By Brandon Niles, Explorebigsky.com Sports Writer
NBA — While the rest of the NBA is clamoring to find out what’s going on with Lebron James or debating whether or not Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can co-exist, the long-forgotten Minnesota Timberwolves have something quietly brewing.
Led by star forward Kevin Love, the Wolves have made basketball relevant again in the City of Lakes. Love is fourth in the league in points per game and second in the league in rebounds and seems to have taken a step forward in his all around game during the start of this season.
Joining Love in the Minnesota spotlight is Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio. While technically a rookie in his first year, Rubio has been a star in international play for the past several years. As a result, excitement has surrounded the arrival of Rubio in a Timberwolves uniform. Originally drafted fifth overall in 2009, contract issues with his Spanish team have delayed his arrival to the states.
So far, Rubio has not disappointed. Though the season is young, he’s already vying for Rookie of the Year honors with Kyrie Irving, the first overall pick in the 2012 draft. Rubio has an uncanny ability to see the entire court and his precision passing has been a thing of beauty as the Timberwolves have gone from basement dweller to exciting young franchise in about a year. He’s also been better than expected in other areas of his game, shooting with surprising consistency and gathering rebounds at an effective rate for a point guard.
The most exciting thing for basketball fans is that Rubio is just getting started. His playing time this season has been fairly limited, and he’s only 21 years old. In an average 30 minutes per game, he’s averaging almost 11 points, eight assists, five rebounds, and more than two steals. That’s an amazing stat line for a player that many predicted would become a colossal bust after a down year overseas in 2010.
In his final season in Spain, Rubio’s court vision seemed to wane slightly, but most concerning was his lack of consistency shooting the ball. Whether inside or behind the paint, Rubio’s jump shot seemed to lack any kind of reliability, causing critics to describe him as one-dimensional and not ready for the NBA.
However, these concerns now seem exaggerated. Rubio’s court vision has been everything the team hoped for when it drafted him, and he’s shocked everyone by shooting nearly 43 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Unfortunately, the arrival of Rubio and the continued improvement of Love haven’t yet translated into significant wins. The Timberwolves are still a fringe playoff team and will have to fight hard down the stretch in order to qualify.
Still, the team has been far more competitive than a year ago, and with two young stars on the roster, they’re an exciting team to watch. If the team accrues a couple more talented young players in the coming years, Minnesota could become a perennially strong contender in the Western Conference.