In case you haven’t already heard, Wildcats big man Matt Knight will be out of action for the next two months with an injured shoulder.
Of course, injuries and the name Matt Knight seem synonymous with one another. There certainly is merit to that thought, however, it doesn’t quite tell the full sorry. Although we’ve come to expect Knight to miss large chunks of the season, that hasn’t exactly been the case.
Yes he’s missed games, and usually at the wrong end of the season, however over the past 5 years, Knight has surprisingly managed to squeeze an average of 26 games a season out of that rickety body. Not forgetting he started 33 games out of a possible 34 last season. And he did so, rather heroically at times, clearly nursing that bum shoulder of his for the majority of the season.
Nevertheless, Matty Knight is injured and will again miss some time this year – early estimations have him missing roughly a quarter of the season. While it’s never an ideal situation losing your star power forward on the eve of the season, if it does indeed happen to be just for the early portion of the campaign, it won’t be catastrophic either.
Even with the off-season loss of one of Perth’s favourite sons, Tom Jervis, the Wildcats roster still has enough talented big men to cover the injured Knight. Jesse Wagstaff will now, more than likely, start at power forward in Knights absence, while Shawn Redhage, and even the great Greg Hire, will be expected to play more minutes at the 4 than originally planned.
With Knight out, it does leave the Center position a little thin, but barring an injury to American import Jameel McKay, and to fellow new recruit , Angus Brandt, things should run relatively smoothly until the big man returns.
Being able to sign Lucas ” Waxy” Walker, as cover for the injured Matt Knight, this close to the start of the season is great fortune. Walker, seemingly a victim of the new 3 import rule, deserved to already be on an NBL roster.
With the increase of imports, and a number of Aussie stars returning to the league, “Waxy” is the shining example that the NBL is now ready for more teams.
Changing The Game Plan
With Knight out and Walker in, Perth is effectively, although momentarily, abandoning their two big-man starting lineup – in favour of a smaller, more athletic unit. Perth could have replaced Knight with a traditional big man; perhaps someone in the mold of former Wildcats’ Matt Burston, or God forbid, Luke Schenscher; but Trevor Gleeson seems hell bent on the notion of trotting out a super athletic team and Lucas Walker fits that model perfectly.
With the additions of the two new imports, McKay and Jaron Johnson, along with the returning Casey Prather, this Perth team is built to run and score a plethora of points in transition. Playing Jesse Wagstaff and Walker at power forward allows the team to do so even more.
Replacing Knight with Wagstaff/Walker should also, in theory, open up the half court offence. Now, instead of having two big dudes clogging the paint (McKay & Knight), the ‘Cats can spread the floor with four shooters around a very dangerous Jameel McKay pick-and-roll game.
Mobility and versatility also helps on the defensive end. Playing Walker alongside McKay, Johnson, Prather and Damian Martin, allows the team to switch, basically, any pick and roll.
However, playing small usually comes at the expense of rebounding, and that’s where the loss of Knight will really be felt. Giving up offensive boards and second chance points is demoralising. You can play the best defence in the world, but if you’re giving up easy offensive put-backs, what good was it?
That will be the challenge facing this Perth Wildcats team minus Matty Knight. Last season it was the ‘Cats who bullied other teams on the glass, those same teams will be looking to reverse that this time around.
It goes without saying that a healthy Matt Knight gives the Wildcats a greater chance of winning a championship, but in the short term they’ll be fine. And if nothing else, this team will be damn entertaining.
Enjoy the show