In the grandest barnstorming tradition, the Minnesota Timberwolves descended on the 4,500-seat Taylor Center on the campus of Minnesota State University Mankato for Dunks After Dark last night. One hundred percent completely sober students filled the arena to capacity quickly once the doors opened at 11 pm and they mugged for NBA TV’s cameras while being entertained for a good hour by DJ Mad Mardigan and an assortment of breakdancers and trampoline dunkers. As anticipation built for the Wolves to take the floor, the energy thrummed and the building pulsed with all the casual fun of basketball without playoff implications, without the pressure of filling a big arena, without the freight of the NBA proper.
But let’s not kid ourselves: in terms of actual basketball, last night meant less than nothing in the grand scheme of things, so let’s celebrate that with a bunch of GIFs of dunks and fun stuff, plus a couple observations. All GIFs are courtesy of the incomparable CJ Fogler.
• This Zach LaVine guy can dunk.
• Shabazz Muhammad is definitely as advertised in the weight loss and fitness department, but it was hard to tell whether his new try-hard attitude will be a net positive or negative. Flip Saunders has long said he always gives it everything he’s got, so maybe he’s just got a bit more to give now that he’s in better shape, but it looked for all the world like he often didn’t know what to do with all this newfound energy. He wanted to dunk and dunk and dunk and he did, but he, maybe more even than Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine at this point, needs some serious direction about how he should approach his time on the floor.
• Wiggins’ athleticism is almost terrifyingly casual, like a big bear who’s thinking — with these claws — how am I supposed to kill this bunny? The prospect of a fully operational Wiggins is frightening, but it’s definitely true that right now it shows itself mostly on the defensive end, where he moves his feet well, walls off his man and then — even when his man thinks he’s past him — elevates ridiculously quickly for the block. Zach LaVine got this treatment last night toward the end of the last scrimmage run and it was a treat.
One of the subtle things that’s so impressive about him is how he instantly sizes up his matchup and exploits it, almost no matter what. Here, he catches the ball on the block against JJ Barea, who’s clearly overmatched. Young bangs Barea once and Glenn Robinson drops down, so Young spins away from the double, fakes the shot, then finishes the up and under between Barea and Robinson. Yes, Young will bring intangible veteran things to the team but he will also bring stuff like this, where he’s always a step ahead of any below-average or even average defender.
• Speaking of Young, there’s also the hustle on plays like this, where he dives for the ball and hoists it up to Corey Brewer, who lofts an alley-oop for LaVine to finish.
• Here is a GIF of Nikola Pekovic throwing a T-shirt into the crowd. I’m just going to say it: his throw is not exactly Major League-worthy. It still probably killed someone, but I actually have a point here: it’s funny when you see someone who’s so good at something athletic do something else athletic and not be great at it. And I don’t mean in the “Charles Barkley golfing” way or the “Michael Jordan playing baseball” way. It’s just a reminder that excellence comes from focus, repetition and dedication.
• Wiggins and Pekovic ran a nice little two-man game right here:
It’s a simple play, but time and again you saw Wiggins handling the ball on the wing and getting it down to Pek on the block, where he would either work it in or kick it out. Wiggins would often clear out from his side in a typical punch play, but he would also make himself available for the give-and-go, as he does above. This is the boring, obvious stuff but it’s also a fundamental basketball thing that already seems to be working.
• The promised dunk contest between LaVine and Wiggins didn’t materialize as the program went long and it was near 1:30 am when everything wrapped up, but both managed to get in some doozies in the open runs that started and ended the night. Here’s one from each, shot in super-slow-mo by yours truly. Track is “The Tears of Music and Love” by Deerhoof.