In a preseason game that felt more like an organized scrimmage, you might think it would be difficult to make any judgments about the Timberwolves’ one-sided victory over Maccabi Haifa on Sunday.
But coach Ryan Saunders saw it. And Robert Covington felt it.
Covington is coming off a knee injury and resulting surgery that limited him to 35 games last year — and 22 with the Wolves, after arriving in Minnesota in the trade that sent Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia.
On media day before training camp began, Covington said his knee felt good but that he would be taking things slowly; he has averaged a little more than one quarter’s worth of play through three preseason games.
Sunday, playing just 12 minutes, he made three of five shots — all three-pointers — and had three assists, a steal and two blocks. He watched the final three quarters from the bench on a night when 17 Wolves players scored.
But it was an informative 12 minutes.
“I think tonight was a great step for him,” Saunders said afterward. “In terms of where he was, how he was moving, how he was able to get his shot off and the rhythm he had. So I think [it] was a good step, and I know he’ll continue to progress.”
Covington agreed — to a point.
“I feel great,” he said. “Tonight was a good shift. Ultimately my legs are starting to get better each and every day. I’m doing a lot more to really recover. So everything is turning out good, and I’m feeling great.”
Covington has talked about how much the injury and being unable to play weighed on him last season. With training camp about to begin, he said the biggest challenge would be to regain his rhythm, knock off the rust of having not played. That is still a work in progress.
“I felt a little different,” Covington said. “I’ve done a few things, trying to get into a rhythm. I did a little something different [Sunday], and I think I’m going to stick with it for a little while. But this was a good step in the right direction. My legs didn’t feel as heavy. Actually, they didn’t feel heavy at all. My conditioning is starting to get better each and every day. I just have to keep pushing through.”
Covington admitted the process of getting his rhythm back has been difficult, as has been the process of becoming fully confident in his knee. The accelerated pace with which Saunders wants the Wolves to practice and play will help him get into basketball shape, Covington said. But at this point the knee is 100%.
“I have no issues,” he said. “I don’t think about it when I’m on the court. I just play. I feel comfortable and I’m not thinking about it. Not even in the back of my head.”
That said, there is still room to improve in terms of the rhythm of his game and his conditioning.
“It’s been nine months,” Covington said of the last time he played in a regular-season game. “There is nothing like playing in the actual games, compared to simulating it, working out, playing some five-on-five. It’s not the same. I know it’s a process. It won’t all come [right away]. These next couple games will add on more. And then, as we get ready for the regular season, I should be where I need to be.”
The Timberwolves signed guard Tyus Battle and forward Barry Brown on Monday while waiving Lindell Wigginton and former Gophers forward Jordan Murphy.
Both Brown, from Kansas State, and Battle, from Syracuse, played for the Wolves during the Las Vegas summer league. Battle previously agreed to an Exhibit 10 contract with the Wolves, paving the way for him to head to the team’s G-League affiliate in Iowa.
A source said the Wolves’ plan is for Murphy and Wigginton to go to Iowa should they clear waivers, which is likely.
Staff writer Chris Hine contributed to this report.