Following a two year wait for Ricky Rubio to make his NBA debut, the Timberwolves will have to hold out for just two months for him to return.
The early comeback of Minnesota’s talented point guard coincides with the elevated expectations of the team.
The Timberwolves are hoping to snap an eight year playoff drought, the longest of any franchise in the NBA.
A healthy Rubio is vital, as he proved to be one of the best distributors in the game, as he averaged 8.2 assists per game, the sixth highest total in the league along with 10.2 points and 2.2 assists.
Ten games into the season, he took the starting job away from Luke Ridnour and during his second start, there was no question he belonged, as Rubio posted 18 points, 12 assists, five steals and four rebounds.
With Rubio in the starting lineup, the Timberwolves went 18-13, in the 35 games without him, their record was 8-27.
All the pieces are in place for Minnesota to reach the post season for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
Before Rubio’s injury, Minnesota was 21-19 and still in playoff contention.
“We were a very good team when Ricky played but when he went out, we didn’t really get that back,” Love told AOLSportingNews.com ”So we need him to be healthy and doing all of the things he needs to be doing to get back on the court.”
The city is finally behind the Timberwolves, as the team placed 17th in attendance, their highest ranking since Kevin Garnett was the featured player at the Target Center.
The draw is Rubio.
His unselfishness is a necessity for the Timberwolves, as the team dished out just 19.5 assists per game, the sixth fewest in the league.
Rubio’s court vision is unprecedented, he is able to complete passes at impossible angles, allowing his teammates to play to their strengths.
The Timberwolves were a poor long range shooting team last season, connecting on 33.2 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc, but Rubio tied Deron Williams for the league lead, averaging 2.7 assists per game that directly led to a 3-pointer.
For Minnesota to take the next step, Rubio needs to improve his jump shot.
The 21-year-old shot 47 percent at the rim, 23 percent in the outside of the restricted area in the paint and 33 percent on mid range jumpers.
For the year, he shot 35 percent from the field and he rarely looked for his own shot, attempting 15 or more field goals just five times.
The same questions facing Rubio’s offensive game were posed to Tony Parker following his rookie season, as he shot 41.9 percent from the field and 67.5 percent from the foul line.
Parker tirelessly worked on his game, developed an unstoppable shot, his signature running floater in the lane and became a dominant scorer by learning how to finish at the rim.
During Parker’s fifth season in the league, he became a dominant scorer, averaging 18.9 points per game as he shot 54.8 percent from the field.
If Rubio is able to develop a similar offensive repertoire, there is little question he could develop into a perennial All-Star, even at the NBA’s most loaded position.
His 22 point effort against Philadelphia marked the only time he topped 20 points all season.
Surprisingly, he was an effective 3-point shooter, burying 34 percent of his attempts from long range.
The Timberwolves finally have some high expectations for next season and a healthy return from Rubio is the key.