The allure of Rubio

Posted: December 27, 2011 by shawnfury in Uncategorized
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The Timberwolves game Monday night at Target Center looked pretty much like every other game played in the arena the past four seasons. Some good offense, frustrating performances by young guys, bricks from outside, and a close defeat against a superior foe.

But if it looked a lot like so many games in recent team history, it certainly didn’t feel the same.

Part of it had to do with the guy in the suit calling out directions from the bench. Rick Adelman took over for Kurt Rambis, bringing his 900 victories and two finals appearances with him. Adelman still whines with the best of them, but he also provides a sense of professionalism and simple competence, replacing Rambis’ signature sideline look – which can only be described as smirking befuddlement. As a key member of the Showtime Lakers teams, Rambis’ spot in my personal hall of fame remains as secure as ever – I can still picture him diving into the stands during the 1985 Finals, kicking a good-looking woman in the face while doing it. But too often he looked bored or dazed, as if he just got up off the floor from a Kevin McHale clothesline. Adelman’s offense works and his rotations make sense, two advantages over the Rambis regime.

The crowd also changed the environment. Minnesota sports fans have experienced one of the most depressing years possible and are looking for a winner. The Wolves might not be that this year – although they at least seem to have a chance of being better than .500 – but they offer the promise of entertainment, something the Twins and Vikings couldn’t provide. The crowd was alive throughout, which will last awhile, or until the first six-game losing skid.

There were new players like J.J. Barea and the rookie Derrick Williams. Kevin Love looks improved. Beasley is…Beasley. Darko is…Darko.

But the main reason for the different feel was, of course, Ricky Rubio, the 21-year-old point guard who’s apparently growing his first beard in preparation for the long Minnesota winter he’s surely dreading.

Fans waited two years for him and showed their appreciation. Rubio didn’t start and his first standing ovation came when he checked into the game, a somewhat absurd sight that shows just how starved Timberwolves fans are for hope. It felt a bit like a standing ovation given to the 12th man on the local high school team, the kid who doesn’t play until the last home game of the year on senior night.

Rubio’s stat line – six points, six assists, five rebounds in a 104-100 loss to Oklahoma City – didn’t tell the whole story, or even much of it at all. Several of the assists again brought the fans to their feet, this time for a legitimate reason, as Rubio thread perfect bounce passes into the lane to cutting teammates or on the break to guys on the wings. He made the difficult passes look simple and proved equally adept at finding open shooters on the perimeter, though he could do nothing to help those shooters actually make their 3s. Rubio isn’t from the mold of great point guards that has recently produced players like Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, stars who can take over and score 30 points when not running the offense. He’s more like Rajon Rondo, minus the freakishly long arms, able to control a game with his passing and court direction.

Even though the Wolves lost the game late, this one didn’t fall into the same pattern of so many previous defeats. Last year it seemed like every close game featured Luke Ridnour throwing up an ill-advised shot or dribbling too long during a key possession. Michael Beasley failed to deliver on the key play late Monday, but throughout the fourth quarter, it felt like the Wolves were in secure hands. With Rubio collecting the ball after a rebound or leading a break, it looked like they were always going to get a decent shot.

A great point guard gives confidence to his teammates, not just because he’ll find them when they’re open – and sometimes even when they’re not – but with his control of the game’s flow. He dictates when they run and when they don’t. He puts guys in the right position when they’re on the wrong side of the court. He feeds the post players when they’ve scored twice in a row in the paint and finds the hot shooter when he’s made two consecutive three-pointers. He knows where the ball should go. And, when needed, he knows how to score. Rubio hasn’t shown he can do that on a consistent basis, though his late jumper in the opener provides hope that part of his game will also one day develop. But for now, that ability to control the game should give the Timberwolves as much comfort as all of the spectacular passes Rubio fired.

Still…the flair is part of the fun, it’s what provides so much of the buzz. Rubio presents a dashing figure running downcourt, with the sweet handles and vaguely Maravich-like floppy hair. Efficiency can lead to victories and that puts people in the seats, but it’s the spectacular plays that bring the fans out of them.

Great passers are as fun to watch as unstoppable scorers. Think about Magic’s no-look, behind-the-head passes, Bird’s tip passes off the dribble, Stockton’s full-court tosses to Karl Malone, Jason Kidd’s alley-oops off the break, Jason Williams’ behind-the-back bounce passes, Bill Walton’s post looks, Arvydas Sabonis in the paint, and Pistol Pete’s full arsenal of how-did-he-do-that assists. A great passer makes a fan feel like they could score during an NBA game, if only they were on the receiving end.

