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Wolves' Ricky Rubio facing a momentous 2014

Ricky Rubio
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
For all the magic Ricky Rubio is able to concoct out on the court, his inability to score with efficiency is a chronic, increasingly concerning liability.

Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio will never run out of magic. Whatever flaws or infirmities invade the rest of his game, Rubio will always be able to deliver the ball to his teammates in ways that tickle your endorphins, rock you back in your chair or lift you to your feet in spontaneous tribute.

There will be bounce passes that thread their way through the appendages of the NBA scrum like a bike messenger on a breakneck deadline in downtown traffic. His outlets as the middle man on a fast break will hit his streaking teammates in perfect stride. His skip passes against tilted defenses will blend enough arc and velocity to defy the most dogged recuperation efforts of his opponents. And his no-look passes will continue to have everyone — opponents, coaches, fans, even teammates — following his eyes instead of his hands for the split-second required to zip the orb into an opening that will usher in the layup.

So long as he is healthy, Rubio will also continue to be a premier ball-hawk and a formidable on-ball perimeter defender. He calibrates his pressure surge toward his opponent in a manner that keeps his reactive options intact; not so fast that he collides into a foul or is left in the lurch by a crossover dribble; and not so slow that he can’t close out on the shooter or use his agility and wing-span to either disrupt the dribble or deflect or steal the pass.

And his sense of anticipation and timing on when to circle back to filch the inbounds pass after a made basket, or make a beeline toward a lazy crosscourt pass near half-court, is as productive as anyone in the NBA not named Lebron.

Combine those thrilling virtues with Rubio’s matinee idol looks, his unyielding effort and energy, and his mien of confident modesty, and you have the most popular player on the Timberwolves. Kevin Love is better, a genuine superstar, but in terms of fan squeals and apparel sold and worn at home games, Rubio rules.

If only he could shoot the ball.

A relentless pattern of clanking

For all the magic Rubio is able to concoct out on the court, his inability to score with efficiency is a chronic, increasingly concerning liability.  He has been a relentlessly inaccurate shooter since coming into the NBA for the strike-shortened season of 2011-12. During his brief career, he has experienced only one month in which he has played at least five games and converted more than 40 percent of his shots from the field — 41.4 percent last March.

In an early December column I have cited before, Zach Lowe of the ESPN-oriented site Grantland calculated that only two players, neither of them point guards, have logged more than 5,000 NBA minutes and shot less than 38 percent since 1965. At his current 3,935 career minutes at 32 minutes per game, Rubio has 34 games — next March 3 at Denver, if he stays healthy — to raise his career 35.8 percent shooting up 2.2 percentage points  or stand as the worst shooting point guard of the modern NBA era.

Rubio’s wretched shooting, couple with his magnificence in many other crucial aspects of the game, make him a polarizing figure to assess — and, as his contract comes up for renewal in the next year or two, difficult to value in terms of hard dollars and cents on the salary cap.

In standard forms of player measurement, his clanking docks him down to mediocrity. As of games played through last Thursday, John Hollinger’s PER rating, which measures a player’s all-around efficiency, has him at 14.9 this season and 15.3 for his career, with 15.0 being an NBA average performer. Again measuring games through last Thurday, the metric “win shares,”  developed by Dean Oliver, has Rubio at .098 win shares per 48 minutes this season and .082 per 48 for his career, with .100 being the NBA average.

But PER, win shares and just about any other measure of NBA performance have a difficult time calibrating defense, where Rubio, at least to the naked eye, clearly shines.

Unfortunately, here too, some numbers work against him. According to the website 82games.com, through games of Dec. 15, opposing point guards had a PER of 20.8 (better than Rubio’s own 17.1 when strictly playing point guard, meaning not alongside J.J. Barea). Those opposing point guards averaged 25.2 points per 48 minutes and had an effective field goal percentage (which weights the value of three-point shots) of 54.5.

The 82games.com site also reveals that in the 370 minutes Rubio has sat this season, the Wolves yield 1.1 fewer points per 100 possession than in the 786 minutes Rubio has played (again, through Dec. 15).

Ah, but look at how much better the Wolves’ offense is with Rubio on the court — a whopping plus 13.7 points per 100 possessions, thus far in the 2013-14 season. Yes, that is mightily affected by Minnesota’s terrible offensive production off the bench — Kevin Love and Corey Brewer have even larger positive disparities — but it is hard to imagine this team humming on offense the same way if J.J. Barea or A.J. Price were running the show.

