On Sunday night the Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the New Orleans Hornets by a final score of 97-95. The victory was keyed by a number of important contributions, ranging from Derrick Williams and his 28 points to Nikola Pekovic with his clutch free throws to Andrei Kirilenko with a blocked shot in the closing seconds. Earlier in the week the Timberwolves defeated the San Antonio Spurs, keyed by a triple double from their most important player, healthy or otherwise: Ricky Rubio. There is a common thread in these victories.
And the children danced.
At 23-41, nobody will confuse the Timberwolves with a team that is anywhere near contending. Perhaps injuries held the Timberwolves back from a playoff run this season, but the more realistic appraisal of the team has them in building mode once again. And while Kevin Love enjoys the biggest celebrity profile on the roster, it is becoming clear that he is not the player around whom this franchise should build.
It is time to build around point guard Ricky Rubio.
It is no coincidence that the improvement of the overall quality of the Timberwolves has coincided with the ascension of Rubio's game. Surrounded by dependent players such as Alexey Shved, Derrick Williams, and even Nikola Pekovic, Rubio has shown the value of a true point guard. Kevin Love, while extraordinarily skilled, is simply one of the best dependent players in the NBA. He cannot create his own opportunities. Rubio creates those chances for Love and others, and as the team saw on Sunday, sometimes it is merely his presence that frees things up for a player like Williams to be productive.
As players such as Kirilenko, Pekovic, and eventually Love return to the Timberwolves lineup, the Timberwolves should set the following goal: figure out how all of these pieces fit around Ricky Rubio.
The Timberwolves will be swarmed by difficult decisions this offseason. Kirilenko will presumably opt out of his deal, Pekovic will hit the open market, and the Kevin Love drama/trade rumors will continue. The team needs to maintain a cool objectivity and make each decision based on building a franchise around its young point guard.