he walked into the gym. He stood head and shoulders above every player on the court not named Nathan Knight, and his Summer League highlights would suggest that he was going to have a monster performance in this Pro-Am game. Minott had a few thunderous dunks, many of which came over other players, but his performance was otherwise nondescript. Minott didn’t take too many risks on the day; he opted to play his game, stand tall over other players, and not exert too much energy. For an exhibition game, that is a-okay. He still provided the crowd with plenty of highlights, including but not limited to this dunk where he jumped over a whole human being.
The most interesting case of the day was watching Wendell Moore. He had a slow start to the game; Moore tried a few dribbles, couldn’t get past defenders, shied away from contact, and settled for a few midrange jumpers. At the early onset, Moore looked the most like he didn’t belong out of the three Wolves players playing.
True to form, though, Moore turned it around. He let the game come to him and quickly imposed his will on the defense. Moore ended the game as head-and-shoulders the best player on the court, justifying his status amongst the three Timberwolves as the one with the most immediate potential for impact and cool-headed playing style.
Inarguably the best sequence of the game came from Moore late in the fourth quarter. Moore brought the ball up the court from the end line, danced around a bit while he assessed his situation, and then sent his defender all the way to Saint Paul with a hesi dribble. Moore stepped back and calmly swished the three. D’Angelo Russell, who was also in attendance, loved every second of it.
Moore wasn’t done there, though. High off his last Sportscenter Top-10 play, he decided to pull up with the same defender, Raymond Cowels, right in his face on the next possession. Moore got the same result.
While it was an encouraging night for the young Timberwolves, it was, above all else, a fun and enjoyable experience. That’s what these Pro-Am games are: a fun way to showcase local talent, get people in the door, and make fans excited about the game of basketball. Twin Cities Pro-Am does a great job of making these games community-oriented. The spirits were high throughout the night and everybody, including the players, had a great time. There was no ill will towards anyone. Players were there to showcase their talent without having it come at the expense of others.
These Pro-Am games are, once again, not a reliable metric in evaluating how a player will perform in the NBA. Moore will not be hitting threes in players’ faces in 2022-23, nor will Minott be jumping over NBA-sized players for poster dunks. What these games are, though, are a low-pressure and low-stakes way for players to develop otherwise underutilized aspects of their game. In that sense, this Pro-Am game was a massive success. The young Wolves were exciting, and that’s about all you can ask for.