Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 12/14/12
MINNEAPOLIS The Timberwolves are in New Orleans for their game Friday night against the Hornets, missing one Ricky Rubio for the first time all season. The point guard has traveled with the team throughout the season, but he remained in Minneapolis for this quick, one-day trip in order to work out and continue to be evaluated by the team's medical staff. A Saturday comeback for Rubio still seems likely, though the team has yet to confirm and probably will not do so until that morning or even later in the day. Guards Brandon Roy and Malcolm Lee also remained behind in Minneapolis as the Timberwolves take on the 5-16 Hornets, who have lost their last five games despite No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis' Tuesday return after missing 11 games with an ankle injury. But the Hornets might not be the bunnies they appear to be they played Oklahoma City close Wednesday, leading for much of the game before losing by just four points, 92-88. Here's where the Hornets stack up compared to the Timberwolves: 91.3 points per game: 28th in the NBA; Timberwolves 25th with 93.997.6 points allowed per game: 17th in the NBA; Timberwolves fourth with 92.639.0 percent 3-point shooting: fourth-best in the NBA; Timberwolves are last with 29.4 percent43.6 percent field-goal shooting: 21st in the NBA; Timberwolves are 25th with 42.8 percent21.1 assists per game: tied for 17th in the NBA; Timberwolves are 19th with 21.00.42 steals-to-turnover ratio: tied for 27th in the NBA; Timberwolves are 17th with 0.5240.7 rebounds per game: 23rd in the NBA; Timberwolves are third with 45.5 The Timberwolves have a better defense and better presence on the boards, which will likely be key in this matchup. The Hornets have been shooting far better than the Timberwolves all season, accurate despite their less-productive offense, so Minnesota will need turnovers and to control the pace of the game. Although with the tiny sample size of Davis' games and his effectiveness when he has played, it's easy to question the Hornets' stats and expect them to improve as he hits his stride. Last season, the Timberwolves lost to the Hornets at home the day after Rubio tore his ACL, beginning a late-season slide without the point guard. Now, it's come full-circle, as this will likely be the last game before Rubio's return. Funny how things work. PER through 19 games: Player efficiency rating (PER) is an advanced stat that seeks to boil down all of a player's contributions into one number. The league average PER is set each season at 15, and in honor of its inventor, John Hollinger, being hired away from ESPN by the Grizzlies Thursday night, I decided to see where the Timberwolves fall on the PER scale compared to last season. Last year, the team had just three players above average: Kevin Love (25.41 PER, fifth-best in the NBA), Nikola Pekovic (21.47) and Anthony Randolph (17.60). The fact that Randolph is even on that list proves that it's an imperfect measure, but according to the scale that explains the numbers, here's where the three stack up: Love's measure put him as "weak MVP candidate," Pekovic's as "borderline All-Star," Randolph's as "solid second option." This year, with six players above the 15.0 average, the Wolves have a much more balanced PER layout, and if last year set any standard, it seems on pace to improve, at least for Love and Pekovic. Love, through 10 games, has a 20.06 rating ("borderline All-Star") even with his struggles. Andrei Kirilenko is at 18.90 ("solid second option"), Chase Budinger at 17.46 before his injury ("solid second option"), Pekovic at 17.25 ("solid second option"), J.J. Barea at 17.09 ("third banana"), Dante Cunningham at 15.56 ("pretty good player"). Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.
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