Fresh off an early morning TiVO viewing, here are my thoughts on the Wolves’ season opener…
1. This team is fun to watch!
When this game began, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. We were facing a Nuggets team that should be in the post-season and features big names like Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony. The Wolves, on the other hand, were basically composed of youngsters and veterans who had been tossed aside. The optimistic part of me wanted to believe we’d play harder than the Nuggets and hustle our way to a victory. The realist inside of me thought we were horribly outmatched and were due for our first home opener loss since before the Kevin Garnett era.
In actuality, this game was a little bit of both. There were times when the Wolves play was a thing of beauty. The offense was flowing with good passes and smart shots. The defense held strong and the Wolves cleaned up the boards. And then there were times when our inexperience was fully on display as the Thuggets, er Nuggets, completely overpowered us. Regardless, this is clearly the most fun Wolves team we’ve gotten to watch in years. We’ve finally got an inside game going – something we’ve haven’t had for over a decade. We’ve also got a fair amount of players who can stroke the three in McCants, Buckner, and occasionally Gomes and Telfair. But perhaps the most fun part of watching this team is that they just make you feel good when they’re playing well. When guy who have been tossed aside and criticized for so long like Ratliff, Telfair, and McCants start making things happen on the court, it’s exciting.
I might be getting ahead of myself here, but there were times during the first three quarters where this team made me thing, "The playoffs aren’t out of the question". They would make me debate between, "Is it better to be an 8th seed, or take our lumps this year and add another top rookie to our roster?". After what we’ve been through the past three years, the fact that I can have those thoughts is a very good thing.
I’ll admit, I was one of the leading contributors to the "Theo Ratliff’s Corpse" joke getting completely overused. Miraculously, this guy has been completely rejuvenated. He sparked another debate in my head. "If the Wolves are in the playoff hunt, what player would have to be involved for us to trade away Theo at the deadline?" Theo Ratliff is a huge part of this team right now. If he goes down, our season is pretty much over as nobody will be able to replace him at the center spot. (With 81 games remaining, I realize how scary that sounds.) If the Wolves are out of it, trading him at the deadline for a good piece is a no-brainer. But if the playoffs are truly a possibility, we’d have to get somebody very good in return to give up our shot at the playoffs and the 16 million off the books he represents.
Yeah, he might come out next game and go 1-12, but give some credit to McCants, who was by far the most effective Wolf on the floor last night. The only knock I have on Rashad, which is the same knock I have on most of the team, is that once things started to go well, they got a little too overconfident. He stopped doing the things that were working and started taking shots that he shouldn’t have been taking because he was feeling invincible. Hopefully these are the things that McCants and the rest of our young guys will learn to control as they gain experience.
I promise that this will be the last of my annoying name screams, but these three really impressed me last night. While Sebastian could have shot a little better last night (4-13), I felt he did a solid job of running the offense. He resembled nothing of the overwhelmed and overmatched point guard that many made him out to be in Boston. Is he the solution to the Wolves point guard woes? Probably not, at least for now. However, I wouldn’t have any problem with him as our backup. Sebastian Tel-failure, he is not.
5. Too many fouls!
Again, this may be the result of inexperience, but the Wolves compiled a ridiculous 28 personal fouls last night which lead to a Denver parade to the free-throw line. Thirty-eight free throws is way too many to give up if you want to upset a playoff team. Had the Wolves not gotten in foul trouble, their 1st quarter lead could have approached the 20’s. Free throws kept Denver in this game and allowed them to take over in the 4th. I feel the foul descrepancy between the two teams is the most telling stat of this game.
6. Is Game 2 too early to break out the "Fire Wittman" chant?
I don’t mean to be too negative as the Wolves did "overachieve" to some degree, but I felt that Wittman threw this game away in the fourth quarter with his lineup. In his first NBA game, Corey Brewer should not be seeing floor time during the fourth quarter when things are close. Melo just dominated him and helped Denver pull away. Also, Antoine Walker had no business playing in the 4th, or perhaps even the entire game. His first outing was decent, with two good scores before he started in with his usual shot-chucking. I can light-heartedly joke about "Antoine Specials", but in reality each of those ill-advised heaves is no different than a turnover. When the Wolves are within two buckets late in the fourth, having Walker brick a ridiculous shot is the exact opposite of what this team needs. The fact that Corey was allowed to be dominated and Walker was allowed to let it fly, goes completely back to Wittman. It’s inexcusable and it probably cost us this game.
Jeff Van Gundy anyone?
7. Gerald Green’s DNP
Maybe I missed something, but I don’t think Green is nursing an injury. Green must’ve really been unimpressive this off-season. The facts that Wolves didn’t pick up a measley 2.5 million dollar option on him for next season and he didn’t see the floor in the opener are sending the message that Green, not Ratliff or Telfair, is set to be the "bust" of the KG trade.
Overally, I was impressed by where this team is at already. I also legitimately enjoyed the game, which is something I haven’t been able to say for quite a while. With Foye set to return in 3 weeks, this season may be a lot more exciting than anyone anticipated. I realize it’s only been one game and we could go out an lay an egg against the Knicks on Sunday, but if for one night only, it felt good again to be a Timberwolves fan.