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NBA season preview: Minnesota Timberwovles

Oct 12, 2012, 3:54 PM EDT

Kevin Love AP

Last season: What could have been. This was a team playoff bound (or at least in the mix for it) until injuries wiped out those hopes. First was the biggie, Ricky Rubio’s ACL, but then both Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic went down and the whole thing fell apart. The Timberwolves finished 26-40 and back in the all to familiar lottery.

Key Departures: There’s been changes, but coach Rick Adelman isn’t shedding any tears over them. Gone is Michael Beasley, who got a lot of run early until Adelman grew weary of him (then again late out of necessity). Also gone is Darko Milicic.

Actually, a team may be shed over Brad Miller, he was the kind of solid, professional guy every team needs (and teammates really liked him).

Key Additions: Minnesota had a fantastic offseason. They needed help on the wing and they got Andrei Kirilenko, who can help where desperately needed at the three and slide over and play a little at the four spot. They also brought in Chase Budinger who is very athletic and can give them minutes at the three, plus Rubio is going to love him in transition. They brought in Russian Alexey Shved, who looked impressive in the Olympics for Russia at the guard spot and should play both at the point and some two. They have Greg Stiemsma as a big man off the bench now, giving them real depth up front.

Then Minnesota took a smart gamble on Brandon Roy. We don’t know how his knees — the ones without cartridge the forced him to walk away from the game — will deal with the long grind of the season. And he may never be his old All-Star self again. But even the Roy we saw near the end in Portland would be an upgrade on the wing for Minnesota, where they need it.

Three keys to the Timberwolves season:

1) When does Ricky Rubio get back and how well does he play? The Timberwolves have a lot of talent now — Love, Kirilenko, Pekovic, Roy, Derrick Williams — but Rubio is the key. He is the gifted point guard who can make it all fit together, keep the ball moving, challenge the defense and get the ball to the right guy at the right time. Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea and if needed  Shved will man the point (as he has in preseason), but none of them have Rubio’s vision or creative flair.

Minnesota would be a lock playoff team if Rubio were going to be there all season and not get back around Christmas. Without him in a deep West, it will be tight. The sooner he returns and returns to form the better for this season, but Minnesota really needs to think long term here.

2) Can Derrick Williams take a step forward? Coming out of college as the No. 2 overall pick, Williams was considered a guy who could score but the questions were about him rounding out his game. But mostly he looked like a rookie — there were impressive moments but he shot just 41.2 percent over all on his way to 8.8 points a game. His jumpshot was dreadful — he shot 28.6 percent from 10 to 15 feet, 29 percent from 16 feet out to the arc, and 26 percent on threes. He can finish around the rim, especially when Ricky Rubio throws the ally-oop, but he needs to broaden his game.

If Williams takes a step forward the Timberwolves become more dangerous.

3) Okay Kevin Love, you got your help, no you must lead. Kevin Love complained to management, complained to the media — he said they needed more veterans and more talent in Minnesota. He got it. Love said there were some less-than-professional personalities in the Minnesota locker room last year. They are gone.

Love, it’s on you to lead now. This is your team, you have the gold medal, you need to keep putting up numbers on the court and keep the team professional off it. That’s what leaders do.

What Timberwolves fans should fear: That another string of injuries slows the team. Rubio is coming back from an ACL and that can be slow going. Brandon Roy could fade as the season wears on and his knees wear down. Kirilenko has had plenty of injuries over the course of his career. This team’s margin for error is too small for them to deal with a lot of injuries.

Prediction: 46-36 and they get the seven (maybe eight) seed in the West. They make the playoffs. That is a big step and this will be an entertaining team to watch once Rubio gets back. They are a team on the rise but if they are the seven seed and get the Lakers/Thunder in the first round, well, there is an entire new level of learning that comes with the playoffs.

  1. paulhargis53 - Oct 12, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    Kurt, for the 3 keys, you have the Blazers in the headline instead of the Timberwolves, just a heads up….

