Final Score: Wolves 106 - Knicks 100
This game meant a little more. Unlike the Lakers, who are coming off a championship season with their entire team intact and then some, the Knicks very closely mirror our own Wolves. Very high roster turnover. Meaning not much time to develop cohesiveness so far. Meaning lots of minutes for the New York starters in a serious effort to win.
Hmm. Too bad for them.
Preseason isn't the season. If it were, it wouldn't be "pre". But as always, there are things we can take away from this game still.
1: This team has a bench
Today's big statistic: every single Wolves starter was a net negative on the floor for a cumulative -22. Martell Webster, by himself, was a net +20. The bench as a whole was a net + 52.
Ultimately, at least in terms of depth, it doesn't matter whether Love, Beasley, Johnson, or Webster are starting or not. There will be serious talent coming off the bench for us, guaranteed. For the first time in what feels like forever, we have players we can substitute in who aren't undersized and overwhelmed.
2: Rebounding won't be a problem if the team doesn't let it be
Yes, Kevin Love is the only standout rebounder on the roster. And to be fair, he's so remarkable on the glass he practically counts as two players in that department. But although the likes of Darko, Pekovic, and Beasley aren't exactly double digit rebounding machines, this team is hardly window deficient. Martell Webster, Corey Brewer, and Wes Johnson are all above-average rebounders for their positions, and the team as a whole...as shown today....can make up for the lack of traditional trench warfare with a cohesive team effort. Eight Wolves grabbed at least 5 boards today. Our point guards alone combined for 13.
The lack of great rebounders in the post doesn't automatically spell doom for a team, nor vice versa. Last season, the Thunder and Suns finished 3rd and 6th in rebounding respectively, despite neither team having a single player average over 9 rebounds a game. The Wolves had two of the best rebounders in the league, and won 15 games. This season we have the personnel to be a great rebounding team in the mold of Oklahoma City...the only reason rebounding will be a problem night in and night out this year will be if the team lets it.
3: Wesley Johnson is going to be really, really good
And yes, DeMarcus Cousins....who by the way, dropped 16-16 on the Suns last night....is going to be really really good too. But Wes has plenty of talent, and today he started to show the all-around game that made him a prized pick in the draft. 12 point, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals in just over 20 minutes of action. For as much that gets debated about his flaws, this guy has a ton going for him in the NBA. He's a brigade's worth of firepower, particularly from deep. He gets off the floor like a rocket and drops from the sky once he's airborne. He's not great moving with the ball, but he moves the ball exceptionally well. And it appears...so far at least....that fears the 'Cuse zone defense would cause problems for him in the NBA are unfounded.
With his skillset and athleticism, I predict it's just a matter of time...and not much time at that...before Wes gets invited to play for team USA alongside Love.
4: We're going to struggle with turnovers most of the year
Even though the system is carried over from last year, the roster is not. Only 4 players remain from just a year ago (well....3 1/2...) meaning we have 10 (and a half..?) new players learning the triangle for the first time. Ridnour shouldn't have much trouble, but Beasley and Johnson in particular figure to be very up and down taking care of the ball this year.
That said, once the team figures it out to even a fundamental level, we're going to see some of the most exciting basketball the Wolves have played....well, maybe ever. Bryant and Gasol both commented last season that the team....despite the horrible amalgamation roster....were executing the triangle well. Meaning Rambis can indeed teach it effectively. This year's team will pick it up given time, and unlike last year's team, actually have the talent to finish the plays off.
5: Luke Ridnour might be this summer's biggest pickup for the team
There's a common theme with most of the players we acquired this summer....they can shoot, rebound, and run the floor. Luke Ridnour....well, he actually doesn't particularly do any of those things well. What he brings to the table is far more important.
Luke Ridnour leads.
Consider the Lakers. They have Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and a flawlessly executed triangle system coached by arguably the greatest coach in NBA history, yet know they cannot get away with young kids and hybrid players at the point guard spot. That's why Derek Fisher still starts despite the fact he's slower than every point guard he plays opposite of, and misses 99% of his layups. That's why the team won't trust Shannon Brown when it matters, and why they switched youngster Jordan Farmar for veteran Steve Blake.
The point guard position is the first link in the decision making chain, even in a practically inverted offense like the triple--post triangle. What Ridnour does first with the ball dictates what the rest of the team does after it leaves his hands. And he's a legitimate mentor for Flynn as well....keep in mind, this is the guy the Bucks had show Brandon Jennings the ropes last year.
It won't show up in his modest statlines, but Luke Ridnour's presence this year is going to be invaluable.
Oh, and for those of you who didn't catch Monday's game: