Ricky Rubio was drafted in 2009. He was part of one of the most interesting drafts in recent history. It is definitely the most well known draft in Timberwolves history. David Kahn was running the show back then and he believed the Point Guard position was the most important position is basketball, so he took 3 of them with the 4 picks the Timberwolves owned in the first round, that year. I won’t necessarily argue with him on PG being the most important position. In Kahn’s defense too, he traded one of the 3 he drafted… The problem though… none of the 3 were Stephen Curry. Because of that, Kahn is now one of the biggest punching bags in town for MN Sports Fans and Rubio’s legacy will forever be tied to Steph’s. Kahn and Tim Brewster probably sit belly up at a bar and argue over who MN fans loath more.
Don’t worry Timberwolves Fans. I am not here to talk about our dreaded past, specifically David Kahn. This is about Ricky Rubio. He is the key to the immediate success of the 2017-2018 Timberwolves. Specifically, his shooting. The Timberwolves will go, in the next two years barring a trade or major pickup, where Rubio’s SHOOTING takes them. This season has proven that. Obviously, Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine are the future BUT they need a Point Guard, right now, that can run the show and help with scoring while they continue to mature with the rest of the young Wolves.
Going into tonight’s game against the Celtics, the Timberwolves sit 3.5 games back for the 8 seed, in the Western Conference, with just 16 games to play. It is going to be quite the mountain to climb. If they do it, great. But, don’t get your hopes up. They don’t need to make the playoffs to show they have turned a corner. This team looks different. I saw Thibs smile the other night. Seriously. It was glorious. I will save the .gif forever. Don’t take my word for it, though. Look at the stats:
The Timberwolves rank 10th in the league in defensive efficiency since January 1st. They rank 2nd in that category since the All-Star Break.They have been playing much better as a team defensively. Offensively, it has been the Rubio, Towns, and Wiggins show. Rubio is now the catalyst to this new Zach LaVine-less offense. He is averaging 13.3 points and 10.9 assists per game since the beginning of February. Towns has also set a franchise record with 21 straight games with 20+ points. He is averaging 28.4 points and 13.2 rebounds per game in that same timeframe while shooting over 60% from the field.
Just a month ago, fans were calling for Rubio to be out of Minnesota. I can’t say I wasn’t one of them. Rubio has always been a unicorn to me. He has always intrigued me but his lack of shooting has always been bothersome (I know, join the club). I was to the point where I wouldn’t have thought twice if Rubio would have been shipped off to New York for Derrick Rose. I was just done with him. I was ready to move on. The Timberwolves weren’t going to make the playoffs this year anyway. Let Rose go after the year and you shed Rubio’s cap hit and find out if Dunn and Tyus are the answers. Boy, am I smart… Easy people, it has only been a couple months.
So what changed? In my opinion, that question is easy to answer: Ricky Rubio has learned how to look for his own shot. It is the obvious answer. It has opened everything. Sure, everything for Ricky, but also everything for the entire offense. Rubio’s new-found confidence in his shot has made defenders, at least, think about getting a hand up when he shoots. He isn’t hesitating anymore. This has opened up better passing windows and angles which made for some glorious passes in the last couple months. Even more than that, it has opened up his driving lanes. Ricky Rubio is at his best when he is aggressively attacking the basket. He has always been a pretty good finisher around the net with a keen sense of what is going on around him. He has a very sneaky way of getting to the foul line when he is being aggressive too. When he gets there, he knocks them down, shooting 86.8% from the strike. However, in recent seasons, he hasn’t gotten that opportunity as defenders have sagged off of him and dared him to shoot. He looked timid and, when he did put it up, it was embarrassing enough to where I turned the channel at times. He has been impressive over the last couple months off the catch and shoot which has given Towns more room to work down low.
It took Ricky Rubio 20 games played, to start the season, before he reached 6 double-digit scoring games. He has now scored double-digits in his last 6. Really though, the change began back on January 7th, against the Utah Jazz, in a losing effort. Rubio scored 12 points that game so we didn’t notice much. Starting with that game though, Rubio has scored in double-figures in 22 of 29 games. The Timberwolves are 17-13 in that span (Rubio was inactive for one game, which they happened to win…not helping my cause) Before that? To start the year Rubio scored double figures in just 9 of 31 games played. The Wolves in that span: 11-25 (Rubio missed 5 games).
This team goes as Ricky Rubio goes, in the short term. Towns, Wiggins, and hopefully LaVine are the future but they have shown this year they are not ready to lead a team to the playoffs. It is Rubio’s will to score that will take them to the next step the remainder of this year and next. Some people want to say it is LaVine leaving the lineup that has sprung the difference in play lately. That’s ridiculous. LaVine would just add another great option for Rubio to feed. It is Rubio’s shooting and the improved defensive play that has spurred this turnaround.
With the Wolves being 3.5 games back so late in the season, and the level of teams they have to play going forward, it is going to take a miracle to make the playoffs this year. Like a 20 pt / 15 ast average for Rubio the rest of the season type miracle. For me, that would be a bonus. I want to see the team continue to flourish and see Ricky continue to shoot with confidence. If that happens, I will be crossing off the days on my calendar to next season.
At this point, I don’t see Thibs moving Rubio unless Rubio forgets how to shoot again or Thibs gets blown away with an offer too good to refuse. It is clear that Dunn isn’t ready yet and Tyus can’t take over an offense for an entire game. That leaves Ricky Rubio. If he continues to shoot the ball and get to the basket the way he has in the second half of the season, that will be a good thing. If not, we better hope Tyus and Dunn grow up quickly or Thibs has a rabbit in a hat somewhere..
Photo from uproxx.com