MINNEAPOLIS — A.J. Price could sense it the first day of training camp in Mankato last week.
Welcomed back to NBA life with a hard three-plus-hour practice, most Timberwolves were dragging; Rick Adelman workouts aren’t exactly the five-on-five, pickup-style scrimmage sessions most players engaged in during the days leading up to the preseason.
Keeping up wasn’t as much of an issue for Ricky Rubio, Alexey Shved or J.J. Barea, though.
“Those guys are definitely in shape, progressed a little bit ahead of everybody else in terms of their wind,” Price said Tuesday, a week since Minnesota opened practice. “It took us a while, the rest of the team, to catch up. But those guys came in like they’ve been playing all summer.”
All three international stars returned to the U.S. in close to game shape, having represented their countries in tournaments on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Rubio and Shved played for Spain and Russia, respectively, at EuroBasket 2013, while Barea led Puerto Rico in the Tuto Marchand Continental Cup and FIBA Americas Championship.
Together, the three foreign guards combined to play 20 games and 689 minutes between Aug. 22 and Sept. 22 — and that doesn’t include friendly exhibitions against other countries. Each had a bit of layoff, but not enough to keep them from arriving at camp somewhere close to peak condition.
“I feel great,” Barea said. “I can run up and down for days.”
Barea had the busiest latter half of summer, winning MVP honors at the Tuto Marchand Continental Cup and scoring 14 points per game in Puerto Rico’s run to second place at the FIBA Americas Championship. The eighth-year pro missed Monday’s exhibition — an overtime loss to Russian club CSKA Moscow — for personal reasons but is expected to garner heavy minutes during the Timberwolves’ Wednesday clash with Milwaukee in Sioux Falls, S.D.
He finished international competition Sept. 1, which left about three weeks for him to rest up a bit while keeping his body near game-ready.
“Hopefully, I’m doing my best to stay like that,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Shved had nearly a month between his final EuroBasket outing and the start of Timberwolves practice. The Russians bowed out early, though Shved played well and led them in scoring with 16.4 points per game.
It’s easier to recapture top fitness in a short time window than it is to generate it anew after a longer resting period, Shved said. Some of his teammates, including Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, spent much more time working out individually this summer than they did in a full-on game atmosphere.
“I am playing like 10 games before, and maybe I’m ready for this game a little bit more,” Shved said before Monday’s contest in which he logged 26 minutes but missed 10 of 12 field-goal tries. “But everybody work hard last summer, and everybody ready for this game. We’ve had a lot of time without the basketball.”
Except for Rubio.
Spain’s quest for a third straight EuroBasket championship came up a bit short but did keep Minnesota’s starting point guard abroad until the weekend before training camp commenced. He’s been setting the pace during conditioning drills so far, according to Price.
Rubio played upwards of 25 minutes along with the rest of the Timberwolves’ starters Monday.
Entering his third year as Minnesota’s coach, Adelman said he’ll closely monitor the overseas trio’s workload as the preseason moves along so as not to wear them out. But his priorities right now remain to give Rubio and the rest of the starting five time to gel and work Shved in alongside Barea behind them.
The second-unit pair can both shoot from the outside and handle the ball effectively. When Rubio and starting two-guard Kevin Martin need a simultaneous blow, Adelman can essentially replace them with two viable point guards.
“I know what J.J. gonna be doing this moment, when he going to shoot 3-points, when he’s going to cut,” Shved said. “Maybe he start thinking about that with me. I feel comfortable when I play with him.”
And while Adelman will certainly be careful with his entire backcourt, particularly the guys who already have some wear on their wheels, now is certainly not the time to take it too easy, he said. Minnesota plays three preseason games in the next four nights then has a week off before their next one.
“We don’t have the luxury to back off on anybody,” Adelman said. “We’re trying to find our way, and you can’t afford to do that.”