MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Timberwolves are in the midst of an interesting summer with free agency on-going and the NBA Las Vegas Summer League getting set to start at the end of the week.
The Wolves will be featuring some real talent on their summer league team, at least in comparison to some of the other rosters that are out there. Minnesota enters the start of the Las Vegas Summer League with the second-best odds of winning the championship at 12-to-1.
Competing for the Wolves will be second-year players Josh Okogie, Keita Bates-Diop, Jared Terrell, and Mitch Creek as well as second-round draft pick Jaylen Nowell. The name that’s notably missing from the roster of the Wolves is No. 6 overall pick Jarrett Culver. He will miss the team’s first summer league contest due to the draft night trade not yet being official. The expectation is that he will be on the court for the Wolves after the trade is set to go through on July 6.
The team will be coached by Pablo Prigioni, one of the new members of Ryan Saunders’ coaching staff. His focus during the season will be the offensive end of the equation as well as working with player development.
Prigioni is coming over from Brooklyn after spending last season as a player development coach with the Nets. Having him head up the summer league team seems like an ideal fit for both he and the Wolves. It gives him plenty of learning to do in terms of managing more of the game as a coaching figure, while still being able to work in player development in terms of younger players. That could go a long way with guys like Okogie and Bates-Diop.
“I have to tell you, we had Josh in the pre-draft workout last year in Brooklyn. I was super fond of him. I remember the meeting after his workout, I was pushing so hard. ‘We got to get this guys here in Brooklyn,’” Prigioni said. “And now having the chance to work more often with him, he’s a great kid first. He has talent and plays with force. I love his game. Keita I get to know him more now and I think he impressed me the way his work ethic, he’s here in the gym every single day. Sometimes twice. He wants to get better, so it’s a great kid to work with.”
This is the first real impression that Prigioni has with the guys that are actually on the Wolves, as well as the guys that are hoping to be on the Wolves. Sure, he’s seen them in the NBA, or in Okogie’s case had him for a workout, but this is different.
Having guys like Okogie and Bates-Diop here for the summer league team can only help to ease the transition for the coaches that are around.
“It helps a lot,” Prigioni said. “Guys that you see, we work out individually but then last week, two weeks ago, that makes the thing easier for us as coaches and help the teammates. Bring those guys together so definitely, it’s huge.
“I think obviously having guys like them, they are in the roster, it’s like you have an extra focus on those guys, try to put more attention and build a summer plan for them, see how they can get better through the summer and be a better player in training camp in the season. I think we are in that process as a coaching staff.”
So far this summer both Bates-Diop and Okogie have spent a considerable amount of time in the Twin Cities during the offseason so far. They’ve been part of workouts that have included other members of the Wolves, too, but they’re the first ones that have met with the media since then.
“Yeah, definitely. Last year it was just me, Josh, and Jared Terrell here working out before,” Bates-Diop said. “Obviously, KAT and Wiggs and Jeff is here, just being around, Cov has been here just seeing the guys, talking to the guys. It will be big going forward.”
This is something that might have an immediate pay-off, or it may not. But what it will do is begin to build the type of culture that the Wolves need to have. In order to become a better organization, there are many things that the franchise can – and will – attempt to do. This might seem small, but it could go a long way with the team.
“I don’t know what to compare with but I do know though that this summer there’s been a great deal of guys that’s been stepping in and out, so that’s been good,” Okogie said.
For those two specifically it’s a different summer than the one they had last season. Entering year No. 2 means that they haven’t had to focus on the NBA Draft process this time around. Instead, it’s been more about getting better and less about impressing potential suitors.
““It was actually a kind of weird. You said it was the first offseason so I didn’t ‘have to be anywhere, have to do anything.’ You kind of put it on yourself,” Bates-Diop said. “They brought us back here for a lot of the weeks like you guys said, but a lot of time we had off at home or would go anywhere else we had to do it ourselves.”
Coach Jeff Teague
This summer has seen more members of the Wolves in the facility than many of the past years have. Those groups have included Okogie, Bates-Diop, Creek, Terrell, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Robert Covington – who is still recovering from a knee injury – and now Jeff Teague.
Teague has been around the team during the summer league minicamp helping out the younger players. He hasn’t been taking part in the workouts with the team as he’s still coming off of a surgery in April on his ankle, but he’s been helping out elsewhere.
“I love it,” Prigioni said. “Jeff, it’s great because I play against him many years and now to have him in the team, to have this experience, he’s joining the coaching staff, it’s great. Also, it’s a good opportunity for me to build a relationship with him, not only in the practice, being in Vegas.”
Teague is expected, according to Prigioni, to be in Vegas during summer league helping out.
“It looks like he wants to join us, learn how to be part of the coaching staff, so that’s fantastic. It’s a great approach for him.”