MANKATO – The Timberwolves broke training camp Friday afternoon with coach Rick Adelman grateful that his team survived four demanding workouts without a significant injury but concerned about his best players’ defensive focus.
“We’ve known from the very beginning that we have a lot of offensive players, and their concentration is at that end,” Adelman said. “Their concentration has to be at both ends. You can drill on them everything in the world, and when they’re drilling, they’re fine. As soon as they get on the court, their concentration starts slipping. I’d say most of it is mental, and it’s something as soon as we start playing other teams, we’re going to find out real quick.”
Adelman and his coaches spent four days instructing their players on such complexities as proper positioning and rotations and preaching a basic such as urging them to communicate better on the court.
“You have to talk on the court,” Adelman said. “Every coach you talk to, their guys don’t talk enough. They get in the locker room and they talk all the time, but on the court, they don’t. That’s just the way it is. The good defensive teams talk. That’s one of the reasons [Kevin] Garnett has been so effective here and in Boston. He’s very vocal and helps his teammates out. We’ve got to get our guys to do that.”
Adelman in particular mentioned his big men, beginning with frontcourt starters Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, who need to recognize and let their teammates know what the opponents are about to run.
“We talked to the whole team already,” he said. “Our bigs need to talk more. You see good defensive teams in the league, maybe their big men aren’t great defenders — I look at Memphis — but they talk. They talk and let their team know what’s going on, and our guys don’t do it enough. They have to get to the point where they do it all the time.”
Part of the issue is human nature.
“Sometimes it’s either in your nature or it’s not,” Wolves veteran backup center Ronny Turiaf said. “It’s just a matter of making a conscious effort. When I am talking, I am more focused and I am more alert. When guys talk to me, everybody is on the same page, everybody is sharper.”
Part of it is the nature of basketball.
“It just depends, maybe sometimes somebody gets tired,” Pekovic said. “You want to talk, but you can’t. The coaches all the time are saying, ‘You’ve got to talk, you’ve got to talk, you’ve to talk.’ You need it to become a habit and then it becomes easier. But until then, they’re going to repeat it every day 100 times.”
Somebody asked Adelman if Pekovic is the strong, silent type rather than a chatty communicator on or off the court like Turiaf is.
“He doesn’t talk enough,” Adelman said. “Yeah, he needs to, and in English, too. He talks a lot on the plane and on the bus, I know that. That’s just something you have to push yourself to do.”
Love said he discussed the issue with Ricky Rubio before training camp’s first practice and both vowed, as team leaders, to urge teammates to both do as they say and as they do.
Referring to Pekovic, Love said, “We both talk a lot off the court, so we damn well better be able to talk on the court. Pek, I think sometimes he has that thick accent, so sometimes it’s hard to understand it. We’ll make him more vocal. We need to get him talking. It’s one thing I need to get better at. Some of the guys just aren’t the loudest guys in the world, but we’re going to help them out and it helps the rest of the team, too.”