As Ricky Rubio's game has returned to form he has helped Derrick Williams return to relevance.
It was obvious again in the Timberwolves' loss to the New York Knicks on Friday at Target Center, almost from the start. When Williams plays with Rubio, he is a different guy. Williams finished second on the team with 19 points on 8-for-17 shooting. And that includes an 8-for-11 performance on two-point shots. Of those eight baskets, five had assists, and four of them came from Rubio.
All of them involved Williams either running the floor hard or working hard to get into position for the pass.
"I think the idea in his mind is that he'll be rewarded," said assistant coach Shawn Respert, whose job description this season has included working 1-on-1 with Williams. "So he will make an extra effort at times, versus being reluctant, in his own mind, with a guy who might not have the ability get him the ball."
That, of course, has to change. It's a message that Respert, coach Rick Adelman and, more recently, Rubio have been trying to drive home.
"He's one of our top scorers on the team when he's playing hard," Rubio said. "And he has to learn that he has to play hard every game. He's working to be that player."
Williams is coming off one of his most productive two-game stretches of the season. He scored 15 points with a career-high 12 rebounds against San Antonio on Wednesday. Of his five baskets -- including a three-pointer early in the game an alley-oop dunk -- four came courtesy of Rubio assists.
Rubio has assisted on eight of Williams' 13 baskets the past two games, including another alley-oop Friday.
"I thing we complement each other," Williams said. "We're out there having fun with each other. Being out there with a pass-first point guard makes things so much easier. He's going to look for you. That's really what he does. He's been doing that his whole life, finding guys in positions to be successful. We have a chemistry on the court."
The injury-ravaged Wolves have been waiting for Williams -- the second overall pick in the 2011 draft -- to rise to the challenge with Kevin Love out. And it has been a frustrating, stop-and-start process. Williams has looked very good at times, but has disappeared at times as well.
There is no question his chemistry with Rubio is bringing out his best. Now his job will be to keep that effort level up no matter who he is playing with.
"Ricky has an instinct to know what to do with each player to make him feel a little more comfortable," Adelman said. "But our guys have to figure out a way to work hard to matter what. You saw the game Derrick had [Friday] night. But that has to happen every night for us."
That will be Williams' challenge going forward.
"He has been playing confident the last couple games," Rubio said of Williams. "And I like it. He's playing more aggressive. He can do a lot of things, but he has to believe in himself. He is one of the keys to this team. He has to believe in that."
Forward Andrei Kirilenko (quadriceps bruise) did not make the trip to Memphis and won't play on the two-game road trip. There is a chance he could return for Wednesday's home game with Utah, but Adelman said Kirilenko might not play again until after the All-Star break.
Guard J.J. Barea sprained his left foot in the second quarter Friday but returned to the game. He was stiff and sore Saturday. He went with the team to Memphis but will be a game-time decision for Sunday's 5 p.m. game.