Bird, Magic, Stockton, Maravich. Paul, Rose, Westbrook. It’s ridiculous to even list any of those players in a Rubio story, because a comparison is implied, if not made outright. It’s undeserved today and might still be undeserved in 10 years. He might simply be an entertaining player who never develops a consistent jump shot. He might be remembered more for what he could have been than what he actually was. That’s all in the future.

But it seems he’ll provide a lot of entertainment, and quite a bit of hope for the Timberwolves.

For now, that’s plenty.

  1. I am only a basketball fan inasmuch as I tend to watch the playoffs, because by then i am already burned out on baseball and I have a long dry spell until football, so I am going to need you to help me out here. When drafted, we heard alot of Rubio the magician, but since then there have been horrifying stories about scoreless games and losing his starting spot on a team that couldn’t fill out a D-league roster. I personally (and I appear to be on an island from the fan’s clear expectations in Target Center) had given up on Rubio like he was a secretly non-draft eligible guy that the Wolves accidentally drafted (see last years draft). That said, you seem to think the kid can play. What am I missing, or do I misunderstand his achievments in europe over the last couple of years.

    • shawnfury says:

      I don’t know what to think of his play the past couple of seasons. The stats are nothing and he only played about 20-plus minutes per game. And the shooting percentage is low. On the other hand, I didn’t see any of the games and with a point guard it can be hard to judge too much just from the stats. A good point guard really can control a game completely and only score 4 points. He controls the pace, gets everyone involved, etc. Hopefully Rubio can be that type of player, while also developing into enough of a threat where teams can’t completely play off of him.

  2. Why was he only getting 20+ minutes? I guess my confusion comes in that I saw what you saw in the OKC game. He seemed to see the floor very well and be about a half step ahead of OKC’s defense, which meant they were reacting and thus he controlled the flow (and controlled them, in a way). I would just have expected him to be a bigger force in the last couple of years if he was going to be able to perform like he did in the NBA. Could it be a difference in style in Europe and the NBA?

    • shawnfury says:

      One thing with Rubio’s performance in Europe, there are many guys who put up pedestrian numbers in college but then put up bigger ones in the pros (his pro experience over there serving as the college example). They have more freedom when they make it to the NBA, the game’s more open, whatever (insert Dean Smith is only guy who could hold Jordan under 20 joke here).

      And the Nash example is also great for looking at what Rubio is now, in addition to wondering what he could be. In college, he was a nice player at Santa Clara but his career numbers were 14 points and six assists a game and he shot only 43 percent from the floor, but he’s basically a career 50 percent shooter in the pros. He was 22 as a rookie in the NBA. His first four years, he averaged 3.3, 9.1, 7.9 and 8.6 points and 2.1, 3.4, 5.5 and 4.9 assists. Hardly indicators of a guy who’d become an all-star, much less a two-time MVP. He just kept getting better and better. For whatever reason, Rubio didn’t do much in Europe but he was also only 19, 20 years old. Now that he’s here, he looks like he can play.

      Or maybe he’ll be Herschel and his best game in Minnesota is his first one.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Enjoyed the take on the new looks Wolves. You can’t have a Ricky Rubio comparison piece without including the most relevant comparison – Steve Nash. To me, Rubio is Nash without the shooting ability. I’m not saying he’s the equal to Nash minus the shooting ability (that’s what I dislike about comparisons, too). More that there are similarities in court vision and basketball iq. Much has always been made of Nash’s soccer background and how it allows him to just see the game differently. I haven’t heard whether Rubio has a soccer background (being Spanish, I’m assuming he does), but he seems to pass to space and draw defenders in a similar way to Nash. He seems different than White Chocolate Jason Williams (not to be confused with motocross/Duke PG Jason Williams or shotgun-toting/Nets Jason Williams) who was entertaining but seemed to be more interested in being “The Professor” from the And One mixtape tour than being effective while he was with the Kings.

    We can all agree that there is no possible way that he isn’t already better than Luke Ridnour, Ramon Sessions, Jonny Flynn, Bassy Telfair, Bobby Brown, Marcus Banks, Greg Buckner, Marco Jaric, Mike James, Anthony Carter, Troy Hudson, and Kevin Ollie (ladies and gentlemen… a list of post-Sam Cassell Minnesota point guards!)

  4. Those are really interesting thoughts. I has no idea about Nash until he had permeated the national consciousness, and of course by then he was really freakin good. It’s going to be really fun watching this kid evolve.

  5. I’m rooting for Rubio… Go T-Wolves!!!

    MY BLOG :

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