It's still way, way too early to make any real assesment on this year, but the first two preseason games have given us a glimpse of what could be. Kahn and Rambis have transformed this team, shaping it to fit the system that they want to run. The talent level still has a long way to go before we can discuss title contention, but there's no doubt that this team has been built for the system.
I've long been a talent over system guy when looking at NBA teams, but I've been thinking there's definitely more to it than that. I think we can all agree that to win a title, almost every team needs to have at least one upper echelon player. Kobe, Shaq, KG, Duncan or a Wade. Only the Pistons come to mind as a team that won without a true star player. In a market like ours, it's going to be pretty tough to land that player. It will almost certainly have to come from the draft and by history, we'll have to get lucky to do it. If only the lucky can get this kind of player, what do the unlucky do?
In the past, I would have said to always take the talent and sort out the fit or system later, but the percentages tell us that taking the best possible talent available in a given year still won't be enough. History tells us that taking Cousins as the BPA won't get you a title. DMC might turn into a wonderful pro, but he's not Tim Duncan. I was firmly a DMC guy and am still sad we didn't take him, but I'll admit that it would have forced us into a different style than the one that Rambis and Kahn envision. The truth is that there's only about 1 guy a year like that and our Durant isn't yet on the roster.
So...what do you do while you wait? And, what's the best way to wait?
Become the Utah Jazz.
I don't want to become the Jazz in terms of their system or their lack of ultimate success, but they've had a sustained run of competitiveness derived from their adherence to a system. I've learned that I'm perfectly willing to accept watching entertaining, competitive basketball and it seems that Kahn and Rambis are all about building a system that is both entertaining with it's fast pace and potentially quite competitive long term. We're not the Jazz in terms of having comparable talent, a proven coach, or the ability to consistently land talent in the draft, but we've positioned ourselves to run our franchise around a system in a similar fashion. Oh yeah, our system is both more entertaining to watch (IMO) and has brought teams titles many times in the past...the Jazz can say neither.
We still need to get lucky in the draft (which in MN is a cruel joke that's been playing out since the Wolves inception with a new punchline at every passing draft lottery). However, if we had gone for DMC and thus gone for talent over system, we'd still be waiting to win the lottery. Not every move has panned out for sure with Kahn and Co, but as it stands now, we've built a team that looks very complementary for when we get lucky with our own Durant. It's torture to think about these kind of things, but put Harrison Barnes or maybe a Perry Jones on this squad and we could be in business:
- At PG we've got Rubio looming as the pilot of a faced paced team that transitions into a ball movement type of offense. Personally, I think that our offense will fit perfectly with Ricky's skills. Ricky is superb in transition and more of a ball movement type of PG in the half court. If Flynn sticks around, he fills the instant offense bench role pretty well or if he's dealt, we've got Ridnour as a steady veteran backup.
- On the wings, we've got some long, athletic shooters with defensive potential in Johnson and Webster who could slide between starting or the bench. We've got good shooting and defense with Ellington (maybe some 3rd PG ability there too) and potentially the same with Hayward.
- We've got Beasley's upside and flexability. Put Barnes on the roster and Beasley is now a super sub between both forward spots. Love is potentially a SUPERB complementary guy with his otherworldly rebounding and jack of all trades offensive game. Pek, Darko, and Tolliver give us good size, passing and offer multiple complementary skills.
Kahn has said that we don't have our one guy and he's right. You can't just conjure these guys up. I've been a victim to draft hype in the past (and probably will again) with each prospect looking like the next big star. I was upset that we passed on DMC, but with a step back I can see that the pedestal I put his game on likely is too high just like it is for most of these guys. With that in mind, I'm seeing the light as far as system over talent. The Wolves are headed down this road as well and maybe that's a plan worth waiting for.