10/15 16:10 CDT Towns, Timberwolves take stronger chemistry into season
Towns, Timberwolves take stronger chemistry into season
By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) --- The featured attraction of this latest fresh start for the
Minnesota Timberwolves is Karl-Anthony Towns, the two-time All-Star center who
finished in the top 20 in the NBA last season in more than a dozen major
After a tumultuous start to 2018-19 that led to a revamped front office, a new
head coach, Ryan Saunders, and several changes to the roster, Towns in year
five has the reins of this team both on and off the court. That's where the
next step in his development began to take place during the offseason,
encouraging teammates to spend more time in town for workouts and with each
other away from the facility.
"That's different than what I've been used to here in Minnesota," Towns said,
"and it's going to show."
The youngest head coach in the NBA at age 33, yet still a decade older than
Towns, Saunders has taken over the position his beloved father held for 10
seasons with the Wolves plus a one-year return in 2014-15 before he died of
Saunders will run a faster offense with greater emphasis on 3-point shooting
than his predecessor, Tom Thibodeau. Starting halfway through last season when
he took over as interim coach, Saunders has also helped usher in a more upbeat
environment, a power-of-positivity approach that's a clear contrast from
Thibodeau's throwback style. Still, don't mistake such a young, affable
authority for a pushover.
"He also has a side where he's a dog, you know?" Towns said. "He's a dog,
especially when it comes to getting things right, doing what he commands and
Culture and process have become just as prominent of concepts around the
Timberwolves as perimeter shooting.
"I'm just going to continue doing what I've been doing, and that is holding
players accountable in my own way and making sure that we're getting better
every day," Saunders said. "We can't skip days."
Minnesota opens the season Oct. 23 at Brooklyn.
WHAT'S THE POINT?
The Wolves are counting on a return to full strength by point guard Jeff
Teague, who was limited to a career-low 42 games due to a left ankle injury
that lingered throughout the second half of the season and required a cleanup
surgery. That was the first of his 10 years in the NBA in which Teague did not
reach the playoffs.
"It's like a blank canvas. We can do anything we want to do. Our team could be
really good. No one's expecting much, and that's the beauty of it," said
Teague, who's in the final season of a three-year, $57 million contract.
With Tyus Jones now playing for Memphis, Shabazz Napier will be the primary
backup. Rookie Jarrett Culver could be groomed for an eventual takeover.
The Timberwolves moved up in the draft for the sixth overall pick to take
Culver, the 6-foot-5 sparkplug from national runner-up Texas Tech. He's long
and quick, with defensive ability on the perimeter the Wolves have badly needed
With Towns, Robert Covington, Andrew Wiggins and Teague locked in to the
lineup, there's a starting spot on the wing that could be rotated depending on
matchups and health. Culver will likely be in that mix with Jake Layman, Josh
Okogie and Treveon Graham.
The strategy under Saunders has also shifted on defense, where the Timberwolves
finished 23rd in the NBA last season with an average of 114 points allowed per
game. In keeping with a league trend, they'll employ more switching to better
head off pick-and-rolls and other problematic plays and lean heavily on the
long arms and court instinct of Covington.
"It's just going to give me more freedom to be able to see things on a
different scale depending on how and where I am," Covington said.
Towns can not only shoot the 3-pointer as well as any big man in the league,
but he can be a deft distributor, a skill new president of basketball
operations Gersson Rosas and Saunders have urged him to use more. One quick
flick of the ball out of the post is all it takes to set up a wide-open
3-pointer for a teammate.
"It's really fun to have the ball in my hands where I am able to do things I've
been doing since high school, which is be an elite passer," Towns said. "That's
really where my comfortability in my game comes if I'm not able to score."
The longest-tenured player on the team is backup center Gorgui Dieng, who has
played for five head coaches in six years and still has two more seasons and
more than $35 million remaining on a contract he signed three years ago. With
newcomers Jordan Bell and Noah Vonleh in the mix as big men off the bench,
playing time for Dieng could be sporadic. But over the last eight games of last
season, Dieng averaged 14.5 points in 21.5 minutes while shooting 55.2% from
"When you look at numbers and the way that guys are looking, I'm very
consistent since I've been in this league," Dieng said.
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