His first season back as coach now behind him and presumably his second already fast approaching with draft preparations, the Timberwolves’ Flip Saunders wants his young team to improve its defense, its ball-handling, its individual players’ strength.
And for those fans who remain fairly certain that a three-point shot is worth more than a two-pointer, yes, he wants a team that ranked last in the league in three-pointers made (5.0 per game) and attempted (14.9) to get better in that area.
“That’s something we really have to improve on,” Saunders said at a season-ending news conference Monday.
Saunders maintains that he is a three-point proponent despite the comparatively few the Wolves shot last season in a league where teams such as Houston and Golden State hoist them by the dozens every night.
They can improve by drafting a shooter in June with one of three draft picks they own — a top-four lottery pick and two high second-round picks — or by signing a veteran free agent in July.
Or they can do so by working with their many young players, including rookies Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.
Saunders said that today’s college game is long on athleticism and short on shooters, and that often those who are its best three-point shooters lack the athleticism to play in the NBA. The solution: Find NBA athletes with some shooting ability and nurture them.
“We talk a lot about developing shooters, and that’s a big key right now,” Saunders said. “You have to look at players now and say, ‘Who can I develop?’ ”
Speaking of shooting …
The Wolves hired shooting coach Mike Penberthy to work with point guard Ricky Rubio and many other players all last season. Saunders said Monday he doesn’t know if Penberthy, who lives in Los Angeles, will be back full time next season.
“He had a good year,” Saunders said. “He has other things he’s doing, so we’ll talk to him over the course of the summer. We haven’t made any decisions along those lines.”
Pondering his picks
The Wolves own three picks in this year’s draft: the 31st and 36th picks as well as a top-four pick to be determined by next month’s lottery.
Saunders practically guaranteed he won’t keep all three picks and said he will consider all options. That includes using a second-round pick to acquire a veteran or packaging both possibly to get another first-round pick.
When asked how many veterans he wants to add to such a young team that also expects forward Kevin Garnett to return, Saunders said: “It’s not the number. It’s the right piece, the right player. One guy can change the dynamics a lot.”
Saunders said his team doesn’t need to get lucky in the lottery to get a player who will make a difference next season.
The Wolves, who have the best chance at winning the No. 1 overall pick, can select no lower than fourth than in a draft Saunders calls stronger at the top than in many seasons past.
“I feel very comfortable with where we’re at,” he said. “I feel we’re going to get a good player. Whoever we draft will be a piece, yes. The draft is that good.”
Saunders expects that Rubio will be fully recovered from recent ankle surgery when training camp opens in October, but he wouldn’t say the same for center Nikola Pekovic, who underwent surgery on his right Achilles’ tendon two weeks ago.
“He’s a little bit behind just because we’re taking more time,” said Saunders.
Doctors are confident Pekovic eventually will be able to play 25 minutes a night pain-free, he added.
Rubio will not play for his Spanish national team this summer.
Right man for the job
Saunders maintains he is the team’s coach until he says he isn’t. And as of Monday, he said he still is.
“I’ll coach until I feel we need to move in a different direction,” he said. “It boils down to whether I think we [he and his coaching staff] are going to be the best to develop the players and talent we have, knowing where we want to be in two years.”
Saunders likely will remain as coach for at least another season unless he can hire a coach — such as pal Tom Izzo — he pursued last spring.
Waiting for KG
Saunders has said he believes Garnett will decide sooner rather than later if he wants to play again next season. But the soonest Garnett can sign with any team as a free agent is July.
“If he gets his body right, he wants to play,” Saunders said.
Asked if he expects that how much the Wolves can or will pay Garnett will be an issue, Saunders said, “I can’t even talk about that.”