Wolves taking a different approach to shootarounds

Morning shootarounds have become commonplace in the NBA. But coach Flip Saunders (right) and the Timberwolves are trying a different approach, replacing it with an afternoon walk-through.

MINNEAPOLIS — The NBA morning shootaround was invented in 1955, inside a high school gym in the Boston area.

There, former Celtics guard and NBA head coach Bill Sharman would get some shots up the morning of game days. The Hall of Famer and one-time teammate of Bob Cousy identified spots on the floor he’d shoot from in a game. Five makes in a row from each area, and he’d be done for the morning.

"I was always very nervous the day of a game," Sharman said in an ESPN Page 2 article from 2003. "I’d just walk around the house until it was time to go the arena."

After performing the routine in a gymnasium near his home, Sharman felt looser and quicker. "I had a much better shooting touch, too," he said.

Before long, some of Sharman’s teammates began joining him. And when Sharman later became a coach, he established the shootaround as part of his clubs’ game day routine.

Today, it’s commonplace around the league, except for the second morning of a back-to-back. But it could be dissolving.

Or, at least, evolving.

The Timberwolves are one of at least two teams to go away from the traditional morning workout and replace it with an afternoon walk-through. Minnesota’s done it a handful of times since the start of 2015, and the Nuggets have abolished the practice outright.

It’s been done before, including by Wolves coach and president Flip Saunders during his first stint in the Twin Cities. He’s done it again this year in the wake of a 15-game losing streak that was snapped Tuesday.

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For what it’s worth, Minnesota did not hold a morning shootaround in Indiana that morning. The Wolves hadn’t played since Saturday.

"I’ve done that in the past," Saunders said. "We’ve done some afternoon-type walk-throughs and kind of a dinner. It’s kind of a feel on where they’re at. Sometimes, you need to just change it up a little bit. One thing is in the new age with our younger players, these guys stay up playing video games till 3 in the morning. The main thing is you want to get them some sleep somehow. Sometimes it can be counterproductive to get them up for a 45-minute shootaround just to make sure they’re there."

Typically, players are expected to rise at a reasonable hour, get to the gym, go through a pseudo-practice then kill the day’s remaining hours until they report for the game, generally three or four hours before tipoff. Saunders and Denver coach Brian Shaw muse their players have a better chance of retaining information from an afternoon session when they’re more awake and attentive and have less time to forget whatever they’ve been taught.

The NBA’s current generation of young players stays up late. The younger ones play video games "till 3 in the morning," Saunders said, while most of-age athletes enjoy a night on the town, even if there’s a game the next day, according to Shaw.

Plus, Shaw said, he and his coaches enjoy the chance for extra sleep and preparation time.

"Our schedule is so crazy," the former Lakers mainstay said. "You have a game pretty much every day, and sometimes four in five nights. So moving that shootaround back to 3 o’clock, 3:30 definitely gives us more time. The players have responded to it well, and I’ve always kind of felt like if our games are at 7 o’clock, why do we get up at 10 and practice anyway? If your body’s ready to go at 7, you should practice closer to that time."

Denver has gone 0-4 since eliminating morning shootarounds. Minnesota’s win Tuesday was its first on the road since the day after Thanksgiving.

But whether Saunders and Shaw’s practice will catch on around the league remains to be seen. Shaw says it could, but Saunders told reporters earlier this week he and his staff will continue to "play it by ear" when it comes to determining their practice slate.

"Colleges do that a lot," said Saunders, a former University of Minnesota point guard. "When I played, you eat at 4 o’clock, go afterwards and walk through some things then play at 7:30. I think a lot of times it just depends on the situation that we’re in."

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