With Las Vegas Summer League starting up at the end of this week, the Minnesota Timberwolves have a pretty fun roster for us to keep track of during the summer session. The Wolves have five current NBA players on the roster, a former Wolves’ fan favorite, and a D-League shooting prospect who played for the Wolves’ summer league team a year ago.
Let’s take a look at the players Ryan Saunders will be coaching up this summer, as they look to become Las Vegas Summer League champions in 2015:
Ivan Aska, 6’7″ forward, Murray State/Israel: The 25-year old forward from Murray State spent the 2013-14 season playing in Greece for Ikaros and the 2014-15 season playing in Israel for Maccabi Ashdod. Aska is an undersized but bruising forward, who probably projects much more as a power forward in this basketball environment. He was the second leading scorer at 16.5 points per game for Maccabi Ashdod and was tied for rebounds per game at 7.8.
Those with a deep memory of last year’s Miami Heat summer league team may remember Aska for this sequence:
Kyle Barone, 6’10” big man, Idaho/Japan: Another 25-year old big man for the Wolves’ summer league roster has been spending his time overseas since college. Kyle Barone played this past season with Link Togichi Brex in the Japanese league. He scored 10.4 points and grabbed 8.0 rebounds in 20.9 minutes per game. He’s not much of a passer or a shot blocker, but he can score inside and is a solid rebounder. He was the leading scorer at Idaho in his final two years there and the leading rebounder in his final three seasons.
Lorenzo Brown, 6’2″ point guard, Wolves: Lorenzo Brown made his way back to the Wolves during last season, after being drafted in the second round by Minnesota in 2013 but playing for the Philadelphia 76ers during the 2013-14 season. In 29 games with the hobbled Wolves this past season, Brown was a breath of fresh point guard ability air for Minnesota. He played 18.4 minutes per game for them and put up solid per-36 minutes numbers of 8.0 points, 5.9 assists, and just 2.0 turnovers. He made 42.6% of his shots in that run for the Wolves. He should provide a good steady hand in the game and even play in smaller lineups alongside Tyus Jones and Brady Heslip.
Brady Heslip, 6’2″ guard, D-League: Speaking of Brady Heslip, he’s back with the Wolves this summer! The Canadian assassin who bombed 3-pointers all over the D-League last year will have a better chance of proving himself to the Wolves’ roster this year than he did last year. Heslip was heavy on the 3-point shot in his 20 games in the D-League for Reno last season. In just 618 minutes on the floor, he took 255 3-pointers and hit 44.3% from beyond the arc. That’s a 3-point attempt roughly every two minutes and 25 seconds on the floor. Compare that to Steph Curry, who took a 3-point shot every four minutes. He needs to flash some point guard skills to show he belongs on an NBA roster, but we know the 3-point shot is there.
Othyus Jeffers, 6’5″ guard, former Wolves player: The 29-year old basketball journeyman can still be an NBA player, and he’s out to prove it once again. He last played in the Philippines and split some time in 2014 between the Wolves and the San Antonio Spurs. He’s a 6’5″ shooting guard, who doesn’t have much of an outside shot. But he does have defensive tenacity, long arms, and massive hands that help him swipe the ball from unsuspecting opponents. Proving he can be more of a playmaker and an outside shooter would go a long way for Jeffers in this summer session. And being a ball hawk on defense will remind everybody of the energy he can bring off the bench.
Tyus Jones, 6’2″ point guard, Wolves: Local kid gets to start making good. The 24th pick in the draft will get his first taste of competition in some type of T’Wolves jersey when we get to Vegas. What I always caution with evaluating young guys playing in summer league is forget about the production that happens out there on the court. Whether or not Jones puts up big numbers in Vegas doesn’t really matter. You just want to mostly see good, consistent decision-making from him in leading the team on the court and good defensive effort in pressuring the ball and helping.
