LAS VEGAS — Sometimes Josh Minott can see what’s headed his way, whether it was falling into the second round of the 2022 NBA Draft or the characterization of his Minnesota Timberwolves abandoning the future by trading Rudy Gobert last season. Sometimes he can hear them, like when he stepped up for an interview during the Wolves’ NBA Summer League-opening win over New Orleans.
Sideline reporter Chris Haynes introduced him as Josh Mih’-nott and then asked what he was trying to accomplish with the Wolves in Las Vegas.
“No offense, but enough with the statement where people say Josh Minott,” he said, using his preferred pronunciation of MY-nott. “But other than that, just competing and just trying to win with my team.”
It was an innocent slip from Haynes, one of the best-known reporters in the league, but illustrative of the journey Minott is on in his second season. He has become somewhat of a cult fascination among the die-hards of the Wolves fan base, those who watch G League highlights and drool over his athleticism and aggression. But he barely played in his rookie season last year, doesn’t have the first-round pedigree of many of his Vegas competitors and still has a long way to go before most of the league knows his name.
Minott knows it and understands it. He has no illusions about his status in the league. There is no right on his second trip to Vegas with the Wolves. He knows he has a lot to prove, to the Wolves and the rest of the league.
“Last year had no respect. This year, no respect,” Minott said. “I’m just trying to go out there and just show what I can do, show the coaching staff.”
Minott was selected 45th overall in the 2022 NBA Draft. At 6-foot-8 with long arms and all the bounce in the world, he was an exciting prospect. But he also played less than 15 minutes per game. game and shot 14 percent from 3-point range in his only season in Memphis. President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly was drawn to his energy, his understated passing and his quick hands on defense. Our John Hollinger agreed, ranking him No. 10 on his board ahead of the 2022 draft.
There were several reasons why he was still on the board when the Wolves picked midway through the second round, including a sky-high foul rate, sporadic playing time and being old for his class (he turns 21 in November). Whenever he speaks these days, you can hear a longing for people to pay attention to what he can do, a hunger to show that any doubts you have about his game are unfounded.
Leonard Miller, one of two second-round picks by the Wolves this season, has expressed a similar sense of disrespect, and it’s helped form a quick bond between the two. Minott had 20 points, four rebounds, two blocks, two assists and a steal and Miller added 16 points, 11 rebounds and two steals in Minnesota’s 102-88 home opener win over the Pelicans on Friday.
“People don’t really understand what I can do, just what I’m capable of, and I feel like Leonard comes in with that same chip on his shoulder,” Minott said. “The same disrespect. We probably both expected to go a little bit higher.”
The New Orleans game got off to a rough start for Minott, who turned the ball over on the opening possession and fouled Pelicans guard Dyson Daniels on the breakaway. The indomitable and highly quotable Minott attributed the lackluster first quarter to the start time at 13.00, which made it difficult for him to get a good meal before the match in his stomach.
“I worked on fumes, man,” he said. “I don’t like breakfast too much. Just being transparent, bro, I almost threw up in the second half. And it wasn’t because I was out of shape. Will probably try to work a little with the nutrition. I don’t think we have any morning games anymore. I do not hope. I can have a good lunch.”
His third game, Wednesday afternoon against Atlanta, followed a similar pattern, with Minott turning the ball over and missing layups early before going on a drive to the basket in the second quarter. He finished with 12 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks in a loss to the Hawks.
If the eggs can’t stop him, what will? Minott entered summer league practices determined to show his growth as a defender. With Taurean Prince gone, the Wolves need more wings that can guard multiple positions and get out in transition. Part of the reason they were OK with letting Prince move on to the Lakers, essentially using his salary to cover most of the cost of free agents Shake Milton and Troy Brown Jr., was the confidence that Minott would be ready to contribute. He’s nowhere near the 3-point shooter that Prince is, but he’s a much better rebounder and shows the quickness to guard at the rim.
Minott has been a fixture at the Wolves’ practice facility this summer, working with Wendell Moore, Jaden McDaniels, Naz Reid and others on his game. He appeared in just 15 games last season, 12 of them in garbage time. His best game of the season came on Feb. 8 at Utah, where he had 12 points and 11 rebounds in 29 minutes, where his activity on the glass stood out against one of the worst rebounding teams in the league.
The Wolves have focused this summer on developing more physicality in Minott’s game, instructing him to play through contact so all that athleticism isn’t neutralized against bigger foes.
“He’s such a great athlete and he’s strong, but he’s young,” Wolves assistant coach and director of player development Joe Boylan said. “Reimagines himself as a physical player in this physical game.”
Minott saw plenty of time on Daniels, the Pelicans’ first-round draft pick last season, and Utah Jazz guard Keyonte George in Game 2 as the Wolves gave him a run against smaller, faster players to test his defensive versatility. There have been ups and downs. Daniels was relatively quiet, going 6 of 14 with four turnovers. But George scored 26 in a Jazz win and Tyrese Martin had 25 for the Hawks. Those points weren’t all on Minott, and he has six blocks and four steals through three games.
“That was the goal. We should probably throw him at the best two, three or four that’s out there,” Wolves Summer League coach Max Lefevre said after the Pelicans win. “Maybe even them. I think he has accepted that. He told you he wanted to be an elite defender. We want to give him that platform.”
Fouling has been a problem for him this summer. He committed six fouls against New Orleans (players get 10 in Summer League) and seven against the Hawks.
“Either you’re going to get offended or you’re going to be the guy who offends somebody,” Boylan said. “Get physical on drives, pay attention to the angles of his attack, get him on the straight drives.”
He’s missed all six of his 3s in the three games, which will make his ability to put the ball on the floor and make a play here or there even more important. He needs to be an offensive threat somehow if he doesn’t hit shots to space the floor.
“Just put him in a little more ball-handling situations at times to get more comfortable with it,” Lefevre said. “But other than that, just do what you do, man. Be a good cutter, be a good offensive rebounder, run the floor and impact the game in all the little ways he can do.”
If that sounds a bit Vando, there’s nothing wrong with that. Jarred Vanderbilt fought his way into the Wolves’ rotation and eventually became a strong contributor during the Los Angeles Lakers’ run to the Western Conference Finals, thanks to tenacious rebounding, tenacious defense and over-the-top hustle. Minott has some of those qualities, and has shown flashes of passing that bring optimism he can play more offensively than Vanderbilt does.
“He’s got to believe he’s the player he is,” Boylan said. “Demonstrating that power.”
Where exactly he can fit into a rotation is yet to be seen. Jaden McDaniels and Karl-Anthony Towns are the starters at small forward and power forward, respectively, and will play a ton of minutes. Prince averaged more than 22 minutes per game. game in a reserve role last season, which opens up a real hole to fill on the bench. Naz Reid, fresh off his new $42 million contract, will be the primary backup at power forward. Coach Chris Finch has also had faith in vet Kyle Anderson, Brown and Milton as players who could see time at small forward.
Minott is trying to use Vegas to show he knows what he’s good at and how he can fit in on a team that expects to be in the playoffs next season.
“It’s a business overall. They’re not trying to see me come down and hit five 3s,” Minott said. “They’re trying to see me come down and lock their best player in and stuff like that, cut, a lot of off- ball actions, screening, rolling, sliding, being able to knock down a corner 3 if needed. All in all, as far as what I can do, it’s whatever a team needs.”
Minott will have a game on his hands this fall when training camp opens. He has been preparing for it all summer.
(Photo by Josh Minott: Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)