Monday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves held a free intrasquad scrimmage at the Target Center. They split into two sides, and by the time the dust settled, the squad featuring Tyus Jones, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Nemanja Bjelica (in black uniforms) trounced the Kevin Martin, Andre Miller, Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad and Tayshaun Prince-led white team by a score of 68 or so to like around 54 I think.
The team has been together for less than a week, so it’s important to avoid reading too much into how anyone performed, but there were still a few interesting developments from the game:
- Nikola Pekovic sat out, as expected, but was on the court during pregame warmups doing a little bit of shooting. I don’t know how encouraging that is, really, but it’s better than seeing him on crutches or in a walking boot. He isn’t expected to be ready until December at the earliest.
- Ricky Rubio also sat out. It was revealed after the game that he’s sat out the past few practices while dealing with a quad strain. Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press tells us not to worry about it.
- One funny pregame moment between those two – during a shootaround, Ricky and Pek stood next to one another in the corner. Pek was egging Rubio on, trying to get him to take a shot with Pek crowding him. Rubio obliged… and hit the side of the backboard, at which point Pek cracked up, and Rubio jumped on him. Just a couple of overgrown kids, horsing around.
- Right, okay, actual basketball. Look at these freaking dunks, you guys.
- Biggest takeaway of the night: Nemanja Bjelica is all sorts of fun to watch. Smart, can handle the ball, looks to create for his teammates – he definitely belongs in the NBA. Didn’t shoot very well tonight, but that’s fine. He had a few nifty dimes on dribble drives, also seemed to make the right cross-court passes at just the right time, led Tyus Jones to the open spot on the perimeter for a wide open three… his court vision is terrific. Again, it’s just a scrimmage, and for the record, I was already in the bag for the guy. But one thing is for certain: rumors of his basketball IQ were NOT overstated.
- Second biggest takeaway: Zach LaVine is stronger, smarter and a thousand times more self-assured than he was last season. He still made a few mistakes – defensively, Kevin Martin got him up in the air on a pump fake – but his upper body strength is improved (he has shoulders, now!) and his jumper looks “hella wet,” as Channing Frye would say. He looks like a guy who is ready to take things up a notch.
- Third: Karl-Anthony Towns is going to be really good. Had a few sloppy plays, but his defensive presence alone makes him an exciting prospect. He also poked the ball away from Lorenzo Brown at the end of the first half and took it coast-to-coast for a buzzer-beating layup, which is a pretty neat skill set for a center to have.
- Tyus Jones looked tentative at the start, but settled in really nicely, hitting back-to-back threes in the third quarter. Tyus was leading the charge for the much more talented side (he, Wiggins, LaVine, Towns and KG were the starters for the Black squad), which helped him, and was probably the right call. It’s much easier to get your feet wet when you’ve got talented players out there with you.
- Two things on Andre Miller: he was on the only player on the floor when I arrived at 6 pm, and he had a full lather going, putting up jumper after jumper with the help of some assistant coaches. Then, during the game, he argued with the officials on several occasions. Again, tonight was a SCRIMMAGE. He is a treasure, I tell you.
- Both Shabazz Muhammad and Andrew Wiggins had disjointed, sloppy nights. Part of it had to do with the style of play – things got REAL scrimmagey for awhile, especially late – but the Wolves’ talented young wings never seemed to get it going.
- Damjan Rudez can SHOOT. I hope the Wolves use him to space the floor a bit this season, but, you know… yeah.
- Gorgui Dieng was very focused and intense. In one memorable sequence, Bjelica, Towns and Rudez were zipping the ball around the interior, moving it beautifully, making extra passes to gain one of them a layup, but when it came time for Rudez to actually put the ball up, Gorgui swatted it away emphatically. He was taking the fight straight to Towns and Garnett, who jawed at him after a Dieng turnover. He’s in an interesting spot. I’m sure Gorgui resents that the Wolves took someone at his position with the first overall pick (wouldn’t you be?), and seems hellbent on fighting for all the minutes he can get. Good for him.
- No one got hurt!
- The Wolves take on Oklahoma City on Wednesday night – one of just two home preseason games (the other isn’t until the 23rd). The game will NOT be televised locally, so if you want to see it, come on down to the Target Center!