Zach LaVine, 6’5″ shooting guard, Wolves: You may have heard of this guy before. LaVine showed flashes of volume scoring during his summer sessions last year, but with a year of NBA basketball under his belt, it will be interesting to see how he approaches the competition this time around. For LaVine, dropping 30 points a game in Las Vegas is something he can easily do. But how will he be using this experience?
Is he going to look to continue to work on point guard type of skills and involve others? Will he look to be a big time scorer off the ball? Will he work on a two-man game with Karl-Anthony Towns? LaVine’s approach to these summer league games (I wouldn’t be shocked to see him done after three games) will give a small glimpse into his maturation process. It won’t be damning if he tries to dominate; it’ll actually show he’s trying to develop that mentality. However, it may be a more mature approach if he tries to pick and choose his spots. It’s players like him that make the evaluation process both confusing and intriguing.
Jordan Morgan, 6’8″ forward, Michigan: The 23-year old power forward out of Michigan just finished this past season playing in the Italian League. He was the second leading rebounder for them behind former Iowa State big man Melvin Ejim, but was way down the scoring chart. He also played with a familiar name in Ndudi Ebi. Morgan will probably be far down the depth chart on the summer league roster, depending on how long Towns and Adreian Payne end up playing (if it’s cut short at all).
Sadly, there aren’t any decent highlight packages of him under three minutes from the last five years.
Adreian Payne, 6’10” big man, Wolves: Where Adreian Payne fits into the rotation, how he plays next to Towns, and what kind of decisions he’s able to make on both ends of the floor should be quite the litmus test for the second-year big man. We’re not in make or break mode for Payne by any means. He had a jumbled rookie season in which he wasn’t close to the rotation in Atlanta and then was tossed into a chaotic situation once he was dealt to Minnesota. He has a reputation for needing a little extra time to understand the system he’s playing in on both ends of the floor. But his athleticism and skill set should allow him to put up some impressive performances in Vegas.
Tyler Stone, 6’8″ forward, SE Missouri State: Tyler Stone spent nine games at Missouri before transferring to SE Missouri State for his final three seasons. He went undrafted in 2014 and spent this past season playing for Denizli in the Turkish League. He’s got a little bit of outside shooting, which developed out of nothing during his years at SE Missouri State. He shot 36.2% from 3-point range in Turkey on 69 attempts in 28 games. He’s a good rebounder, can gets some steals and blocks, and is a good scorer in the Turkish League. He could be a real nice surprise on this summer squad.
Sam Thompson, 6’7″ forward, Ohio State: Sam Thompson is a wing in desperate need of proving he can shoot from the outside. He’s not much of a rebounder and he can create for others a little bit. He can be a decent defender on the perimeter, which he’ll need to show. But mostly his mission is to show he’s the shooter who showed promise at Ohio State a couple years ago and not the one who couldn’t really hit anything from beyond the arc last season. One real fun thing about him is he has explosive leaping ability. He should give us at least one really fun dunk during this next week.
Karl-Anthony Towns, 6’11” big man, Wolves: I’ve never heard of this guy but he might get into the rotation at some point.
In all seriousness, I’m really excited to see the skills Karlito is able to display, even in summer league. The production is mostly irrelevant. He could post 20-20 games or he could struggle to score. It doesn’t really matter. I want to see the jumper that was advertised. I want to see the pick-and-roll ability. I want to see how he communicates on defense. Watching him this close will be a fun look into what kind of a leader he might be, even for a rookie.
C.J. Williams, 6’6″ guard, North Carolina State: C.J. Williams is a bit of a tweener on the wing, who may end up trying to show he’s strong enough to be a small forward. But he’s only 6’6″ and isn’t much of a rebounder, so he’s probably in need of proving he can make plays with the ball off of hard closeouts by the competition. He has a good shooting stroke and was the leading scorer on Pistoia in the Italian League. He’s also spent some time with the D-League Defenders team in 2013-14, where he shot 44.1% from 3-point range. He can play and may be my favorite non-NBA guy of this current team.