Ricky Rubio is out for the season with a torn ACL
Ricky Rubio tore is ACL on this play right here. The intense Target Center crowd gasped together, and then consequently booed the culprit, Kobe Bryant. In the moment, I couldn’t help but think of the worst. Minnesota sports this season have been plagued by ACL injuries from Trevor Mbakwe to Adrian Peterson; what would make Rubio’s case any different? I knew it was bad, and that nightmare nagged everyone watching.
Rubio played what was his best game in weeks. The big, bad Lakers were in town — Which I will not recap anymore for obvious reasons; the Wolves had them on the ropes; all they needed was a defensive stop. It didn’t happen and the Wolves left the arena with more than just a loss.
It’s not all bad, though. The Timberwolves are one of the hottest teams in the league, and, according to the Wolves’ franchise, “everyone’s talking about the Wolves.” Last night’s game against the Lakers was a kind of “heat check” and, in my opinion, they passed that test. They had great momentum all game long, securing a big lead in the first half and keeping it close in the second when the Lakers made their move. And that was all without Kevin Love.
Although it’s painful to admit but Love is the reason this team is playing so good this year, not Rubio. Rubio has helped; he puts guys in place on offense and runs the pick and roll to a T. But Love’s scoring outbursts and endless hustle on the boards is why the Wolves are playing these Western Conference teams so tough. If Love is able to return from his back spasms without a hiccup, I can’t imagine the production would decline too steeply just because Rubio’s presence isn’t there.
Where the Wolves will dearly miss Rubio is on defense. Rubio’s third in the NBA steals and that’s because of his untiring will to to pester. His long, dangly arms help clog passing lanes and poke out balls with precision. With Rubio out, Ridnour takes over the bulk of defending teams’ point guards, where he’s been exposed before — I actually think he’s played better guarding 2-guards. JJ Barea will be no better defending the point, once he gets healthy.
That leaves Malcolm Lee, rookie out of UCLA, who has yet to play this season after suffering an injury early on. Lee is a multi-dimensional guard who can play both positions on the floor. Better yet, he’s known for his physical defensive presence that helps guard both spots. Lee could step in and gain some minutes in the next few games, starting tonight against New Orleans. Although it could be limited, because Wayne Ellington will see some time too, the Wolves will need someone to handle the ball other than Ridnour and Lee may just be the best choice. It’s a great opportunity for the rookie to get some burn and for the fans to be exposed to what he can do in regular season games — Lee made strides in the two preseason games against Milwaukee, scoring nine points and dishing out five assists in the preseason finale.
The Wolves could look to another option to fill Rubio’s void too. They could use the trade deadline to obtain another ball-handler, combo guard player. They cannot, and I stress “cannot,” trade Ridnour anymore because they’ll need him badly, but if David Kahn can ship out Michael Beasley to get some guard — Jamal Crawford? — it would help ease the transition to life without Rubio. I think this is premature. The team has depth, albeit not great, but there is depth on the bench. If Lee and Ellington can come off the bench, dust off the cobwebs and play meaningful minutes, the need to go out and get someone, likely spending too much to get him, isn’t as pressing of a need as it sounds.
My opinion: I think this all comes down to staying firm and working with what you got. Ridnour is playing really well right now, so you stick with him. Start playing Martell Webster and Ellington more until Barea comes back from his injury, which should be soon. Then you use Lee to provide that spark off the bench, as he fights to show what he can do in the NBA.
Life without Rubio was no good before and it might not be much better now. The differences between last year’s roster and this year’s isn’t much different without Rubio, but it shouldn’t matter because the difference maker has been Rick Adelman all season long. He’s going to be the key player in Rubio’s injury. It’s ultimately up to Adelman to make due with what he has and continue to win basketball games. It’ll be much tougher than before, but there’s still a good chance the Wolves can persevere and keep the train rolling into the playoffs.
There’s no denying this is a huge blow to the Wolves and fans everywhere; Rubio’s charisma brings almost more to the table than his actual game. But it’s not all bad right now. There are ways to get around this, and it will surely be a process. But with Adelman at the helm and Love bulking most of the haul, there is a chance to get through this.