Kevin Love's Injury Will Increase Pressure on Ricky Rubio to Be a Star

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 29:  Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves dribbles away from a fallen Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on February 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  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 Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves' injury problems just keep cropping up as Kevin Love has re-fractured his right hand, leaving Ricky Rubio in charge of the house while Love is away.

It means a lot for the Timberwolves, but mostly it means they'll see their playoff chances take a huge hit, even though Love was having a rough start to the season.

While Love was averaging over 18 points per game and 14 rebounds, he was doing it all while shooting 35 percent from the field and an embarrassing 21 percent from the three-point line.

The Timberwolves were 9-9 with Love in the lineup as they tried their best to come together and get some sort of chemistry working.

At the very least, they were able to keep their record at .500 and not do much to hurt their chances at the playoffs, while they did lose precious time in terms of making up ground.

Minnesota has been impressive in staying afloat as long as they have. Love played in just 18 games this season; Rubio is up to five, but has yet to start one. Otherwise, Chase Budinger, Brandon Roy, Malcolm Lee, Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic have all missed time with an injury or two.

Yet the team is still 15-15 with a shot to rally together and make the playoffs, as long as they find someone to take the team over.

For most of the season, Kirilenko has been the leader of the Timberwolves. He's been an all-around blessing for the team, doing whatever he can to help on every possession he's a part of.

Defensively he's shown that he can lead this team by blocking shots, stealing passes and just hunkering down and becoming the emotional leader of a defense that allows just 95 points per game.

The biggest problem is that Kirilenko isn't going to be the offensive initiator that the Timberwolves need. He can score efficiently, but he's a cog in the offense, not a creator.

Minnesota's offense is racking up just 0.2 points more per game than it's giving up, which is conducive to a .500 record.

Love and Rubio were expected to come back and expedite the offensive ingenuity, but Love has had a rough return, while Rubio has played in just five games.

As Rubio slowly works his way back into the rotation (he's troubled by back spasms at the moment), he's going to have to be the offensive spark plug that the Timberwolves have lacked over the course of the season.

Shooting-wise, Rubio isn't going to be the long-ball threat the T-Wolves are looking for, but he can provide the ball movement that they desperately need.

With the offense relying on J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour to run things, the offense just doesn't flow. The team averages just under 22 assists per game, fourth-worst in the NBA.

They lack a main distributor, as Barea, Ridnour, Alexey Shved and even Kirilenko are best used as secondary movers or backup point guards. That's why Barea, Ridnour and Shved all average fewer than five assists per game.

If Rubio can get back to where he was last season and average 8.2 assists per game, Minnesota will finally have the offensive operator that it's been missing.

He's still got time to get into the game, as they will be able to continue to rely on their defense for the time being, but he has to get a move on before we get too deep into the season.

Minnesota has stayed afloat long enough; it's time for them to either swim or get left behind the pack, and it's going to be up to Rubio to get them swimming.