Rubio’s return

Posted: December 17, 2012 by shawnfury in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

The other night my mom asked me how I had been handling the Lakers season. She was maybe worried about profane outbursts upsetting Louise, my neighbors or god. I told her I’ve been remarkably calm watching the Lakers fiasco unfold. The terrible offense of Mike Brown and the terrible defense of Mike D’Antoni and the terrible offense of Darius Morris and the terrible defense of Kobe Bryant and the terrible free throws of Dwight Howard and the terrible healing of Steve Nash’s leg have been bewildering, but very few four-letter words have been uttered in northern Manhattan while watching the games.

Partly it’s because for three years now there’s been something of a joylessness to the Lakers on the court, even during Phil Jackson’s final season. The games look like drudgery to the players, perhaps worn down by long championship runs or Kobe Bryant’s criticism. Kobe remains amazing to watch, as he battles time, opponents and his own nature. But the team so often looks disengaged, worn down, maybe even bored.

In other words, the opposite of the Timberwolves anytime Ricky Rubio is on the court.

For me Saturday’s Timberwolves-Mavericks game was the most exciting contest of the season. In his brief time in the NBA, Rubio has already become my favorite player to watch. Most people hadn’t seen him play since his devastating knee injury in March against the Lakers. It had been even longer since I’d watched him; I was in South Africa for two weeks earlier this year, including when Rubio went down for the entire season.

No one can fault the Timberwolves’ effort in their first 20 games without Rubio. The only healthy performer in the organization all year has been Crunch. They overcame Kevin Love’s early off-the-court injury and can hopefully overcome his latest off-the-court remarks. An easy schedule helped, but they still won enough and in enough tough places — that victory in Brooklyn especially looks better and better as the season goes on — to show they can stay in the hunt in the Western Conference playoff race. Still, something was missing, until Rubio finally returned late in the first quarter on Saturday night.

Rubio’s first game this season felt like his first 10 last season, when we’d wait and wait for Adelman to put him in. At times last year I wondered if Rubio had played earlier that night in the B squad game and Adelman was worried about him playing more than his allotted four quarters. This time the limited playing time is more understandable, though it hopefully drifts away, just like it did last season. For now it’s about believing in the medicine as much as the magic.

Against the Mavericks Rubio looked the same as ever, with the exception of the protection on his left knee. The energy in the Target Center is different when he’s on the court, as it is for his teammates. It’s one of the oldest and hardest-to-define cliches in sports, but he simply makes those around him better, whether it’s Derrick Williams looking as lively as he has in two frustrating seasons with the Wolves or Greg Stiemsma being served up a layup on a platter that first went between Rubio’s legs and past Elton Brand’s.

When the ball is in Rubio’s hands he’s in control of the entire offense, not to mention an entire fanbase. He knows what to do, whether it’s in the second quarter or the final minute of the fourth. On Saturday he perfectly executed a pick-and-roll with Nikola Pekovic to tie the game late, and in my head I created an alternative history of that possession if Rubio was still sitting behind the bench in a suit and scarf. It involved Luke Ridnour dribbling around for 21 seconds before tossing up a terrible flip shot or throwing an awful pass.

All of that makes Rubio sound like a workmanlike point guard who knows his role and fulfills his duties. And in many ways that’s exactly what he is. But the reason he thrills is because he makes the spectacular look routine, and the routine spectacular. The Stiemsma pass was the most jaw-dropping moment Saturday, but how about that early one to Williams in the corner, the no-look behind the back dish that was as effortless as a layup and as on-point as a chest pass delivered from four feet away? His first assist came on one of his patented passes, that wraparound bounce pass he throws from outside the three-point line to inside the paint, this time to J.J. Barea, who scored after a defensive goaltending. And all of that was in his first game, in less than 20 minutes of action.

Throw in his underrated defense and there’s a reason the Wolves are one team without him and an entirely different one with him.

We’ll have to be patient with him this year, with the process. The minutes will be limited early. Back-to-backs might be out. We’ll see if his jumper improves. And in a few years we’ll probably have to start debating if it’s Rubio’s team or Love’s team and can the team pay them both.

In the meantime we’ll watch Rubio do his thing, all the while wondering just how he does it.

  1. jumpingpolarbear says:

    Ricky Rubio makes the game fun to watch. Awesome person and awesome player!

  2. Rich Jensen says:

    Got to throw in a Kobe observation, but a small one: Was watching the Hornets game last Wednesday and noted that on play after play, in half court, if Kobe didn’t bring the ball down he would position himself on the right side of the court, raise a hand almost listlessly to call for the ball and if nothing happened, mostly, he would just stand there until a change of possession. Then he got his 30,000th point and kind of took off from there. But it seems like it was either Kobe the cutout or Kobe the playmaker. Rarely was it otherwise.

  3. shawnfury says:

    That has happened quite a bit this year and, hopefully, will be fixed when Nash arrives (if he does; also that will add some joy to their play). In Kobe’s defense, he’s being asked to handle the ball about 96 percent of the time, initiate the offense, be the main scorer (which obviously he likes doing) get others involved, etc. I don’t mind a few possessions where he’s the guy in the corner with his hand up – like an annoying guy at a YMCA game – who chucks it when he gets it or gets annoyed when he doesn’t.

  4. Rich Jensen says:

    What I don’t get are the occasional folks who think that if you’ve got enough super stars (or even just one super star), you don’t need a coherent strategy on offense. It’s like a theory of offense based entirely on highlight film. “Okay, pass the ball to _____, and then he’ll posterize ______, and keep doing that forever.”

    The thing I like most about Rubio is pretending that’s Ringo Starr playing PG. Also, I guess the lesson for David Kahn is, if you pick up enough point guards, sooner or later you’ll get a good one.

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