PHOENIX – Before every game, there’s usually a TV turned on to film of the Timberwolves’ opponent that night.
Pregame can be a busy time, with players warming up and getting treatment for injuries.
But one player who usually stops to take in some of the film is center Noah Vonleh.
He was doing that before Monday’s game at Phoenix, even though he hasn’t been a part of the regular rotation since Nov. 18. He didn’t play in the 125-109 loss to the Suns, his eighth DNP in 10 games.
He came to the Wolves because there was an opportunity to contribute, given the roster turnover the Wolves had in the offseason, but he has tried to maintain an upbeat attitude despite being on the wrong end of playing time.
“I’ve just been doing what I’ve been doing even when I’m playing,” Vonleh said. “Just watching the film before the game, doing my pregame routine, going hard and just staying locked into the game, because you never know when your name is going to be called. I’ve been in this game six years and there’s been ups and there’s been downs, but just got to stay level-headed and stick with it.”
Like a lot of players when they are not playing, the mental aspect of sitting has been the hardest.
“We’re all in the NBA for a reason,” Vonleh said. “We all want to be out on the court. We don’t want to be sitting on the bench. You’ve been playing the game your whole life and not being on the floor, I’d say that’s the toughest.”
Vonleh has played in 15 games and is averaging 3.8 points but has ceded backup center duties to Gorgui Dieng after starting the year second on the pecking order behind Karl-Anthony Towns.
Before Monday’s game, coach Ryan Saunders was there encouraging Vonleh during his pregame workout.
“He’s very professional and, as a coach, you feel for guys like that, they put the work in,” Saunders said. “They do everything that’s asked of them and then I have to sometimes say, ‘Hey, just stay ready.’ He doesn’t need to hear that because he’s such a professional. Whenever Noah is going to be called upon, he’ll be ready to go and I have that much confidence in him.”
Okogie getting stronger
It has been a struggle for Josh Okogie to find his shooting touch from deep. But there have been some encouraging signs of late. Okogie might be shooting 29% for his career, but he has shot much better of late. He went 3-for-5 against the Lakers (and was fouled shooting another). Over his past seven games, he is 9-for-18. It’s a sample size that is moving in the direction the Wolves want to see.
Saunders said Okogie’s improving knee injury has helped with that.
“I don’t want to ever talk about ever turning the corner moment. I don’t want to put that pressure on guys,” Saunders said. “But he’s done a good job of staying in his shot I think as of late, and as he’s gotten healthier too, that helps with his lift on his shot.”