Youthful Timberwolves learning some hard lessons early on

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 17, 2007 - 10:07 PM

Coach Randy Wittman is using the preseason games to give his youngest players a chance to gain some valuable NBA experience.

It was the fourth quarter of a preseason game, the second in two nights for the Timberwolves. A game where the final score wasn't the most important thing. So coach Randy Wittman grabbed a bunch of his younger players and threw them in. Sink or swim.

"I think that's how they teach kids how to swim now," Wittman said after Wolves practice Wednesday. "They throw them into the deep end."

Believing youth will eventually be served, Wittman is not above serving it up during the preseason. Tuesday in Atlanta, after the Wolves' veterans had led a third-quarter rally, Wittman inserted a number of young players, including Gerald Green and rookies Corey Brewer and Chris Richard, to start the fourth. The result? A 10-plus minute scoring drought to start the quarter and only seven points scored by the time it ended.

Oh, and some very valuable experience.

"That's what these games are for, to me, exhibition games," Wittman said. "I'm not going to do it in a regular-season game. This is the perfect time. What better chance to throw young guys in? ... It was a bad feeling because we didn't perform well. But it was a good experience."

It showed the rookies what back-to-back games will be like when the regular season starts. For guys such as Brewer and Richard -- two players who didn't have to take too many lumps during their championship runs at Florida -- it showed what level of intensity will be needed every night to win in the NBA.

"I know it will take a lot, especially on back-to-back games," Brewer said. "You have to go hard every night. We were a little lackadaisical out there in the fourth quarter, giving up some easy stuff. You can't do that if you want to win, no matter where you are."

With a slew of players to look at, Wittman has made sure to see how his younger players perform in key situations. Green, Richard and Brewer all got significant late-game minutes on Monday (in Memphis) and Tuesday. It hasn't always been easy. Brewer, averaging nearly 20 minutes per game in the preseason, is shooting 27.3 percent from the field and has more turnovers than assists. Richard has shown the ability to rebound but has contributed little on offense. There is good news. Rashad McCants and Craig Smith are relatively young players who have performed well in the preseason.

What has bothered Wittman the most was turnovers. The Wolves committed 27 turnovers Tuesday, six in the fourth quarter alone. The Wolves are playing without injured point guards Randy Foye and Sebastian Telfair, but Wittman wasn't ready to use that excuse. Greg Buckner, forced into backup point duty, took pretty good care of the ball.

The Wolves have been outscored 32-0 -- 11-0 at Memphis, 21-0 at Atlanta -- in fourth-quarter stretches when Wittman turned to young players such as Brewer, Richard, McCants and Craig Smith.

Wittman has a lot of work to do. He wants to settle on a rotation, but is hampered by a lack of point guards. But he has experimented with big man rotations -- for example starting Al Jefferson at center Tuesday. And he has taken every opportunity to see if his young players can tread water.

"They're going to take their lumps at some point anyway," Wittman said. "Might as well give them that bad taste now. Hopefully, they don't want to taste it again."

Said Richard: "It's educational. Here everybody's good. Even guys some people never heard of. So you have to be ready for every single game."

Three sit out

Foye (knee tendonitis) and Telfair (ankle) both missed practice again Tuesday, as did forward Ryan Gomes (ankle). Of the three, Wittman said Gomes was the closest to returning to action.

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