While the Minnesota Timberwolves’ tandem of stars still has a long way to go before challenging the greatest point guard/power forward duo in the history of the game, Love and Rubio have shown promise similar to that of the former Utah Jazz greats.
The biggest obstacle, however, will be staying together on the same team.
Remarkable start to 2014
Love, the clear front-runner in the early 2013-14 MVP race, has been an absolute monster after playing in just 18 games last season due to a never-ending string of injuries. The five-year veteran is averaging over 27 points and 14 rebounds a game for the surging T'Wolves.
In just his third season in the NBA, Rubio is giving Minnesota nearly 10 points and 10 assists a night, including a dazzling performance against Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers in which the 23-year-old caught fire for 16 points and 16 assists.
This year has been Love and Rubio’s first real chance at playing together. Injuries derailed Love’s 2012-13 campaign, while Rubio suffered a torn ACL during his rookie season.
With the help of Kevin Martin on the wing and Nikola Pekovic down low, Love and Rubio have turned a Minnesota team that finished dead last in the Northwest division with a 31-51 record last season into what appears to be a legitimate contender.
The Wolves have soundly beaten the New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers—all playoff teams in 2013—and have lost by just an average of nearly five points to the Cavs, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors.
Minnesota is relevant for the first time since the Kevin Garnett era, thanks almost entirely to their tandem of young studs.
Off-court friendship and on-court chemistry
Rubio and Love have become buddies off the hardwood, and that’s translated into an extremely effective playground style of play.
Their cohesion begins with Rubio’s ability to see the floor and sling wild passes with great accuracy in the open court as well as the paint. Love, a career 45 percent shooter, can finish at the rim, elbow or beyond the three-point arc.
Wolves head coach Rick Adelman talked to Jerry Zgoda of Minnesota’s Star Tribune earlier this season about the Stockton/Malone comparison.
“That’s a pretty bold statement,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said, taken aback at the mention of the Utah Jazz greats, point guard John Stockton and power forward Karl Malone. “I coached against those guys and those are two Hall of Famers who played together for 18 years. They invented, I guess, the pick-and-roll between the two of them.”
Ah, the pick-and-roll—one of the most timeless plays in the game. Watch a game at any park or court, and whether it be grammar school, high school, collegiate, professional or pick-up basketball, and you’ll see it in action.
Rubio and Love appear to be crafted with the sole purpose of thriving in pick-and-roll situations. When serving as the roller, Love has connected on 50 percent of his attempts from the field this season. When spotting up for a jumper after setting a screen, Love’s shot holds true 44 percent of the time (via Synergy Sports).
There are countless highlights of Rubio and Love running the pick-and-roll, and there will surely be many more after the conclusion of the 2012-13 season.
As dynamic as Love and Rubio have been in their first real season as a duo, there’s a strong chance that they won’t be playing together for much longer.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that the Knicks plan to make a strong push for Love after he opts out of his contract following the 2014-15 season. In addition to New York, the Lakers will be in the mix in pursuit of the former UCLA standout and will have cap space to bring in an additional superstar.
On the other hand, Rubio is under contract until at least 2014-15 with a qualifying offer on the table for 2015-16. Just about every team in the league could use his services, and there’ll be a long line of suitors trying to pull him from Minnesota once he becomes available.
It would be sad to see such an electric tandem of stars go their separate ways after exciting the basketball world and bringing life to a franchise that was in desperate need of it. But the NBA is a business, and players have to do what’s best for themselves and their families.
However, should the T'Wolves continue lighting up the Western Conference and find a way to make a run in the playoffs, Love and Rubio won’t be heading anywhere.
So, if Minnesota wins, we all win.