Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic were sporting the white side of the practice jerseys against a team of J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, Robbie Hummel, Derrick Williams, and Dante Cunningham.
As media availability for the first practice of training camp began, the likely starting lineup for the Wolves to begin the regular season was actually losing to a second unit by a few points. With Jack Sikma reminding Nikola Pekovic that he was going to have to leave the key some time on offense to avoid a violation, the starting Wolves set up their offense. There was some motion across the lane and Pek found himself defended on the block by Cunningham. Because of his strength and size advantages, Pek had deep post position as he received the post-entry pass from Brewer. Immediately, Williams dropped down from the wing to double up on Pek.
Pekovic absorbed the double-team’s attention, kicked it right back out to Brewer, who was waiting on the left win above the break, and the Wolves had a spot-up 3-point attempt rip through the net. This was the first bit of training camp action that I got to see from the Wolves and it nearly knocked me deeper into my seat. Healthy players. Kick-out passes to shooters that resulted in points. This seemed like a pretty cool way to kill some time in Mankato Tuesday afternoon.
There were a couple more interesting moments from the brief glimpse at the scrimmage the media was able to see during Tuesday’s practice:
- Corey Brewer played a pick-and-roll perfectly by driving the ball into the lane, seeing the defenders hang around Kevin Love, and made the aggressive play for the layup. He got fouled, plus made the basket. However, he missed the ensuing free throw.
- Watching Derrick Williams carry himself around the court was a different experience. Maybe it’s the lost weight or the found confidence from his experience last season, but he just looked like a different guy out there. Got to see him defend both the 3 and the 4, but didn’t really see him make plays or get burned.
- One great play that I could get used to was incredibly basic, but something quite foreign to the Wolves of last season. Kevin Love received the ball on the right block and backed down against his defender (might have been Derrick at this point). As he turned into the lane, he noticed the collapsing defense, which left Kevin Martin in the far corner. Love quickly protected the ball against swiping hands, fired the cross-court pass into the corner, and Martin splashed home the corner 3-pointer. Again, this is practice so it’s not exactly something to go brag about to your friends, but we just didn’t see a lot of that last season.
- On a pick-and-pop with Ricky, Love played the two-man game perfectly with his point guard and drew the defense in the process. Because the weak side defense slid over to protect against the possibilities of where the pick by Love on Rubio’s defender might lead to, it gave Pekovic room to carve out some space under the basket. Love caught the pass on the left wing, fired up a 3-pointer, and missed. However, the sliding of the defense left them out of position on the boards. Pek quickly snatched the errant shot and put it back in for second chance points.
The practice lasted 3.5 hours, so the 20-ish minutes we were able to see didn’t give us a great look into the totality of the work being done at Minnesota State. But the reactions of players afterward were pretty good all around. With Chase Budinger’s injury, the talk has immediately become who might exist in the slot at the 3 position. Corey Brewer is the natural fit into the lineup, but the Wolves will still need backup minutes there.
“Someone’s going to have to step in,” Rick Adelman said after practice when asked about extra playing time with Chase out. “I would think Corey’s going to play. It’s going to open things up for Alexey [Shved] to play behind Kevin [Martin] because Chase can play both the 2 and 3. We have to find somebody else that can play there. It could be someone in this camp, it could be a rookie, it could be anybody. I have no idea how many people are going to play consistently. But I was very pleased watching Corey today. He’ll play the bulk of the minutes.”
Brewer seemed to be the star of Day 1 because of his activity and basketball IQ. Not only is he the top option for wing defense, but his ability to move without the ball and get out in transition leave him as a frustrating cover for guys trying to earn playing time on the wing by showing they’re capable of defending that position. But it’s a good test for Derrick Williams and Shabazz Muhammad, two guys hoping to capitalize on the absence of Budinger early on.
“It felt good,” Williams said when asked about his time on the wing in practice. “Guarding Corey Brewer all day, it’s going to be challenging. I’m looking forward to it. I always want to challenge myself and guarding him for 3.5 hours a day, I’m going to get better.”
I just try to use my size to my advantage. Even though I lost a little bit of weight, I’m still two inches taller than him and things like that. I try to use my post-ups a little bit more. Corey tried to use his speed against me. We both have pros and cons but at the same time, we’re both trying to make each other better.”
Williams’ attempt to reinvent himself (more on that in the next post) was the talk of the day with the media, but the intelligence shown by Brewer and Martin on the court and within the system seemed to be the biggest impressions. There was even talk of Shabazz holding his own and looking nice out there. Adelman had a funny comment about the aggressiveness of Gorgui Dieng before he praised his rookie big man.
“He’s got some ability,” Adelman said. “He tries to run his own option sometimes that we haven’t put in yet. But he’s doing all right.
I think we’ll see how effective he can be because he does affect the basket. He’s got really good length. I think the role he played in college helped him do a lot of things. The coaches all told me he was playing better and better in the practices before camp. The summer he did not play very well but he has improved a lot since the summer as far as his comfort level when he’s on the floor.”
As the Wolves continue to test the readiness of the players and how in-shape they are this week, Adelman and the coaching staff will be introducing more parts of the offensive and defensive schemes they want their players to master. We’ll have more thoughts on training camp and the chatter around the team as the week goes on. The first preseason game is Monday night at the Target Center when the Wolves host CSKA Moscow.