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Thibodeau is stressing defense early in camp

It should come as no surprise that much of the first two days of practices for the Wolves have been decidedly devoted to defense.

“He has a lot of emphasis on defense,” Ricky Rubio said. “That’s going to make us a better team. Play as a team, play together. But, at the end of the day, the defense is going to carry on, even on off nights. So that’s what we emphasize right now.’’

Not a surprise, really, given Thibodeau’s reputation as a defensive coach.

Rubio echoed what Thibodeau has said from the start, that it begins with basics.

“If you don’t have the basics, it’s hard to go far,” Rubio said. “So I think we’re trying to be on the same page, have the same knowledge about defense and go out there (and play). Because it’s easy to say it, but when you’re out there, 100 percent, you forget. So you have to get the basics really in our minds to really do it when it matters.’’

For a player like Rubio, who has played solid defense from the start, this is welcome news. But even he said he’s learning things, defensively, on a daily basis from Thibodeau.

“It’s like a clinic every day,’’ he said.

Thibodeau, meanwhile, was asked if the team had the talent to be a great defensive team. "I don't see what not,'' he said. "It's gonna be a work in progress. But I think once we have a good understanding of it, I think we'll get better and better at it.''

--I’ll write more about it for Thursday’s paper, but there are two veterans in camp with the Wolves, both on non-guaranteed deals, who have a shot at making the final roster.

They are forward Rasual Butler and point guard John Lucas III. Both have extensive experience and both have played for Thibodeau, which is the biggest reason both are in this training camp.

“I played for great coaches throughout my whole career, and I’ve always been attracted to the coaches that are about toughness,” Lucas said.

Lucas played for Jeff Van Gundy in Houston when Thibodeau was an assistant there. He also played for Stan Van Gundy in Detroit. He played two seasons for Thibodeau in Chicago.

“I played some of the best basketball of my professional career when I was in Chicago,” said Lucas, who last played in the NBA while in Detroit in the 2014-15 season. “I knew my role, I knew what I was supposed to do, and we had a great group of guys. I feel we have a great group of guys here, too.’’

--Lucas said rookie point guard Kris Dunn has been soaking up knowledge like a sponge. “He constantly asks me questions in the locker room,” Lucas said. “And I’m always going to give him the right answer. And if I don’t have the right answer, I’m leading him to the right direction to get the right answer.  That’s my job. To me the NBA is a fraternity, a brotherhood. You don’t hold nothing in.’’

Coach K, Pitino, Wittman attend Wolves' training camp opening

There were a lot of coaches at the Timberwolves’ first training camp practice Tuesday morning.

I mean, a lot.

And not just the new staff head coach Tom Thibodeau has assembled. Duke and Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his Duke staff was there, one day after they had gone to Apple Valley to see Tre Jones. Former Wolves head coach and assistant Randy Wittman was there, as was University of Minnesota coach Richard Pitino.

After leaving Chicago, Thibodeau spent last season traveling around the country taking extended looks at the way other coaches did things. Now he’s returning the favor.

“I’m obviously thrilled that coach K and his staff are here on the first day,’’ said Thibodeau, who was an assistant to Krzyzewski for Team USA in Rio. “I had the good fortune to work with him on the Olympic team. And he’s the best. So I appreciate it. Randy Wittman, who has been a great coach in the league for a long time, he’s here. Richard Pitino is here. It’s always good to get their thoughts on what they see. So it was good.’’

So what did they see? A practice that by most accounts lived up to Thibodeau’s reputation of running intense sessions. But, given the fact that most of the Wolves players have been here for three weeks getting ready for this, not really surprising. “We knew what we were doing,” Andrew Wiggins said. “It was a quick, fast-paced practice. But we had fun, too. ‘’

Said Karl-Anthony Towns:  “We’re in great shape. We all put our bodies to new limits. So we were able to come in and get a great first practice in. We all felt great.’’

According to Thibodeau, there will be a very well-planned and deliberate process to camp. It started with individual work in the weeks prior to Tuesday’s opener. That will continue until Thibodeau is happy the players are ready for more. Thibodeau’s mantra is getting something down, then adding layers over it. “Summer was a lot of individual work, building relationships, getting to know ‘em,’’ he said. “The fall was really a good next step, and this is the step that follows that. It gives us a good baseline of where we are, we know where we need to go.’’

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