NBA Preview: T-Wolves set for next step

When it comes to building a playoff contender, the Minnesota Timberwolves have taken a somewhat unconventional approach.

They signed Andrei Kirilenko, a former NBA standout who had been playing in Russia. They signed Brandon Roy, a former All-Star who had been playing nowhere. They signed Alexey Shved, a promising young combo guard, also from Russia.

These are the type of moves everyone considers — but is usually unwilling to make. Too risky. But when you’re the Timberwolves and someone like Kevin Love is already on the roster, hey, why not? You can afford to take chances.

In fact, when you’re the Timberwolves, you really can’t afford to do it any other way. The irregular route is often all you have.

But guess what? While the Wolves may not have put together a summer worthy of major media buzz, they seem to have improved. A lot of teams would kill for that type of hope.

After all, no one goes from perennial postseason absentee to Finals contender overnight. It’s a process. And it’s one the Timberwolves are starting to show they grasp well.

Last season: 26-40, did not make playoffs.

Coach: Rick Adelman (971-656, 22nd year).

Top returnees: PF Kevin Love, PG Ricky Rubio, C Nikola Pekovic.

Key additions: SF Andrei Kirilenko, SG Brandon Roy, G Alexy Shved, SF Chase Budinger.

X-Factor: Derrick Williams. After one lockout-shortened season, it’s still hard to tell what to make of the former No. 2 overall draft pick. He’s certainly capable of putting up big numbers from time to time, but you could say the same of 75 percent of the league. But what seemed to be most noticeable is Williams still doesn’t really have a position and he doesn’t really seem to stand out in any one area. In Year 1, he was good enough nearly everywhere — and that’s it. This season, in order for the Timberwolves to be all that they think they can be, he needs to figure out his niche.

Strengths: Love has called himself the game’s best power forward, and it’s probably time to believe him. After all, is anyone anywhere as dangerous both inside and out? It sure doesn’t seem like it. Throw in a crafty point guard like Rubio (when he returns from knee surgery), and the Wolves have an old-school feel, dating back to the days when possessing a pass-first point guard and reliable inside threat meant a lot. On top of those two, Budinger adds perimeter shooting, Kirilenko adds intangibles and Roy could potentially add a little (or a whole lot) of both. And, of course, you can’t go wrong with Adelman on the bench.

Weaknesses: There’s no doubting Love, but otherwise, the Timberwolves have struggled in the area of consistency (particularly on defense). That’s nothing new with a mostly young team. And the likes of Kirilenko and Roy could help in that area. Mostly, the Wolves seem to lack a reliable second option, a guy who you just know will kill you if you pay too much attention to Love. That player could still emerge from the current roster, but until someone does, it’ll be tough to crack the playoffs in the loaded West.

Outlook: Well, there’s definitely no shortage of wild cards here. At the very least, Love must stay the same. Rubio must recover, Williams must improve, Kirilenko and Roy must prove they have something left, and Shved must adapt to the NBA. If the Wolves hope to make strides, then almost all those things must happen at once. If it does all come together, this could be a fun and memorable season. And that’s always a big plus when you’re talking about a process.

Prediction: 40-42.

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