Before the first official Timberwolves practice Tuesday, the coaching staff got together with one of its newest players, forward Jordan Bell.
“They were just telling me, ‘Don’t forget who I am as basketball player,’” Bell said.
It sounds easy enough, but during Bell’s first two seasons in the NBA some of who he was might have faded to the background. Bell was a member of two Warriors teams — one that won a title — with Bell having a bit part supporting All-Stars Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.
In a vortex like that, it’s easy for your identity to get lost. Your main objective? Get the ball to those guys so they can score, and don’t worry so much about yourself putting the ball in the basket.
“You want them to get the best shots possible,” Bell said. “Here, it’s a little different. Coach [Ryan Saunders] has been very positive to get everybody to shoot more. … I was kind of struggling, just because I’ve been over there for two years and that was never my role.”
Bell, who attended Oregon and was a second-round pick in 2017, has a ring, but he wanted more out of his career — a chance to show everything he can do. So when he and his agent huddled to discuss free agency, they identified the Wolves as a place where that could happen.
“I told him, I just need the opportunity, a place where I can play, but I don’t want anything handed to me, somewhere I can compete …” Bell said. “This is a place I can build.”
And, in some interesting insight into how reputation affects free agency, Bell said his agent assuaged any concerns he had about the culture surrounding the Wolves.
“First thing my agent told me, ‘This is a good place, this is not the Timberwolves team you know, that team is completely gone. There’s a whole bunch of new people,’” Bell said.
“He kept emphasizing the culture’s changing, the culture’s changing. Like, what’s that mean, the culture’s changing? As soon as I got here, I was like yeah, the culture is changing.
“This is a new team than what I’ve been playing against the last two years, it’s a whole new team.”
With a whole new lease on basketball life for Bell, who averaged 10.9 points and 8.8 rebounds in his final year at Oregon. The Wolves are encouraging him to shoot more after he took just three shots per game with Golden State. That’s coming from his teammates and not just the coaching staff.
It’s a guiding philosophy for all the newcomers on the Wolves — don’t be afraid to be who you are, to play basketball as you’ve always played it.
“Jordan is not used to shooting. We want him to shoot,” center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “Be a scorer. Be who you are. I’m just trying to use this as an example for the team, for us — use your talents, don’t feel so constricted. Don’t feel you can’t use the talents that you’ve been practicing for so long but you don’t get to show.”
Bell also said the coaching staff has plans for him to guard the opposing team’s best player, something that made Bell’s eyes light up as he discussed it Tuesday. Bell fits in with what the Wolves want to do defensively. His 6-foot-9 frame allows him the ability to guard multiple positions, and he isn’t afraid to go up against centers or smaller guards. That caught the eye of Saunders at Wednesday’s practice.
“We were doing a pick-and-roll drill where we had smalls guarding the ball and bigs guarding the bigs,” Saunders said. “He came out to guard a small, and I told him to go with the bigs and he said, ‘No, I got this’ and he ended the drill. That was where we weren’t even switching. It was him navigating through a screen. That was definitely impressive.”
It’s too early to tell where Bell might fit in the Wolves’ rotation. The Wolves have a lot of players competing for few available spots in the starting lineup but there are opportunities coming off the bench. But when Bell gets his chance, he hopes he’s more like the player he used to be.
“The beginning of last season, I think I kind of learned my lesson: stay true to yourself and always walk into the gym knowing you can hang your hat on whatever you do special,” Bell said.
“There’s people who shoot, there’s people who defend, people who rebound, block shots. People like Steph [Curry] who just shoot the heck out of the ball.
“Just don’t ever lose who your identity is.”