After nine days of practice – two of them two-a-days – the Timberwolves finally play a preseason game, Saturday night against Miami in Kansas City.
“I like the way we’re moving along,” new coach Tom Thibodeau said after a nearly three-hour practice today. “Tomorrow will give us a good baseline. It will tell us exactly where we are.”
You can already see the formation of his first two units: Starters Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns and reserves Kris Dunn, Brandon Rush, Shabazz Muhammad, Nemanja Bjelica and Cole Aldrich.
Asked whether he prefers to use the preseason schedule to experiment or settle quickly on combinations while coaching a new team, Thibodeau said, “We’ll see how it unfolds. I have a pretty good idea of the first two groups. I want to make sure they get the proper amount of time so they’re building some rhythm and chemistry together. But I do want to get a look at everybody.”
Don’t expect Thibodeau’s rotations to look truly regular-season version until the team comes off a five-game trip over the next nine days that takes them also to Charlotte, Omaha, Louisville and Oklahoma City.
“The way it is the first five, six games, you’re not getting wrapped up in an 8- or 9-man rotation,” he said. “It’s more you want to get a look at everybody. The last two, three games, you settle in on the way you think you’ll start. All it does mean is it’s the way you’ll start the season. It doesn’t mean that’s the way it stays. You need everybody over the course of a season. You can’t play everybody, so you have to make some tough decisions establishing a rotation. Once you do that, whether it’s injury or foul trouble, it’ll play itself out.”
The Wolves have come through training camp and tough practices apparently healthy.
Thibodeau said it helped greatly that his players came to camp in “great” shape.
“It doesn’t guarantee you won’t have injuries,” Thibodeau said, “but it gives you your best chance not to have injuries.”
Asked if he plays to win in preseason, Thibodeau said, “They keep score. You’re playing a lot of guys. The big thing is you’re building a chemistry, you’re establishing a rotation, let guys get into shape. Everything matters. I’m more concerned with how we approach the game. We’ve done good things in practice.”
He said he wants to see how his players process information at tomorrow morning’s shootaround, how they study for the game and how they analyze and apply what they did right and wrong afterward.
He considers this gap between camp’s start and the first preseason game as well as the upcoming nine-day trip the best of both worlds: A chance to install a lot of his system and practice hard for nearly two weeks and time now to bond together as a team on the road.
Expect him to consider taking the team away from Minneapolis for training camp in the coming seasons.
Some other things from today’s practice:
- Thibodeau was asked if he’ll name captains for this team and how many. “We’ve done it in the past. I’ve had as many as four and as few as two. I want to see how that unfolds. I’m more concerned with having a team of leaders. Our best players have to set an example for the team.”
- The Wolves play Miami twice in the next week. Zach LaVine on playing a Heat team that no longer has Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh: “I’ve been thinking about that. Yeah, it’s a totally different team. That’s how fast the NBA can change on you. I guess it’s going to be different.”
- Muhammad on where this team is at after nine days of practice: ”I think we look good. Everybody is in shape, everybody plays defense. That’s one thing we know about Coach: He’s going to demand a lot from us whether it’s offense or defense. We’re doing the small things. I can already see that in us.”
- Aldrich on his commute from Mayo Clinic Square to his year-round home now in Plymouth and playing in L.A. for the Clippers and New York City for the Knicks: “It’s nice, beside that traffic I hit every once in a while. That can be a little pain in the (behind). In L.A., I was only like two miles from our practice facility. Once it gets like 10- or 15-below here, then it’s going to be a little more tough.”