Impressions of the Wolves' Open Scrimmage
In no particular order.
- Zach LaVine was largely as advertised. Fast and athletic, there’s a kind of wide-eyed innocence about the way he moves with so much more purpose with the ball than without, about how he sort of habitually performs a little inside-out sizeup dribble when he’s squared up to his defender. Nerves were evident early on when he lost his grip on the ball on a drive, but he settled in, particularly once the game was called a tie and the dunking exhibition started. More on that in a moment.
- Shabazz Muhammad showed a lot of the same gusto that was his calling card late in the season last year, going up hard for dunks and muscling his way into the lane for rebounds. He still loves the left block and that little jump hook, but that’s fine. Obviously, this pre-pre-pre-season is a time when players have to balance a desire to try new things or show their progression with the need to prove they can do what they’re good at consistently. It can be a tricky balancing act.
- Gorgui Dieng was ill and didn’t play, although he’s expected to be back for practice tomorrow.
- Alexey Shved is still very much a work in progress when it comes to being the primary ballhandler on the court, but I have to figure that just about anything is an upgrade over Barea in that role. It might be interesting to have two players (LaVine and Shved) both working on developing their work at the 1 since in many ways they’re similarly built players right now. I could definitely see a positive in them working together.
- Afterwards, Saunders emphasized that one of the challenges for Shved as a point guard is being more vocal. He’s not very vocal, at all, in any way that I’ve ever seen, and the language doesn’t help, but he also just seems like a reticent guy. If he can get more comfortable talking, it might just work out.
- Glenn Robinson III showed off some good athleticism and even some capable defense in spurts but he didn’t stand out a tremendous amount. No matter: he, along with Shved, Dieng and LaVine are the only players from this Summer League squad who will likely be on the Wolves’ roster this season. Saunders already indicated his disinclination to pick any more players after LaVine and Robinson because of how full the roster is (even though they promptly did not pick up options on Robbie Hummel and Othyus Jeffers, dropping the roster from 14 down to 12).
- Of the roster fillers, Jordan Morgan seemed most impressive, with a lot of athleticism. He probably fits into that difficult role of being a tweener (6-8, 250 lbs) without a signal basketball talent, but I could see him doing well in the NBDL and maybe bumping up onto a roster here or there during the season.
- Kyrylo Fesenko was mostly hilarious, being nearly half a foot taller than the next tallest player on the floor and playing like it. Every chance he got, he was banging in under the basket, even when he whiffed on bunny after bunny. On one play, he threw an errant pass for a turnover that turned into a fast break dunk and he then turned to the ref and said, “That’s a foul.” He seems like a weird, benevolent version of Darko.
- At one point, Fox Sports’ Phil Ervin opined that Fesenko looks like the Grinch. You decide:
- The impromptu dunk contest: With the score tied at 71 and a few seconds left in the third ten-minute period, the coaches called the game and let the players show off with a back-and-forth dunk contest. And holy cow can LaVine ever get up. I swear he’s got airy little bird bones. He’s got tremendous control in the air and finished every (I think) dunk and alley-oop tossed his way with flair and authority. It doesn’t make him a good basketball player but it does make him fun to watch. Really great dunks still have the power to make me a little lightheaded, and seeing LaVine rip off through-the-leg dunks with ease was joyous and raucous and there’s nothing wrong with that.
- Robinson also showcased some serious hops. He will definitely be good for a couple highlight reel dunks this season as well.
- Fesenko bricked dunk after dunk after dunk as the crowd cheered him on before finally slamming a windmill home after the whole thing had been called. The crowd erupted and it was kind of funny.
- Speaking of the crowd, it was surprisingly robust for an open scrimmage, and even gave a standing ovation at the end. Minnesotans tendency to give a standing O for just about anything aside, it was a surprising and refreshing sight in the Target Center. It seems like the fans who were there are a little sick of all the Love drama and the mopiness that’s dragged the team down the last couple seasons. They want to see the future and have fun, and that’s what this was.
- The diminutive Brady Heslip (who’s listed at 6-2 but looks a little more like 5-11) even threw down a dunk to the delight of the crowd to cap off the night.