Three games after returning to the starting lineup, Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio said he still sometimes feels pain in his surgically repaired left knee and is still struggling with his strength and confidence.
And while none of that should be surprising -- Rubio is 10 months removed from surgery to repair two ligaments in the knee -- the 22-year-old point guard admitted his road back to 100 percent health has been longer and more difficult than he had hoped.
"I'm talking with guys that had the same injury. The first game they were texting me like, 'Man, it took me three months [of playing] to be back and the first game you did it,' " Rubio said Tuesday of his emotional return to the court Dec. 15.
Since then, removed from the adrenaline of his return, Rubio has had to cope with the tough task of trying to play at a high level while at the same time regaining his strength. He has dealt with groin muscle pain and back spasms that kept him out of four games in early January.
"I feel good, but there is a little pain in the knee," Rubio said. "They say it's normal. They say it takes a year, a year and a half, before you don't think about it at all. There are some games when I feel pretty good. But then, you feel all parts of the body and the knee comes back. But I'm pretty happy with where I'm at."
Even now, back in the starting lineup, Rubio's recovery has been an up-and-down affair. And while he has done an increasingly effective job finding open shots for others -- he has clearly been taking charge more as a starter -- he is still struggling with his shot. He worked long after Tuesday's practice on getting more arc on his shot.
"He still has to get comfortable," acting head coach Terry Porter said. "He's still got to find the rhythm of his shot and [identifying] scoring opportunities."
And Rubio is still working hard to get his left leg back to full strength.
"I'm moving pretty good side to side," he said. "But then, when I have to power, when I have to jump, I don't feel like I jump.''
Rubio joked about jumping, looking down and seeing he was two inches off the floor. "I never jumped too high, I'm going to be honest," he said. "[But] right now I can't even dunk. I'm not going to say I was doing 360s [before the injury] and all that stuff. But I was able to dunk."
Rubio said he is still working on getting the confidence back in his game, to the point where he can trust his left leg to hold up when he drives to the hoop. "Sometimes I want to penetrate and I don't feel like I have the power to do it," he said. "Maybe I have it. But it's like, sometimes, that confidence has to come back. ... So you have to try to find some space to work on that, then do it in the games, too."
As his legs get stronger, Rubio expects that confidence to return. But he's not sure how long it will take. He just hopes it happens sometime this season.
"I don't want to think about next season," he said. "I don't want to lose this season. I live in the present and I want to do as good as I can right now and I'm going to work as hard as I can to get healthy this season."
It will come, though maybe not as fast as Rubio would like. Especially after having watched what Vikings running back Adrian Peterson did this fall less than one year removed from knee surgery.
"The only one who can do it like that is Adrian Peterson," Rubio joked. "That's a bad example for me, because it makes me look bad."