Just as the song says, there is no place like home for the holidays. That is, unless you’re an NBA collegiate scout.
In that case, Thanksgiving week is one of the season’s busiest weeks and the days before and after Christmas aren’t far behind.
On the Saturday before Christmas this year, Timberwolves General Manager Milt Newton and Director of Player Personnel Calvin Booth watched Duke’s Brandon Ingram and Utah’s Jakob Poeltl play in a noon game at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, then hopped on the subway to Brooklyn and watched Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere and Jamal Murray play Ohio State in a late-afternoon nightcap at Barclays Center.
All four players are potential top-10 picks in June’s NBA draft.
Someday soon, such a crosstown holiday doubleheader presumably won’t carry as much significance for a Wolves team that still is probably one more season away from making the playoffs for the first time since 2004. But not this season: The Wolves will add yet another lottery pick if they own one of the draft’s top 12 selections this summer and surrender it to Boston if they don’t.
Those conditions left Booth shuttling between games by subway — “It’s quicker,” he said. “A cab takes too long” — before he watched the Wolves play at Brooklyn on Sunday and at Boston on Monday. He scouted California’s game at Virginia on Tuesday and, as did other Wolves scouts, he headed back out on the road after spending Christmas at home with his wife and four children.
“It’s part of the business, something you sacrifice,” Booth said. “The last three Thanksgivings I haven’t been with my family.”
He spent this Thanksgiving weekend watching probable No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons play for LSU and lottery pick Henry Ellenson play for Marquette in Brooklyn and then caught a flight to the Bahamas for one of several Thanksgiving tournaments that are played everywhere from Maui and Anchorage to Puerto Rico.
“It’s not Alaska,” Booth said about the sacrifices involved spending Thanksgiving in the Caribbean.
He would like to see all the potential top 12 picks in this next draft play at least twice this season. That includes the holiday-tournament circuit, upcoming conference play for college teams and NCAA tournament action as well as a trip to Europe to scout the top prospects there later this season.
Last weekend in Brooklyn, Booth, Newton and Wolves Vice President of Basketball operations Rob Babcock watched Labissiere, a skinny 7-footer from Haiti once projected as a top-two pick, make one of seven shots and score two points while Murray, a 6-4 guard who played with Andrew Wiggins for Canada’s national team last summer, made seven three-pointers and scored 33 points.
“I turned to the bench at one point and said, “Is there anybody who can guard [Murray] right now?’ ” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.
It’s up to Booth, Newton and every other NBA scout in attendance that day [and other days] to determine if Labissiere will become the player he can be and if Murray really is as good as he looked that day.
“That’s why you go to the games,” Booth said. “You get a lot by going to a game — seeing how big a guy is, how he looks in that setting — that’s a lot different than watching video. Hopefully a guy plays well that day if you think he’s an NBA player. But it’s not the end-all or be-all. If somebody already has a lot of things in place, how he plays one game doesn’t matter as much.
“But that’s why you want to see everybody more than once.”
That’s also why you miss Thanksgiving dinner at home most years.
NBA SHORT TAKES
Irving fights rust
Cleveland featured its full team Friday in the NBA’s marquee Christmas Day game, an 89-83 loss at Golden State. All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving played in his third game after six months away injured.
He started 1-for-6 from the field and finished with 13 points on 4-for-15 shooting in 26 measured minutes.
“I’ve started plenty of games 1-for-6, but obviously this one was a little bit different,” Irving told Fox Sports Ohio after the game. “Just knocking off the rust, a lot of emotion built into this game.”
Golden State improved to 28-1 in winning the rematch of last season’s NBA Finals.
Latest greatest Spur
Whilst San Antonio’s Big Three — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — play on into the twilight of their careers, teammate Kawhi Leonard has emerged as the Spurs’ new All-Star and best player.
The Timberwolves head to San Antonio for Monday’s rematch after Wednesday’s lopsided loss at Target Center.
“He’s an amazing defender, and now he’s turning into the same kind of player on the offensive end,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “So he’s a pretty special young man.”
In a big shadow
Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns was offered condolences after last week’s victory in Brooklyn, which came fewer than 24 hours after Towns’ former University of Kentucky team had been upset by Ohio State on the same Barclays Center floor.
This season’s UK team has started the season 9-2.
“I didn’t know there was a death,” Towns said. “They all have to go through a process. I think the worst thing that happened to this year’s team was last year’s team, how much pressure we put on them because of what we were able to accomplish.”
THE WOLVES’ WEEK AHEAD
Monday: 7:30 p.m. at San Antonio, FSN
Wednesday: 7 p.m. vs. Utah, FSN
Thursday: 5 p.m. at Detroit, FSN Plus
Saturday: 7 p.m. vs. Milwaukee, FSN
Player to watch: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
Matters not whether you can spell or say his name, just enjoy the length, athleticism and skill of the 21-year-old “Greek Freak” whose talent defies a single position.
Voices “We’ll always think about him walking in here, for sure.” — San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich last week on his first return to Target Center since Flip Saunders’ October death.