Summer League Sights: Building the culture; improving the wings; a new arrival

LAS VEGAS – The Minnesota Timberwolves continued their 2019 NBA Summer League with a 90-66 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Continuing to change the culture

Last season the Wolves didn’t have much of a presence in terms of many of the older players being in attendance showing support to the young guys. That’s different this time around.

When the Wolves took on the Hawks Sunday afternoon, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins were both in attendance as well as newcomers Jake Layman, Jordan Bell, and Noah Vonleh. That group of players all sat courtside and were joined by head coach Ryan Saunders and President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas.

This is part of the Wolves attempting to build a new culture. On the outside, it might not seem like that big of a deal. To the Wolves, it is. It’s something that matters for how the organization wants to grow. The Wolves want guys that are going to be about the team.

“It’s been great to have guys be around, not only for us and for them, but also for our young guys, too,” Saunders said. “To see that culture, that’s what’s expected of us. Them holding each other accountable, that means a lot.”

This isn’t a situation where the Wolves can flip a switch and instantly have the best culture in the league. It doesn’t work like that. It’s something that needs to be built gradually over time and can eventually turn into something similar to the culture of great teams.

Improving the wings

Keita Bates-Diop spent a large portion of last season shuffling between Iowa and the Twin Cities, splitting his time between the NBA and the G League. Most nights in the NBA he was collecting a DNP-Coach’s Decision until his playing time saw quite an uptick in the second half of the season.

He showed improvement throughout the course of the year, and already looks better than he did while on the NBA floor. Sure, that’s to be expected with the level of competition significantly less than what he’ll see over the course of an 82-game season, but it’s still worth noting.

“The way he’s been doing different things on the court in terms of rebounding the ball and pushing. He shot the ball well, how he’s attacked, we’ve played him at some five, too,” Saunders said. “That was something that we wanted to make sure to take a look at. And then defensively, I like some of the things he’s done defensively, but rebounding. We saw today, I want to say he ended up with 11 or 12 rebounds.”

Bates-Diop is going to be fighting for minutes when the season comes, but it’s hard to argue against him deserving a spot in a seemingly crowded rotation. He impressed when given the opportunity last season, and continues to get better.

He’s not going to be a team’s offensive force, but he certainly can be a terrific complimentary piece, especially if he improves his shooting from outside the arc.

His versatility is something else that brings more reason to put him on the floor. The Wolves are experimenting with lineups that feature him at center during summer league. It’s going to be a challenge for the 6-foot-9, 230-pound Bates-Diop to defend some of the larger centers at that size, but it could create plenty of problems for teams on the other end of the floor.

Like Bates-Diop, Josh Okogie is playing in his second NBA Summer League. He, too, looks like an improved player thus far. There were many times during the last season where Okogie may have looked out of control. His nickname of “Non Stop” certainly wasn’t a lie. He was always trying to make something happen on the floor.

Now, he still brings energy as the team needs, that’s not something that’s going to change, but he often looked like he was under more control than he had been in the past. The game has slowed down for him in the way that it does for most guys once they have experience under their belts. It’s even slower at this level.

“”Yeah, it’s definitely more comfortable being able to play a full season in the NBA and come back and play in the summer. Definitely time to kinda learn more about yourself since the game is starting to slow down,” Okogie said. “And also, teaching others and stuff that I really didn’t know going through summer league last year. Last year the team was a little less experienced. We had a lot of guys trying to make rosters, not really guys who had really played a season in the NBA. So, this year, me, Keita, JT, Mitch, we’re trying to use what we know and display out on the court and try to tell other players what they don’t know. Try to help them so everybody is kinda on the same page.”

Culver is here

The Wolves were finally able to make the addition of Jarrett Culver official on Saturday when the trade that sent Dario Saric ant the No. 11 pick in the draft to Phoenix was processed by the league.

He spent much of the day on Saturday in Minnesota before flying to Las Vegas and meeting with Saunders and Rosas. On Sunday he worked out with Towns and Wiggins and then did not partake in the contest against the Hawks. It’s still unknown if he will play on Monday.

The Wolves are very high on him and excited to see what he can do on the floor in a game setting, but for now all they have is the workout with Towns and Wiggins.

“It was straight. It was really good,” Culver said of the workout. “I’m very excited. It’s a dream to make it to the NBA. Summer league is a big thing and it’s something I’m excited for.”