30 preseason predictions: Minnesota Timberwolves

Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Will the Wolves' bearded stars produce anything more than peach-fuzzed envy this year?

When you move somewhere really cold, you're able to grow a beard -- at least that's what I've now convinced myself of. It's a decent excuse if you're approaching thirty, have only lived in warm climates and are still incapable of sporting that most masculinity-affirming of looks.

The Timberwolves are currently my strongest (and only) case for this argument. It's no surprise that Kevin Love and newly re-signed Superman 2 bad guy Nikola Pekovic rock the beard, but Ricky Rubio now, too? Somehow the Spanish star has gone from forgotten Jonas Brother to Wolverine seemingly overnight.

Unfortunately the T-Wolves' bearded trio has yet to show us what kind of feral play they're capable of - largely due to a string of unfortunate injuries - but I think this is the season that things finally come together for a postseason run. The seventh and eighth seeds in the playoffs are up for grabs and the Wolves, along with the Blazers, Pelicans, Mavs, Nuggets, and Lakers will all be vying for them. This Minnesota team, if healthy, should beat out most of them by a hair.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Prediction: A playoff appearance will silence the Kevin Love trade rumors, for a while.

Andrei Kirilenko is gone, having left Minnesota under a bit of controversy to sign with Brooklyn (owned by future Bond villain and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov) for much less money. Kirilenko's an impossible player for any one guy to replace with because he does so much on both sides of the floor.

Of course, Minnesota will quickly forget about the loss of AK47 if they're able to have their three most talented players together on the floor for most of the season. Achieving this could have big ramifications for not only this season but the team's long-term outlook as well.

Kevin Love has voiced his frustrations with the team's front office on many occasions. In five seasons with the team, he's yet to make it to the postseason. That, as well as the contract extension he signed (a four-year deal, with a player option on the last year) last summer, lead many to believe that Love will leave town if this team doesn't have success soon.

Center Nikola Pekovic was re-signed to a five-year, $60 million contract this summer and, despite the lack of outside suitors for Pek, it still looks like a good move. The big man from Montenegro had a great season in 2012-13, averaging around 16 points and 9 rebounds a game and finishing third in the Most Improved Player voting. Like Love, he plays below the basket most of the time, using his size and strength to create good angles. And the dude is a tank:

In Pekovic and Love, the T-Wolves have two unique frontcourt players to run the pick-and-roll with the electric Rubio, who absolutely needs to improve his shooting if he's to make the most of what should be this team's bread-and-butter. Rubio's shot around 36% from the field in his first two seasons, including 29.3% from long range last year. Obviously, his not being a threat to pull up and shoot gives the defense one less thing to worry about when coming around  Still, he's not even 23 yet, so there's plenty of reason to think he can develop at least a serviceable outside shot.

In the meantime, Rubio will benefit from not only having these two guys to dump the ball off to, but also key FA-acquisition Kevin Martin waiting on the wing. Martin should contribute around 15 points a game, providing Minnesota with the scoring 2-guard they've been looking for the past few years.

Of course there are other doubts, as well. The bench doesn't quite pack a punch; neither Love nor Pek can defend the rim particularly well; Derrick Williams might (and probably should, for the sake of both parties) be traded; rookie Shabazz Muhammad could end up assuming Michael Beasley's old role of the frustratingly promising, hopelessly boneheaded youngster; and Alexey Shved needs to change his face.

Oh, and health. With Chase Budinger already hurt, this season is starting to have that "here we go again" sort of feel. But the Law of Averages would suggest that luck should eventually side with Minnesota, and fans around the league deserve a chance to see what these guys can do. My money's on them making the postseason appearance they could've made the past two years.

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