How Ricky Rubio's Return Changes the Game for Minnesota Timberwolves

Tom Schreier@tschreier3Correspondent IDecember 25, 2012

ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 24:  Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Team Shaq drives against John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards and Team Chuck during the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge part of the 2012 NBA All-Star Weekend at Amway Center on February 24, 2012 in Orlando, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Ricky Rubio’s return has made the Minnesota Timberwolves a better team.

Without Rubio, the Timberwolves remain out of the playoff picture—even with superstar forward Kevin Love. With him, they are a team on the rise that can make the playoffs this year as a late seed.

“When he has the ball in his hands,” Minnesota coach Rick Adelman told the media (via USA Today), “I’m a much better coach.”

Rubio returned for a December 15 contest against the Dallas Mavericks. Although he did not play in the overtime portion of the 114-106 win at Target Center in Minneapolis, he contributed nine assists, eight points and three steals in 18 minutes off the bench.

The highlight of the night was a spectacular behind-the-back pass to teammate Greg Stiemsma near the basket. He also threw a bounce pass between his own legs and those of Dallas Mavericks defender Elton Brand.

“He was making everything happen,” Adelman said.

“I’m just happy he’s back playing,” the less-flashy veteran guard Luke Ridnour told Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press.

“To see somebody that young go through what he’s went through and get back on the court, I’m just excited for him to keep getting better and better.”

This is not NBA Street: There is no statistic that measures “style points.” Rubio will not hit a Gamebreaker that subtracts points from the other team if he throws enough fancy passes.

What he does provide is a little flash, a little swagger, a little postseason hope to a team and a franchise that has not sniffed the playoffs since the Kevin Garnett era. In essence, he’s Stephon Marbury without the neck tattoos, 24/7 broadcasting on or, well, the attitude.

“The only way that we’re going to be the team that everyone hopes for us to be is that Ricky has to be Ricky,” Love recently told FOX Sports North’s Joan Niesen. “At the end of the day, Ricky Rubio just wants to be Ricky Rubio and nobody else.”

Minnesota expects the Wolves to be a playoff team.

They know that Love alone cannot get them there. They know that the two need each other: Love needs Rubio to get him the ball, and Rubio needs Love to put points on the board.

So far, the two have played well together.

While many of Rubio’s best assets are his intangibles, concrete statistics will tell you that Love’s game has improved since his return.

Love has also missed time due to injury, but in the two games they’ve played together, the forward has a 32.2 points-per-game average and a 43-percent field-goal percentage. Both numbers are significantly higher than his 19.8 PPG and 36 percent FG% playing without Rubio.

The Wolves still have injury concerns with their older players and really could use a young, reliable three-point shooter, but one thing is for certain:

If Love and Rubio can play the rest of the season together, this club has the potential to make the playoffs as one of the league’s most exciting teams.


All statistics are accurate as of December 25, 2012.