The Minnesota Timberwolves are going nowhere this season, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Crucial for the team’s long-term prognosis is the daily development of youngsters Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, and Gorgui Dieng. And while a spate of injuries to regular starters has afforded that quartet valuable responsibility the past month, it’s still pertinent that Wiggins and company grow while playing a reasonable facsimile of the roles they’ll realize in the future. To that end, the influence of Ricky Rubio’s potentially accelerated return can’t be discounted.
Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune reports that the Spanish sensation has begun running on his own and will likely resume five-man basketball activities by Christmas:
Rubio badly sprained his ankle against the Orlando Magic on November 7. Though it was initially thought that he might only miss several weeks of time, a more recent timeline for his recovery placed his return in early February. Though this report makes no mention of a set date for Rubio’s first game back, it leads you to believe that he could play in early January.
It’s hard to remember now as they skim the bottom of the Western Conference cellar, but the ‘Wolves were among basketball’s surprise teams after the first week of the season. Minny was 2-2 through its first four games, with narrow losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls. It’s gone 3-16 since.
The impact of Rubio’s injury has proven predictably large. The Timberwolves are stagnant offensively and leaky on the other end, and their roster full of shoot-first players has resorted to that inclination even more with Rubio running the show.
Wiggins has mostly been relegated to post-up or isolation scorer. LaVine has played at point guard exclusively. Corey Brewer has been the team’s backup ballhandler due to Mo Williams being sidelined.
Obviously, those aren’t hopes Flip Saunders had before the season began. 2014-2015 is all about growth for Minnesota, and it can only do so much of that if a key cog of present and future is missing. In a way, Rubio’s likely two month absence could prove a boon over the long-haul. Its forced Wiggins to be more assertive with the ball; thrust LaVine into playmaking duties he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to hone; made Muhammad a go-to scorer; and in general stretched the Timberpups to their limits.
An important part of player development is the freedom to use games as a test lab. Wiggins and the rest have been able to do so ad nauseam over the past 19 games, but that only helps for so long. With Rubio back on the floor, the young ‘Wolves won’t just continue trying out new things, but get a sense of what it could be like to play as a winning team down the road.
And while that might not mean many more victories now, it almost certainly will in the future.
What do you think?
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