At 24-years-old and after just four NBA seasons Ricky Rubio finds himself as one of the veterans in the Timberwolves' locker room.
He is the team's highest paid player after signing a four-year, $55 million contract before last season and he knows he has the challenge of filling the void between Minnesota's veterans Kevin Garnett and Andre Miller and the team's young, exciting core – including Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine.
And as he recovers from surgery and the team readies itself for the 2015-16 season, Rubio tells Sports Illustrated that he thinks the Wolves could be a playoff team this season.
"We know we're young and we're building. At the same time, I think we're ready to win games. Last season we only won 16 games but it didn't feel like we were a losing team at all. We were just lacking some things. Me personally, I have to go pull this team in the playoffs. I know it's a big challenge, but I think we have the right assets, the right weapons to get it. I know we're in the West side, it's really tough, but I think we can make it happen. I have big expectations for next season."
A healthy Rubio may be the key to that. Minnesota was 7-and-15 in the 22 games he played last season. Injuries wiped out the rest of his year and the team went 9-and-51 without him.
When healthy last season, Rubio put together some nice games. He averaged 10.3 points, 8.8 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals during those 22 games, but the injuries have held the former European star to just one healthy NBA season.
Sports Illustrated notes that injuries have limited Rubio to 6,425 career NBA minutes, 23 of those in his draft class have played more minutes than Rubio, and six more more than doubled his minute totals.
The Wolves are hoping year five can be the year Rubio finally makes the leap. And he believes it can be especially with Wiggins and Towns by his side.