There was a lot the Timberwolves had to get accomplished this month, given that they hadn't played a game as an organization since March, and given that coronavirus had prevented many players from having their usual offseason workout routines.
The Wolves looked at times disjointed in two preseason losses at home to Memphis, but they played better in a victory at Dallas on Thursday night. Here are four observations heading into the start of the regular season this week:
1. Culver makes a jump
Jarrett Culver had the best preseason of anyone on the team relative to expectations. After a tough first year, Culver looked more fully formed to start his second season. He was noticeable on the defensive end and showed the potential on that end he had coming out of Texas Tech as the No. 6 overall pick.
One of Culver's bugaboos last year was shooting. He worked on his form all last season but couldn't quite get it to stick during games. Late in the year, he started shooting better from three-point range, but his free-throw shooting was a cause for concern (46%).
Even though three preseason games represent a small sample, Culver hit four of seven threes and hit all 10 of his free-throw attempts.
"I put in a tremendous amount of work," Culver said. "The people around me have helped me a lot to be able to get to this point. At this point I'm not trying to get too high or too low with that. That's a good sign that I'm knocking down free throws as I should. The work paying off is a good feeling to have."
2. Slow start is possible
Karl-Anthony Towns barely played with a lot of his teammates after last season's trade deadline before a wrist injury sidelined him and coronavirus shut down the Wolves' season.
Anthony Edwards is getting used to life in the NBA. Ricky Rubio is back, but has all new teammates, while coach Ryan Saunders and multiple players have said the Wolves' conditioning isn't where it would normally be.
The Wolves looked better against Dallas, but it was a struggle against Memphis — a team that was able to practice and play games in the bubble and looked more ready for the season than the Wolves did.
It's possible all teams will be in the same boat when the season gets underway. But the Wolves may need time to develop chemistry with each other, and that can show up especially on the defensive end. The Wolves may have some individual defenders in Culver, Rubio and Josh Okogie and might have the potential to be better on that end of the floor than they were a year ago, but without that chemistry and communication it could be a rocky start.
3. Edwards isn't scared
The No. 1 overall pick won't shy away from the spotlight — or the ball. Edwards' confidence shone through on and off the court from the moment the Wolves drafted him in November. He hit three three-pointers in the first quarter of Monday's game and showcased his potential to take over a game at the NBA level.
He said he is learning how to pick his spots when Towns and D'Angelo Russell are on the floor with him and how he can be more aggressive when he is out there with Rubio. How Edwards progresses on defense will be a key plot point in his development this season. He has an NBA-ready body and athleticism, but how fast can he absorb the nuances required at this level?
4. Who starts?
Saunders will have some decisions to make. Will he bring Rubio off the bench and let Russell preside over ballhandling duties with the first unit? His first two starting lineups seemed to indicate he might. Jake Layman seems the favorite to start at the four slot, while Culver, Edwards and Okogie are all pushing for significant minutes of their own. Just how Saunders doles out playing time could be an evolving process early in the season.
We apologize for the inconvenience.