The night the Wolves lost out on the D’Angelo Russell sweepstakes in July, they did something that seemed like insult to injury — they helped facilitate Russell’s sign-and-trade from the Nets to the Warriors by taking on Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham from Brooklyn for the right to Lior Eliyahu of the Israeli league.
So perhaps it was fitting the Wolves fans got their first up-close look at Graham and Napier against Israel’s Maccabi Haifa at Target Center in a 131-101 exhibition victory.
Though Ryan Saunders cautioned against reading too much into rotations of lineups in Sunday’s game, it does appear Graham and Napier are going to be more than just trade filler for the Wolves this season.
Both have seen a lot of action in the Wolves’ first preseason games and are on track to play significant minutes once the season opens.
Graham made his second start of the preseason and scored 14 points to go with three rebounds. Napier, meanwhile, was the point guard of the second unit and scored 11 points, all in the first half. No doubt their familiarity with the system Wolves assistant and de facto offensive coordinator Pablo Prigioni, who was on Brooklyn’s staff last season, has helped them get a leg up in camp.
Graham’s versatility has helped him make a case to be in the starting lineup on night one, given he can guard most positions, even power forward, at 6-5, and Graham doesn’t need to score to be effective — a trait that could suit him well playing on the first unit with scorers Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
“He blends in nicely with the group, and he’s not afraid to do the little things,” Saunders said. “He’s always competing. He always wants to play.”
Saunders spoke glowingly of the relationship he is building with Napier. Napier was texting Saunders this week with long messages suggesting different ways the offense can operate.
“He has a grit about him that you can trust,” Saunders said. “As a coach, you like that a point guard is going to talk with you. He’s ultimately seeing everything on the court. … And when you jump him for not getting us into something or being disorganized, he’s very coachable.
“That’s the stuff I love out of point guards. He takes it upon himself.”
Napier said the fast pace the Wolves are playing with this season suits him well. Napier is a point guard on a roster that doesn’t have a lot of depth at that position. Past Jeff Teague, the Wolves don’t have many true point guards, and they have been seeing how rookie Jarrett Culver might handle those duties. But Napier has the experience the Wolves may need at backup point guard. He averaged a career high 9.4 points last season, his fifth in the league out of Connecticut.
“I’m an easy guy to be around, I think,” Napier said. “On the court, guys like playing with me because I love the fast pace and that’s what we’re doing here. … My ability to score the ball, my ability to organize plays as well as get other guys involved, my competitiveness that I always bring.
“I think those are the things that have gotten me to the NBA.”
• Jordan Bell missed his third consecutive game because of a left calf strain. Saunders said the hope is for Bell to play Tuesday against Indiana. Keita Bates-Diop also missed the game because of back spasms.