Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders and his staff are working hard to make sure they’re not working their players too hard in training camp.
But when the preseason opens Tuesday at Phoenix, it appears a number of the Wolves’ top players will play significant minutes. Indeed, Saunders said before Sunday’s practice that Robert Covington, coming off a knee injury that limited him to 35 games last season, is expected to start Tuesday.
Covington said at the team’s media day Monday that he was healthy but said it would take some time to get into basketball shape. While allowing there was likely a limit to the minutes he could play, Saunders said the idea was for Covington to start.
“That’s the plan,’’ he said. “But that can change. We have an unbelievable performance staff. If something changes, where we feel it’s better for his health … I’ll defer to them. But our intention right now is to start him.”
This will be Saunders’ first preseason as a head coach. The roster has a number of new faces, a lot of youth. The Wolves are still working on their rotations, who will be playing with whom. That means a lot has to be accomplished during the preseason, starting Tuesday.
“You have to see them in certain situations,” Saunders said. “But you also want to make sure you’re fair to them.”
The Wolves keep a close track on each player’s workload in practice; Saunders said he’s not one to push a practice to its full scheduled time if the team has accomplished its goals for the day.
But Saunders will also set goals for each preseason game, with players staying in the games until those goals are met.
And there are a lot of decisions to make.
“Some guys have played themselves into situations where they are competing for a starting position,” Saunders said. “Or for minutes. So, for that reason, you want to see how certain guys work with, maybe, a group that you know is going to be in the game in a late-game scenario. So we’ll treat things that way, where we’ll see a number of guys out there, but we’ll see them in situations that we want to be able to get a feel for.”
• One thing Saunders will certainly be looking for is how his team adapts to the faster pace he and his staff are insisting on and whether it leads to turnovers. “It’s something we’re going to have to be aware of, in terms of understanding that’s going to happen,” Saunders said. “It’s going to be a feel thing. We’ve done a number of things in practice, really reiterated when we want to run and what situations are the best to look for those opportunities.”
• In a continuing quest for team unity, the Wolves had a get-together Saturday night at Bunker’s, one that included the players, coaches and team staff. It was intended to celebrate the rookies, all of whom were expected to sing a sing. Saunders’ critical review? He lauded the efforts of Dr. Robby Sikka, the team’s vice president of basketball performance and technology, and Max Lefevre, the team’s video coordinator and player development associate. But the rookies? “Not so much,’’ Saunders said.