The Las Vegas Summer League has come to an end, giving the Timberwolves some time to now catch their breath, regroup and finally begin preparation for training camp at the end of September.
The Wolves went 1-4 in summer league, with a roster that was short on shooting and playmaking but longer on exciting second-round picks who could one day work their way into the big club’s rotation. Now that it’s all over, it’s a good time to look at some of the key takeaways from the five games the Wolves played and how the team feels about much more than just the players that were on the field in Sin City.
While many teams brought shiny new first-round picks to Las Vegas to showcase or worry about, the Wolves’ newest exciting piece was second-rounder Leonard Miller, because their first-round pick went to Utah in the Rudy Gobert trade. The good news for the Wolves is that Miller was impressive in his first summer league, displaying size, athleticism and a nose for rebounding that already makes him unique to the lineup.
Miller played in all five games in Vegas and averaged 15.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and shot 36.8 percent from 3-point range. He spent last season playing for G League Unite, an experience that prepared him well for the frenetic physicality that defines summer league play. Miller looked great in the raggedy stuff and didn’t mind getting his hands dirty. His size and quick feet stood out.
Conversations with rival executives and scouts from around the league yielded positive information about Miller, which impressed Tim Connelly and the front office in being able to grab him with the 33rd overall pick. His rebounding in the G League alone gives many confidence that he has at least one elite skill that will translate to the league, but the significant improvement he showed in his all-around game from the beginning of last season to the end got more scouts to believe. that there is plenty of upside to be had.
“I’m just trying to get better, be more a part of this group of guys and this franchise and become more settled than I am,” Miller said. “For now it’s all good and I like it.”
There is plenty for him to work on. His jumper is a little on the funky side, but it went in during summer league play, albeit in a small test. It would be fair to assume the Wolves player development staff will work with Miller to smooth out the mechanics as the 19-year-old adjusts to NBA life.
He turned the ball over 2.6 times per game. battle, which is high. But some of that could be attributed to the lack of playmakers around him. The Wolves put the ball in his hands more than he wanted it to play in Minnesota, and probably more than he wanted in Iowa, too.
The biggest takeaway from his performance in Vegas was the way he was deployed defensively. He guarded multiple positions, not just big, which is probably his fastest way to get a whiff of playing time in the NBA.
“I take a lot of pride in it,” Miller said of being able to guard wings. “That’s the key in the game right now. That’s what everyone wants to see from me and that’s what I know I can do.”
Internally, the Wolves are very high on Miller. The more they are around him and see his practice habits and his intensity on the floor, the more they like what they see. He is very young and quite raw, but the Wolves think they have a player there.
The lawn mower
No Wolves player went to Las Vegas with higher ambitions and more intrigue from the fan base than Josh Minott. The 6-foot-8 swingman appeared in just 15 games last season, mostly garbage time, but his highlights at Iowa and his physical tools make him a mysteriously enticing prospect.
He’s been working out at team headquarters since the season ended and showed up to summer league determined to make a mark and use it as a springboard heading into training camp.
“He’s trying to come into this season with the right mindset of, ‘I’m going to do something. I’m going to crack that rotation somehow,'” summer league coach Max Lefevre said. “Definitely has a chip on his shoulder. I think his approach has been different and I think it will show, I hope, for him.
Minott averaged 16.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in Vegas. He played with an assurance and confidence befitting a second-year player.
Similar to Miller, the Wolves had Minott guard as many different players as possible, including point guards on occasion. This was clearly a test to see how he would hold up defensively against smaller, faster players. With Taurean Prince gone, there is a void for a guy who can play the 3 or 4, guard multiple positions and get out in transition to score. Minott checked many of those boxes in Vegas.
But there was one big box he didn’t check. Minott shot 12.5 percent from 3, a glaring element for a team that already lacks shooting and is letting one of its best go in Prince. The Wolves wouldn’t need Minott to shoot 38 percent like Prince did last season, but they can’t get him to shoot the 12.5 percent he did in Vegas — or even the 14 percent he shot in limited college opportunities in memphis.
Minott spoke often in Vegas about having to earn respect, an admirable sentiment given his own position in the league. There were times in those five games out there where he seemed to be trying a little too hard to prove he was ready. He fumbled a lot while trying to show he could stand up to the physicality out there, and there were some rushed shots as he tried to take control of the Wolves’ offense.
It’s natural that players who want to express themselves are a little overzealous at times. Being too aggressive is a good problem to have, much better than being too passive. And overall, there were encouraging signs that the work Minott has put in is starting to pay off.
“That’s where you can make an immediate impact as your offensive game progresses,” Lefevre said coaches have told Minott. “To his credit, he’s bought into it. I don’t know if he got that idea, but he’s bought into it so much that he’s really embraced it.”
Moore’s hard break
The Timberwolves had a first-round pick on the summer league roster in Wendell Moore, Jr. While the summer league is not a place to make blanket statements of good or bad, the hope is that a first-round pick goes into his second round. the season looks a bit over when he’s on the floor with rookies and journeymen looking to get noticed.
Moore did not separate himself last week. He averaged 14.3 points and 3.3 assists, but shot just 37 percent from the field and 28 percent from 3. He missed two games with knee soreness, which could have affected his performance.
Another factor: Moore is a role player who thrives playing off star players who bend defenses with their gravity. He is an intelligent, controlled player who usually makes good decisions and plays a supporting role. When he was thrown into a role that requires him to carry more of the load, as was the case in summer league, it didn’t seem to suit him.
If he shares the floor with Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, it would be a completely different world for him. The Wolves love Moore’s work ethic and makeup, and they could use another ball-handling combo guard that Moore has coached for the past 18 months. His defense, especially on Ja Morant last season, is something to be trusted.
But he will have to shoot better than he has shown in the NBA and in Vegas if he wants to crack the rotation on a consistent basis. Moore’s game isn’t really suited to playing with a team full of non-shooters just trying to survive from one day to the next. Whether it’s fit to play alongside stars in the NBA is still up for grabs.
The Wolves head into the quiet part of the summer after a relatively quiet run through free agency. They made big splashes with a max contract for Edwards and a $42 million deal for Naz Reid, but Minnesota also made moves on the margins to adjust their roster by adding Shake Milton and Troy Brown. Nickeil Alexander-Walker was also brought back, but the Wolves followed suit with their plans to run it back with their existing core, including Towns.
His name came up again and again in the Vegas gossip mill, with widespread speculation that he would eventually be moved. The Timberwolves will pay three bigs, including Gobert, $90 million next season. It doesn’t seem sustainable in the long run.
In conversations with people connected to the team and throughout the league, there has been very little substance to the speculation. The Timberwolves have said all summer that they are committed to giving the Towns-Gobert pairing another chance after a disjointed first season together. Tim Connelly and Chris Finch believe they can make it work. Whether it’s right or wrong, that’s the attitude they take. And Prince’s departure means the Wolves need KAT’s 3-point shooting more than ever.
Will it work? It remains to be seen. There are a legion of doubters out there as we speak, and many of them were in Vegas postulating the end of an era in Minnesota. But there’s no sign the Wolves plan to trade KAT anytime soon.
(Photo by Leonard Miller: Steph Chambers/Getty Images)