It's still going to be a while before he can join them in games, but just seeing their dynamic point guard inching closer to a return is one of the first health positives this injury-plagued team has seen this season. Rubio has started to do some light five-on-none work in practice for the Timberwolves, another encouraging sign in his long rehabilitation from a torn ACL in his left knee.
Kevin Love, who has yet to play this season because of a broken right hand, also joined in the instructional portions of practice on Sunday. It was a sign that help is on the way for a team that has played the past three games with just nine players, even if it doesn't come until next month.
"Just having them five-on-(none) gives you a sense that when you get them back we'll be pretty good," coach Rick Adelman said after practice. "We can't wait for them. We have to go out there and play. But it gives us a sense."
Love is expected back at the start of December, while Rubio is hopeful to return to game action sometime in the middle of next month.
Rubio was injured in a game against the Lakers on March 9. Losing him coincided with several other injuries to turn a promising season south in a hurry, and the bad luck has followed the Wolves into this season. Love broke his hand less than two weeks before opening night. Chase Budinger is out three to four months after having surgery on his left knee and Nikola Pekovic (sprained left ankle), J.J. Barea (sprained left foot) and Brandon Roy (sore right knee) have all suffered injuries that the Wolves are hopeful have much shorter recovery times since the season began.
Despite all the injuries, the Wolves won five of their first seven games. But they've lost two in a row, with Andrei Kirilenko saying after the loss to Golden State on Friday night that it appeared the short-handed team was running out of gas.
Pekovic said Sunday he expects to play when they return to the court on Wednesday night. It remains unclear if Barea and Roy will join him.
But everyone is waiting for Love and Rubio, the dynamic point guard whose infectious attitude, flashy passing and perimeter defense fueled a basketball revival for a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since 2004. Rubio started doing lateral movement earlier this month, but Adelman said they won't have a clear timetable for his return until he begins full-contact work in practice.
"Ricky's so smart," Adelman said. "He knew everything, every play we had and where everybody should be. That's just who he is. The more we get him on the court, even if it's five-on-none and doing some shooting, it's good for the team."
While he's been out, Rubio has been a constant presence on the Timberwolves bench, encouraging teammates and handing out some advice whenever he can, particularly to rookie guard Alexey Shved.
Even though Rubio is starting to ramp things up, Adelman said the team will be cautious bringing him back.
"We have to be careful about the expectations," he said. "He had a serious injury. You want him on the court and everything but you're going to have to judge how quickly. ... He's going to have his ups and downs. But he's just the type of young man that he's going to get through it. He's just going to have to have the type of patience himself."