So, what have we learned from pre-season?
Unfortunately, not much. Thanks to Rubio being out, the team was already facing the prospect of the unknown. With Love out now as well, that's double. With the top two players missing, the Wolves have been unable to do things as simple as establish a starting lineup, much less get any sort of comfort level on the court, or start into the advanced part of Adelman's crazy-deep playbook.
Best guess? It looks like Brandon Roy will be your starting 2 guard, and Pekovic will be the starting center of course. Beyond that, well....Kirilenko will start somewhere, but whether that's at the 3 or 4 remains to be seen. Adelman tried him at the 3 against Detroit with Cunningham at power forward. Tonight, he started him at the 4 with Budinger at small forward. Both produced pretty impressive results. But that doesn't necessarily make things clearer.
Dante Cunningham has most certainly proven his worth, bringing a combination of crazy activity and KG-like intensity to the team. S-n-P has talked at great lengths about the need for do $!&% players....guys at the end of the roster who have a maximum impact on the game at a minimal cost....and Cunningham is quickly becoming the poster boy for that sort of player. Dante would probably start on a few of the lower-end NBA teams (certainly in Charlotte, at the least...) Not bad for a guy who's listed as a third string PF on the depth chart.
And Kirilenko hasn't lost anything since his last NBA game in 2011. He's still a player with a supremely versatile skillset who can score points without having his number called, while rebounding, defending, and facilitating for everyone else.
On the other end, you have Derrick Williams. Transitioning to small forward doesn't appear to be in the cards at this point, and he's seemingly becoming a victim of his own over-thinking. Williams is undoubtably skilled, but his mindset of jump-shooting doesn't fit with the need for him to be an attacking undersized 4. His consistency level is not there, and it appears to be mainly because he needs to actively remind himself to do things that he needs to be doing instinctively. He's a #2 overall pick, but wasn't able to show that he deserves burn over a #33 pick. That's troubling, and just reinforces the idea that his future is going to have to be somewhere else.
Beyond that, who knows? One would assume Ridnour will start at point guard until Rubio returns, with Barea as the main backup until then. And when 'until then' comes.....well, tonight, Alexey Shved showed he will be able to pick up point guard duties at the NBA level as he adjusts, which leaves someone in limbo later this year. Yet another unknown that will stick in the back of people's minds as the season progresses.
At the same time, Shved has been a case study in extremes this pre-season...sometimes he's looked like the Manu Ginobili that Popavic called 'all world', sometimes he's looked like the Sasha Vujacic Phil Jackson called a 'space cadet'. The flashes of brilliance are both exciting and frustrating....the talent is clearly there, but will it ever be there consistently? Is Shved the kind of guy you can ink in as the starting 2 guard for the next 10 years, or a guy who's going to dazzle once a week and be non-existent the rest of the time? Hard to say at this point.
And so the list goes on and on.
If there's any one thing the Wolves can hang on to until Love gets back, it's that even if the team can't win, it won't be for a lack of trying. Even if the results are not-so-great, the team will at least be giving it maximum effort. That'll be a nice change form last year. Improvement comes in stages, and that's a pretty good first step.
I'd love to say this team is going to rocket up the ladder this year, but losing Love for the next 2 months or so really put a damper on that. The team was already going to be relying on some very big question marks; now they're relying exclusively on them. But even if the certainty isn't there, the talent and, effort, and leadership is, which already makes them a better Wolves squad than we've seen in quite some time.
On to the regular season.