It's hard to draw many worthwhile conclusions from a home preseason game against a Sixers team without Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, and a roster littered with unproven NBA players.
Nevertheless, the Wolves bench seemed to show signs of hope. Led by Anthony Bennett, Mo Williams, and Zach LaVine, it was the second unit that helped secure a victory at Target Center on Friday night, 116-110. It was those three - along with Andrew Wiggins and Gorgui Dieng - that closed out the game for head coach Flip Saunders.
Last years bench issues have been well documented; the team simply didn't have a scoring punch that could keep the offense alive when Love hit the pine. J.J Barea was the leading scorer off the bench (8.4 ppg in 18.6 mpg) but finished with the lowest true shooting percentage since his rookie season (47.1) and largely drove the fan base nuts with his erratic play.
This year the Wolves bench might be better than originally thought. Mo Williams feasted on the Sixers, dicing them up for 19 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals. He basically performed how you would want an 11-year veteran to perform against a bunch of first and second year players, but it was inspiring nonetheless.
Williams led a bench unit filled with youth - often gathering them together to direct their next moves, essentially coaching them up on the floor. "Those guys played, definitely, more comfortable with him tonight," Saunders said.
Anthony Bennett also flashed some of the skills the Cleveland Cavaliers probably saw in him when they choose him #1 overall. He scored 13 points, grabbed 5 offensive rebounds (8 total) and flashed a burst in his first step. There was a confidence in his game. At times, Bennett was ferocious near the basket. At other times, he showed his outside touch. There was plenty to like about his performance - doing it in black goggles made it all the better.
After the game, Saunders talked about Bennett's strong showing. "For me, you know, I said going in, the biggest thing for me is to see how our young kids would respond. I mean, AB might have been the best player on the floor tonight when he was on the floor and how he played."
"His composure, his demeanor," Saunders continued. "How he went after rebounds, he got his hands on a lot of balls. He had 8 rebounds in 24 minutes. He had a man rebound in the fourth amongst five guys and came out and dunked it."
Saunders also talked about LaVine bouncing back from a rough first outing in Indiana. "I thought that Zach came back from a struggle game in Indiana and showed some good poise," he said.
LaVine took a couple long 2's that weren't good looks, along with an errant pass or two, but otherwise showed he could "get buckets" - 15 points, 6-for-11 from the field. The rook can get his shot whenever he pleases; now he'll have to learn discretion.
Corey Brewer started next to Andrew Wiggins on the wing, presumably in place for Kevin Martin, and dropped 14 points; he destroyed the Sixers with his infamous leak out and was a team best +19 on the night. He's another guy to bring off the bench as a scoring punch. Then, there's Chase Budinger. He played 12 minutes and finished 3-5 with 7 points. As I wrote here, he'll be relied on for 3-point shooting and should play consistent minutes to help space the floor if his knees can hold up.
The Wolves bench could be better than originally thought; an incredibly crowded one too. Yes, it's the tanking Sixers in early October without any of the major players they're building around, but I saw things that gave me more confidence in the bench this season.