The contract dilemma

But Rubio shouldn’t be judged next to Barea and Price. Less than a year ago, the overwhelming consensus was that he would be able to command a maximum contract, in the vicinity of $15 million per season. Of course for a “maximum” deal to be a wise investment, the player has to blossom (or sustain his performance) as a superstar. The worst-shooting point guard in modern NBA history doesn’t qualify.

Already you can see how Rubio’s inaccuracy constricts his playmaking ability. Most obviously, his lousy shooting percentage finishing shots at the rim has caused opponents to stay with their man as Rubio dribbles beneath the hoop — denying the bounce-pass assist to a big man that was a Rubio signature when opposing bigs would drop off to stop his penetration. Less blatantly, Rubio’s clanking hinders his prowess on the pick-and-roll play: Why would an opponent jam up Rubio on the perimeter and leave the “roll man” unguarded?

If there is a silver lining in the statistical metrics, it is that Rubio seems to be an accurate shooter on three-pointers at the top of the arc, a deadeye anomaly that at least provides some hope for floor spacing and half-court schemes coach Adelman can run that will keep opponents honest.

But the bottom line, figuratively and literally, is that the Wolves are invested in a horrible shooter as the engineer of their offense. Certainly it can get better. If Rubio were to average even 40 percent on his field goal attempts, the rest of his skills would make him a dynamic, top 10 point guard in this league. Right now, however, he is in the middle of the pack.

How much can the Wolves afford to spend on such a player? Well, point guards currently operating at the bottom of Rubio’s overall capabilities, such as Brandon Jennings in Detroit, George Hill in Indiana and Jeremy Lin in Houston — none of whom are close to Rubio’s real value, in my view — each command about $8 million per season. I suspect Rubio will eventually get more than that — negotiations will likely start in earnest next season for an extension beginning in 2015-16 — to about $10 million, perhaps as much as $12 million (Pek money) per season.

Is Rubio worth it? Opinions will vary widely. Obviously, given his other skills and overall charisma with the fans, improved shooting cinches the argument in his favor. But unless Love exercises the option on his deal at the end of next season, the Wolves will have precious little cap room to go out and get another point guard of Rubio’s caliber.

In other words, expect Rubio to be around for a while. In terms of pure aesthetics, if not necessarily playoff-series wins and rings, that’s a good thing.

Off the holidays — but not in the comments section

As you have probably already noted, MinnPost has limited operations for the holidays. But since the Wolves have a number of compelling games left in 2013 — and because I really do treasure the comments I get from readers — I will be posting brief impressions of this week’s games and actively engaging comments while monitoring feedback here throughout the week.

If you want to participate, thank you — I always enjoy the debate and the edification. If you don’t want to participate, fair enough — have a wonderful holiday season and will see you in 2014.

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Comments (28)

The most troubling part for me

is the lack of player development that seems to be occurring with the Twolves over the last few years.

Let's look at Ricky. When Ricky was in Spain the scouting report was:

outstanding passing and court vision
excellent off the ball defender
above average athleticism
above average finisher at the rim
above average free throw shooter
average on the ball defender (I believe this projected as Ricky guarding PG. He is actually much better on the ball defender guarding 2's)
below average shooter.

Now, in his 4th year as a Twolve, I would say the scouting report is nearly the same - the only exception being that I would personally downgrade Ricky to being an average finisher at the rim.

From what I have heard, Ricky is a pretty hard working guy. So why in the world haven't the Twolves figured out away to restructure his shot? From my view, it seems to be a pretty obvious problem. Ricky grips the ball with his hand too far on the side instead of more underneath the ball - that causes the release to be very flat - no arc. The flatter the release the more narrow the window is for the ball to through the hoop. (By the way, there has been lots of physics research done on this - with the Dallas Maverick's staff contributing to some of the better published works.)

Ricky gets the right hand position correctly on his floaters - so it is not a foreign concept. There is nothing I can see that says Ricky can't reinvent his shot. He should be able to do it - with the right coaching and technology to give him the feedback he needs. But it is not happening

It begs the question - why?

Of all the Twolves that have came through over the last few years, I would say only KLove and Pek have shown substantial development. I don't think KLove's has come during the season - his offseason routine in CA looks to be the more likely source for his development. I give the Twolves staff immense credit for Pek's development - especially defensively.

Would like to hear your thoughts Brett.

