Ricky Rubio: Point Guard's Return Solidifies Playoff Hopes for Timberwolves

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistDecember 16, 2012

ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 24:  Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Team Shaq drives against John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards and Team Chuck during the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge part of the 2012 NBA All-Star Weekend at Amway Center on February 24, 2012 in Orlando, Florida.  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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves have gone through some difficult injury problems this season. However, now that they are close to healthy, this team has what it takes to reach the postseason.

Surprisingly, the team would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. For a squad that won fewer than 40 percent of its games a year ago and was without some key contributors, this is quite impressive. 

Of course, veteran teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks loom outside the playoffs and are likely to get better. Still, Minnesota's solid play is likely to continue thanks to the return of Ricky Rubio.

The Spanish point guard has been out since tearing his ACL last March. Fortunately, he returned to action on Saturday night against the Dallas Mavericks and did not disappoint.

In only 18 minutes of action, Rubio scored eight points and had an incredible nine assists with three steals. He also showed a great deal of aggressiveness by getting to the free-throw line eight times, making six of his shots.

He showed in one game how different this team can look with a true point guard on the floor.

Minnesota has had a committee of point guards to this stage of the year. Luke Ridnour, Alexey Shved and Jose Juan Barea have all had good games this year, but none average more than five assists per game.

Ridnour has received the majority of playing time, but the veteran has never been a great distributor. In his 10-year career, he only averages 4.9 assists. 

As a result, only two teams in the Western Conference score fewer points per game than the Timberwolves.

The defense has been solid, but the team needs a bigger offensive burst to compete with the better NBA opponents.

This is what Rubio provides on the floor. He has great court vision and gets everyone involved in the offense. 

What is more impressive about the guard's return is that Kevin Love sat last game with the flu. He is the team's leading scorer and certainly makes things easier for guards trying to rack up assists.

When these two players are on the court at the same time, Minnesota instantly has one of the best tandems in the league.

Add in versatile scorers like Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko, and this is a roster that can compete with anyone.

Minnesota was not a team that many expected to reach the playoffs coming into the year. However, a 12-9 record, including a four-game winning streak, has many changing their expectations.

With Rubio back in the lineup, this squad will remain near the top of the standings all year long.