Wolves Summer League rookies chase NBA dream

For as many as 11 Minnesota Timberwolves rookies, the journey to what they hope is a successful NBA career starts this week.

The Timberwolves are hosting a mini camp for their NBA Summer League roster before the team departs for Las Vegas later this week. The Wolves will play four games in pool play before they get seeded for a tournament.

For second round pick Jaylen Nowell and nine undrafted college free agents, it’s a chance to showcase their talents to both their new coaching staff and coaches from 29 other teams that will be in Vegas. You don’t get a much better job interview than that.

“The message to them is we are bringing you into the organization as a front office, as coaches. Take advantage of the Summer League, not only for us because we might have some spots available on the roster, also for the other 29 teams,” said Pablio Prigioni, the Timberwolves’ NBA Summer League coach. “The message to these kids is there is a lot of opportunities out there, so be a good pro, do the right things, play the right way and show everybody you can be a good fit for their team.”

The reality has hit many of the players this week that they’re now pursuing professional careers. For the players fortunate to be selected in the NBA Draft, the dream is becoming a reality.

Former Minnesota star Jordan Murphy wasn’t selected, but signed with the Timberwolves as an undrafted free agent. Former LSU 6-10 center Naz Reid said it was “God’s plan” that he signed with the Timberwolves after not being drafted.

His size at 249 pounds and ability to shoot from the perimeter (he shot 38 percent from three-point range last season) give him a skillset that should mesh will with the direction the Wolves are headed. His goal for the NBA Summer League is improving his game and staying true to himself.

“Just doing what I do best, and just being a person that I am. If any team feels comfortable with me on their team, so be it. I’m just going to keep being me,” Reid said after practice Tuesday.

In one season at LSU, Reid averaged 13.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and at 6-10, was a threat to shoot from the perimeter. The skill-set makes some wonder how he wasn’t drafted, and has Wolves coaches salivating at his potential.

It’s what makes playing in Las Vegas a valuable opportunity for Reid. The interest the Wolves showed him is one of the main reasons he signed with Minnesota after the draft.

“I just know they think I have a lot of potential and I can go really far in this game. Them believing in me just helped me a lot with choosing Minnesota,” Reid said.

It may have only been the second day of workouts, but players and coaches alike noticed notable improvements on Tuesday. Several players said Monday’s session got sloppy at times, which can happen when it’s the first time since the end of last season they’ve played full-court 5-on-5 in real speed.

It can also complicate matters when you’re incorporating a new coaching staff with new offensive and defensive schemes. At times, everyone is learning on the fly.

One player who has been through it all before and is now an NBA Summer League veteran is second-year guard Josh Okogie. He was last year’s first round pick after the Wolves worked to acquire Jimmy Butler, and he had a much different offseason compared to a year ago.

There wasn’t much free time last year. He worked out with teams at every opportunity to improve his draft profile. So far this year, he’s worked out more on his own and has had more time with family. That, while he’s still able to work out with teammates who have stayed around in spurts for the summer.

Okogie played in 74 games last season with 52 starts. He averaged 7.7 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. He scored in double figures in 23 games, and was often asked to be a shutdown defender. The NBA Summer League is his chance to improve.

“Just work on the things that I struggled with last year, so kind of just to take my time and use the summer league as a learning process and a stepping stone into the season,” Okogie said.

The reality for the Timberwolves is there are many faces in the organization, especially in the front office, still getting to know each other. That includes the coaching staff. Ryan Saunders is back after having the interim label removed. Gersson Rosas is the new man leading the front office, and only Malik Allen was retained from the previous coaching staff.

The Wolves have since added David Vanterpool and Prigioni as assistants, Kevin Burleson and Brian Randle as player development coaches and Jason Hervey as a quality control coach.

With 11 rookies currently on the Summer League roster, there isn’t a lack of competition in practice.

“The first couple days have been good. Everybody came to compete. Everybody is looking for a spot, if they already have a spot they’re looking for more minutes. It’s very competitive and everybody is going at it, trying to do their jobs,” Reid said.