Agree to a point

Aside from misspelling my name (it's Britt), a very thoughtful post, thanks. (And the misspelling no big deal--I make enough silly mistakes not to be very picky.)
One of the problems with deciding your theory is the immense roster turnover--is it coincidence that the two "development" guys also have the longest tenure on the team?
There are two forms of development--individual and team. I would argue that the constant churn has robbed the Wolves of some team continuity. Not only have they lost personnel, but Kirilenko was arguably the leader and linchpin of their defense last season, and Rubio has never had a full healthy season--lockout and knee injury in year one, recuperating in year two and only 28 games thus far in year three.
Injuries shouldn't be an excuse, but again, the play between Pek and Love seems the most complementary of anyone except perhaps Barea and Cunningham, who logged a lot of minutes together last season (and thus far this one) and have some definite tendencies that fit together well (Barea's perimeter side passes and kickouts, Dante's midrange).
But to take on the meat of your question: No doubt that Derrick Williams was poorly developed, just a bad fit. Alexey Shved seems to lack the NBA toughness that would really aid his development. Kevin Martin seemingly is what he is; I don't think a defensive upgrade is in his future. Corey Brewer developed some in Dallas and Denver, but let's face it, he needs someone to either totally cut him loose (as Karl did) or put the brakes on him minutes-wise for discipline (as Carlisle did to some extent). Muhammad and Dieng are not being developed well at all and would both benefit from D-League experience that is presumably coming when Turiaf and Budinger return.
The key figure in your theory, of course, is Rubio. I agree that his mechanics are awful; but not only on his jumper--why does he always finish too strong at the rim, except for that left side layup bank when he is uncontested? Maybe the injury history and recuperation time is a factor; also the international play. Something always gets in the way during his off-season. But Love also played extensively in Olympics and World Games and always seems to get better, when healthy.
A year ago around this time, we were wondering what the Wolves training staff was doing wrong to prompt this huge spate of injuries. Guess you could say healthy underachivement is a step up. Ha.

How much, if any, do you

How much, if any, do you attribute Rubio's shooting struggles to the ongoing development and transformation of Adelman's team offense?

In the lockout season -- Ricky's first in the NBA -- Adelman pretty much conceded that there wasn't the prep time or the personnel (Beasley, Randolph, Darko, etc) to do what he would normally prefer to do on that end of the floor. Instead of high-post facilitation and cutting, it was more of a spread floor with Ricky playing off of high ball screens. It seemed tailored to his strengths even if not Adelman's favorite. While Wes, Martell, Beasley and Tolliver were hardly stud scorers, they all were players who could catch and shoot a little bit.

Now, Ricky's doing more of what he did in Spain; passing and cutting to the opposite wing. He still handles the ball plenty (10th-most in the league by possession time per game) but his usage rate is pretty low and he doesn't seem as engaged as he once was.

His mechanics are bad. I harp on that a lot and if he doesn't change them to -- at a minimum -- get higher arc on his shot, he won't improve much. But I do wonder sometimes if he's now playing in a system that -- to paraphrase Kurt Rambis -- takes him out of his comfort zone and asks him to do things he's not accustomed to doing.

When Chase Budinger returns and the Wolves can field credible lineups with three different floor spacers, it might make sense to run more high screen and rolls for Ricky. He needs space to do the things he does best.

But the flaw remains

Andy--

I get what you are saying. But the Wolves are not uber athletic enough to dominate with pick-and-roll action. They do have the personnel to dominate half-court sets with spacing, provided K-Mart can reliably stick the 3, Bud comes back and does the same....and Rubio can make defenses pay for continually ignoring him.
If a team coached by Rick Adelman can't devise an offense featuring the third-toughest (behind Lebron and KD) matchup in the NBA in Love, a low post beast in Pek, and a spray of outside shooters around Rubio, it is time to take the franchise back down to the studs.
Or, more succinctly, high pick-and-roll is a nice arrow in the quiver, but isn't going to get the Wolves very far in the long run.

Development of Shabazz and Dieng

None of us know. The team is good enough to not be compelled to use them. That would leave practice, which is closed to our eyes. I'm not saying they're being developed effectively, but only those who see practice could actually tell. The D-League is for guys who need to develop skills because they can't even make it as the 15th man on the worst team in the league, unless the team is owned and staffed by the NBA team.

I posted this over at AWAW, but as of the end of 2013, only 2 of the top 20 rookies in minutes played were on teams at .500 or above: Steven Adams of OKC and Hummel. Think about how unready Pek seemed to be in his rookie season at age 25; he played in 65 games that year and started 11. The Wolves played a lot of rookies when the team was bad that weren't ready to play, including guys who ended up being good like Pek or at least NBA-worthy like Brewer and Randy Foye. In Foye's rookie season, his increase in minutes corresponded with the team going from .500 to off the playoff fringe (also aided by firing Dwane Casey).