  2. scottieplongballs - Oct 12, 2012 at 4:17 PM

    Ahhh it feels good to finally have the T-Wolves respectable again. I can go to games and be excited and watch some wins. Sure they are not tittle contenders yet but that takes a few years of pounding on the door first to start to break through. #hoooooowwwwllll

  3. btwicey - Oct 12, 2012 at 4:40 PM

    Lol at heading

  4. observingii - Oct 12, 2012 at 4:48 PM

    A usual, you missed a key component to Wolves’ future success. Trading to get Dante Cunningham and signing on Lou Amundson as FA will give that team some much-needed “bite,” no matter how small their roles.

  5. passerby23 - Oct 12, 2012 at 5:05 PM

    I’m starting to believe Dallas doesn’t make the playoffs at all. They’re old, Dirk’s gimpy knee is a problem, and I just wonder if they have enough talent. So, to me, that leaves:

    1. LA Lakers
    2. OKC
    3. San Antonio
    4. LA Clippers
    5. Denver
    6. Memphis
    7. ???
    8. ???

    Could be Minnesota, Utah, or Golden State filling those spots. I agree, if Rubio were healthy for the whole year, they could battle for that 6th seed.

    • 00maltliquor - Oct 13, 2012 at 3:35 AM

      I got the same rank, except switch MEM to the 7, place MIN at the 6. I got DAL at the 8 but you can talk me into believing UTA, GSW, PHX, and even SAC, yes SAC (they are my surprisingly good team out in the West) have a shot to take Dirk and DAL out the playoffs. That 8th seed is gonna be fun to see who gets it.

    • nbascreed - Oct 13, 2012 at 8:17 AM

      The “they’re old” meme is trite. Boston has “been old” for the last 3 years and it’s worked just find for them.

      • passerby23 - Oct 13, 2012 at 2:10 PM

        I would agree with you if being old was a) the only point I made, and b) whether those old players were all non-impact players. I’m not sold that Elton Brand and Vince Carter are impact players at this stage in their careers. Shawn Marion is a role player. Even Kaman has some miles on him now.

        But, I also said that Dirk’s health is an issue and his knee is already flaring up. Even if Dirk’s knee holds up and age is not a factor, I’m beginning to question their overall talent. Boston, meanwhile, got younger and deeper.

        Minnesota and Utah are ripe for taking the 7th and 8th spots, I think.

  6. gpack17 - Oct 12, 2012 at 10:45 PM

    Do you guys employ editors? If so, you should ask for your money back.

  7. dysraw1 - Oct 13, 2012 at 12:18 AM

    Wolves are still a little bit of a question mark, they have bundles of talent, but still need lots of luck especially with health issues

  8. redstar504 - Oct 13, 2012 at 3:36 AM

    Hate to be the grammar cop but:
    “A team may be shed”
    “No you must lead”

    Think you meant “a tear may be shed” and “now you must lead”

    You guys should get a better proof reader your starting to sound like Greg Rosenthal formerly of PFT. Hey it’s not an NBC sports article without a couple of errors right? Besides Greg upgraded himself to NFL.com maybe will see you soon on NBA.com.

  9. slimmcfavorite - Oct 14, 2012 at 1:18 AM

    “We don’t know how his knees — the ones without cartridge the forced him to walk away from the game.”

    Yeah, my knees don’t have cartridge either. They do, however, have cartilage.

    Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I read an article of yours without several typos, Kurt.

    Appreciate the fact that you are getting paid to write about basketball and step your game up.

  10. jollyjoker2 - Oct 30, 2012 at 6:30 PM

    Timberpuppies make the playoffs? Geeze. Good luck. Kobe sticks a knee out and knocks out rubio for the year. Don’t you think when he comes back that the other teams are gonna pound him. ..These guys are cream puffs with a lot filling. If they are not 2-20 before they get their big buys back; I would be tremendously surprised.

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