1. Tenacious D
Tom Thibodeau hates being labeled a defensive coach. But his teams excel there. And there is a reason for that, according to Mike Krzyzewski, who coached the U.S. Olympic team with Thibodeau on his staff. “The reason he thrives on defense is because he coaches every play,” Krzyzewski said. “He wants every play to be really, really good. And the defensive part of it, you can be more precise than on offense. And defense has to be played as five guys playing as one. He knows how to teach that very well.” The Wolves were 27th in the league in defensive efficiency last season. They tied for second during this preseason. His first two Bulls teams were tops in the league in the category.
2. New stretching routine
Thibodeau’s teams always will play inside-out. It’s a core tenet of his basketball philosophy. The Wolves need to improve from behind the three-point arc to be successful. The Wolves were 29th in the league in three-point attempts and three-pointers made last season. Thibodeau has said more than once the Wolves — whose opponents scored nearly 12 more points a game on three-pointers — have to close the gap. Andrew Wiggins has been working on his shot. Brandon Rush was brought in to be a corner threat. Nemanja Bjelica will be utilized more as a stretch four.
3. Managing expectations
It might seem silly to even say the Wolves need to avoid letting preseason hype seep into their heads. But the Western Conference is more wide-open than it has been for years, and the young Wolves showed enough last year that, coupled with Thibodeau as the coach, many pundits are predicting a playoff berth for the Wolves next spring. You can bet Thibodeau won’t let his players’ attention or concentration wander far.
4. Going to Towns
Everybody knows how good Karl-Anthony Towns was last year while becoming the Wolves’ second consecutive Rookie of the Year, following Andrew Wiggins. Everybody expects improvement this season. But, perhaps more important, is that this team now appears to be his. Stepping out of the shadow of the retired Kevin Garnett, Towns wants to become the leader of this team; he spent the summer talking to present and future Hall of Famers to get leadership ideas. Players take on the personality of both their coaches and their leaders. The Wolves appear in good shape.
5. On the point
On an opening day roster that includes four points guards, the top two — Ricky Rubio and rookie Kris Dunn — are the two to watch. There has been much speculation nationally on Rubio’s future with the team and how long it would take Dunn to get up to NBA speed. During the preseason it was clear the team did well with Rubio running it, and just as clear that Dunn will experience some growing pains.