Amid the ongoing Jimmy Butler trade saga, the Timberwolves held their first practice of the season Tuesday without the All-Star guard, who is officially away from the team while he rehabilitates a surgically repaired right wrist and the Wolves field trade calls for him.
“We’re out here playing the game of basketball with a lot of love for each other, and we had a great day of practice,” center Karl-Anthony Towns said.
It was the first time several new faces on the roster got together for a formal practice, from veterans Anthony Tolliver and Luol Deng to draft picks Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop and overseas signee James Nunnally.
There is a lot for the Wolves to figure out, especially as it relates to their rotations and who will occupy the bulk of the minutes on their second unit. Tolliver figures to play a prominent role there alongside Gorgui Dieng (assuming he isn’t dealt when Butler goes), Tyus Jones and Derrick Rose. Jones said the substitutes are hoping for a better defensive output than they had a season ago, when they gave up he most points per 100 possessions of any bench unit in the league.
“The talent is there to be a better defensive unit, and that’s something we’re going to really focus on,” Jones said. “Try to … sustain the lead, if not make it grow and that’s not on one end of the floor.”
Tolliver said Okogie, the No. 20 overall pick in the June NBA draft out of Georgia Tech, impressed the team with his energy and could be a valuable contributor, especially on defense.
“He’s a young guy, and he’s going to still learn a lot but his base is very high and then his ceiling is very high,” Tolliver said.
Not sweating contract
Jones said he was thrilled for Towns, who signed his maximum contract extension Sunday for five years and $190 million. Jones, who was in the 2015 draft class with Towns, is entering a pivotal season in his career and is likely to become a restricted free agent at the end of this season.
On Monday, the Apple Valley High School product said he was trying not to worry about an extension before the season began.
“I’m just leaving that to my agent right now,” Jones said. “If there’s anything serious he’ll bring that to me, but as of right now, there’s nothing as much as I know.”
Two better than one?
Jeff Teague said he enjoyed the times last season when he got to play alongside another point guard, whether it was Jones or Rose. And with Butler’s potential departure, the Wolves will be experimenting with different looks, with one possibility being multiple guard lineups. Teague would be fine with that.
“The league is going to that, a lot more guys to make plays and play a lot faster,” Teague said.
“I think last year it was a successful point of our season when we did that against the Rockets [in the playoffs]. Anytime I get on the floor with Tyus and D-Rose, I think we play really well together.”