No matter which players may be the on the sidelines nursing injuries, the NBA has enough talent to hold the attention of its fans. But there's no doubt that certain players are missed more than others, and that the absence of a particularly incandescent talent can be felt quite deeply.
So, ever since Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio tore his ACL last March, many basketball fans pined for his return to the court. Few players in recent memory have been able to match Rubio's court vision. He finds angles that only become visible to anyone else on replay, and sometimes not even the first time. At his best, he makes fans reconsider what is possible on a basketball court.
On Saturday, Rubio played his first game since his injury, and it was a pretty big deal for a certain kind of basketball fan. The Target Center crowd cheered wildly when he got up off the bench to enter the game late in the first quarter. It didn't take him long to remind everyone why they were so excited in the first place. A few possessions into the second quarter, Rubio dribbled to the left side of the basket, waited for teammate Greg Stiemsma to get in position near the basket, and then somehow threw a bounce pass between his own legs and those of Dallas Mavericks defender Elton Brand. The crazy thing is, Rubio may very well top that in a few days. Suddenly, Minnesota is a League Pass favorite once again.
After the jump, check out video of the Target Center's raucous reaction to Rubio's return, along with some thoughts on what the Wolves can expect from him in coming months.
The Timberwolves are planning on bringing Rubio along slowly, and he played just 18 minutes, right in line with their pregame estimate of his availability. The Wolves eventually won the game 114-106 in overtime, with Rubio on the court at the end of regulation, but the organization is clearly thinking long-term and held him out of the extra period. A win is nice — keeping Rubio healthy is more important right now.
Of course, Rubio was still essential to the victory. While his scoring numbers were typically uninspiring, Rubio dished out nine assists and committed only two turnovers. More than that, he provided a spark at several times when the Wolves desperately needed. When he's on the court, things happen, if only because his vision keeps teammates more aware of what's happening on the offensive end. Rubio is still a young player in need of improvement — particularly on defense, where he should get torched by teams that don't play Derek Fisher at point guard — but he's still essential to the Wolves' short-term and long-term ambitions.
In part, that's because his presence increases the chances that Kevin Love will stick around in Minnesota past the end of his current contract. Love has been very vocal about his displeasure with the franchise, but he's also spent the last nine months playing without the Wolves' second major building block. There's of course no guarantee that playing with Rubio will convince Love to stay. But I highly doubt it'll hurt.