DALLAS — It might sound a little odd for an NBA team, but some of the most effective teachers on the Timberwolves in tutoring the many newcomers in the ways of the team’s system are those who have spent most of their time in the G-League.
Specifically, point guard Jordan McLaughlin has been one of the players helping integrate the newbies into how the Wolves want to play, especially offensively.
“Being a point guard, you’re the coach on the floor,” McLaughlin said. “When coach [Ryan] Saunders puts me out there to run the team and get us organized, I try to do my best to make sure that we get a good look every time down. I try to take care of the ball.”
It makes sense that McLaughlin would be of help. He played last season with the Long Island Nets, and the Wolves brought in former Brooklyn Nets assistant Pablo Prigioni to install a similar system to what Brooklyn and its G-League affiliate were running. Then McLaughlin signed a two-way deal with the Wolves and has been running the same system, be it for Iowa or the NBA club. In two games that D’Angelo Russell has missed since joining the Wolves, McLaughlin has made his first two NBA starts. He’s looked the part of an NBA point guard in both of those. He had 15 points and 10 assists in Sunday’s game against Denver and 24 points and 11 assists in the Wolves’ only win since early January, against the Clippers.
“He has the leadership qualities that are qualities you’re born with,” Saunders said. “He has an ability to connect people, an ability to connect with his teammates and try to relay things to them that maybe us as coaches may not be able to convey to them.”
Another G-Leaguer who has taken advantage of increased opportunity recently is Kelan Martin, who scored a career-high 21 points against Denver.
“Everybody is still learning each other,” Martin said. “They’re still learning the system and we just kind of like talk through things — different plays and where to be at on the court, which spots to be in. Just paying attention to scouting reports and our terminology, what we use on the court defensively and offensively. We’re just helping new guys out. Just making it easier on them.”
The Wolves had just nine players Sunday against Denver, but reinforcements arrived in time for Monday’s game with Dallas. Russell was back in the lineup after missing Sunday’s game because of planned rest. The Wolves also called up Jacob Evans and Jarrett Vanderbilt up from Iowa for the game.
But most notable was the return of Jake Layman, the forward who has not played a game since Nov. 18 because of a torn ligament in his toe.
It has been a long rehabilitation process for Layman, and it seemed like it would take even longer. The Wolves announced on Thursday that Layman would return to practice and they would re-evaluate Layman in a week, but Layman beat that prognosis to the floor.
“I would say no nerves,” Layman said. “It’s straight excitement for me. I know it’s not going to be perfect when I get out there, but I’m ready to get back out there. … [The hardest part] was just sitting on the bench and watching”
Before the injury, Layman was off to a decent start, averaging 10.5 points in 26.4 minutes. He was shooting 35% from three-point range.