While Minnesota is unquestionably Kevin Love's team, the Timberwolves cannot hope for an elusive spot in the playoffs without their starting point guard being intact.
Despite the new complement of weapons Minnesota acquired in the offseason, the Timberwolves' playoff hopes rest squarely on the shoulders of a healthy Rubio.
I'm a firm believer that the best point guards make everyone else's job easier and every other teammate better. That line of rationale also dictates that point guards, even ones that aren't the "best" players on their team, per se, can have the biggest positive impact on their team by virtue of wringing every last ounce of talent and performance out of even their bench players.
Rubio has the potential to be a top-five point guard in the NBA. His dazzling array of passing skills and floor leadership make him one of the most exciting players for basketball purists to watch. If Rubio can continue to develop a reliable outside shot, his value will eventually go through the roof, provided he stays healthy.
Provided he stays healthy. This is obviously the key component of Rubio's future success and of the future success of Minnesota. After tearing his ACL and LCL in a collision with Kobe Bryant on March 9, Rubio had a long road of rehabilitation ahead of him. Even after diligent rehab, would Rubio be the same player?
I think he can be, provided he avoids any injuries coming back, be they catastrophic like his ACL tear or minor, nagging injuries.
Besides missing out on Rubio's dynamic play when he's gone, the Timberwolves would be forced to rely on Luke Ridnour and/or J.J. Barea to man the point. Ridnour is a more than competent point guard and certainly still has value, but Ridnour has more or less defined the player he is going to be in the NBA; a good shooter and distributor with horrible defense.
Barea is much more of a scorer than a distributor and fits the role of bench scorer much more comfortably than distributor and floor general of the first unit.
With the new arsenal of weapons Minnesota has—Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Alexey Shved and Andrei Kirilenko— Rubio is the key to unlocking the team's true potential. Rubio could almost singlehandedly be responsible for the renaissance of two careers (Roy and Kirilenko), and the immediate rise to prominence of another (Shved).
Again, this all hinges on Rubio staying healthy and staying on the court.
If Rubio can manage to keep it together for the better part of a full season, the Timberwolves have a great chance of returning to the postseason for the first time since the sun set on the Kevin Garnett era.