NBA franchises do their rookies a disservice when marketing them by leading to unrealistic expectations from fans for these players. In this market, the only thing the team had was draft picks to look forward to seeing, even though only Love was NBA ready (and even he had his lowlights, including an awful preseason game with so many missed layups that Patrick Reusse wrote him off as a bust). The Wolves have done a good job of not doing this for their rookies this year (and Flip hammers it on every Barreiro appearance he makes), but the remnants of the past still get into fans' minds. The only pro sports league where the most/all 1st round picks play as rookies is the NFL, and there are 4 times as many positions to choose from in that league compared to the NBA.

Sorry about the name

Britt - something spell checker just does not get. Thanks for being kind.

Thinking a little more about Rubio, I agree with your point. It just might be his choice of summer time development. For the last 3 summers, Rubio has basically been injured and/or sat the bench as a reserve on the Spanish National team. Neither in my view is a real summer development plan.

Love on the other hand, has embraced (and has been welcomed) into the inner training circle of several of this peers playing on the US National team. I'm guessing that is a lot more intense than anything Rubio gets in Spain.

I never felt that Adelman was all that great of a development coach. But I'm also not sure that is any part of an NBA head coach's job anymore. There are a ton of assistants and trainers to take care of that - if the player is willing. Just wondering if we have the right resources.

my worry is...

That the team is plateauing at about where its talents place it, meaning that this is more or less a .500 team and the upside down the road a couple years will be about where they are now, maybe a little better.

Or is it just that it takes a year or two of a steady roster for the team to really jell. We finally have all the main guys in place for close to 40% of a season. Is it too soon to expect more out of them? Last couple of weeks the bench has seemed to play better.

When things are working they are so fun to watch. But so many nights they seem so flat that losing seems inevitable. I just caught the last few minutes of regulation last night, but didn't stay for overtime (early work day). After the way they gave up that 5-point lead in the last minute or so and that final turnover, I had no hope for overtime. Seems like they never win those close, hard-fought games, that there is no one to will them to victory. Two more disappointing losses this week.

Final note: They didn't give Love the max because they were saving that for Rubio? Love deserves it and they should rework his contract just for the goodwill. Pipedream?

Better than average...I still assume

Bill--
Thanks for chiming in. I happen to think this team, at least on offense, is wonderfully calibrated to deliver one of the toughest inside-outside covers in the game. I think that the biggest problem offensively this season has been discipline--running the offense with consistent purpose and focus. A close second in terms of problems is simply missing open looks. We knew (or should have known) that Brewer would come back to earth, but Martin and Barea have been way below expectations (Barea more early in the season, Martin more recently) and Rubio has not demonstrated the improvement necessary to keep defenses honest.
After awhile, and it has been 28 games, you have to say the Wolves are what they are, which in this case might be a 9th or 10th place team in the West. I still contend that a weak January schedule and the return of Turiaf and Budinger, plus, very hopefully, a realistic appraisal of what it takes to succeed in this league, will vault this team back into legitimate playoff competition. I am less sure of that now than I was a month ago, but haven't yet lost all of that belief.
Former President of Basketball Operations David Kahn told me personally that the 5-year deal wasn't reserved for Rubio, that Rubio would get the same four-year offer with a third-year option. The problem was not agreeing to Love's offer to extend to 5 years. But Rubio, if Kahn is to be believed, was not the cause of that mistake.

If you like your point guard - please don't keep him

The Ricky Rubio honeymoon is over!!

Any observer noticed that he could not shoot from day one. Now the rest of the league knows he does not want to shoot and they even beg him to shoot, especially late in the game. He should be traded while some value remains.

Seriously? That's all you've got?

Okay, who do you think he should be traded for? How much value do you think he has--and please, put it in some kind of realistic context. Does it matter that he is top two in steals and a reliable top ten in assists? What kind of a point guard should the Wolves be looking for to better abet their existing personnel?
In other words, please give us something that can't be boldly trumpeted by a guy who might read the daily beat writers twice a week.
Sorry to be so hard on you, but you failed one of my few litmus tests for commenters--they must have more original insights than exclamation points.

Serioulsy

Britt,
Did you watch last nights game? How many shots did RR attempt? - 3!!!

He was open all night. He forces bad passes or passes that should not happen because he is afraid to shoot. The defense sags and clogs the passing lanes. They are begging him to shoot!

Please carefully watch the games.

You may want a pass first point guard - which is fine - but NOT a pass only point guard.

We passed on two excellent point guard in last years draft.

As I mention with RR - the honeymoon is over. However - you are still in love with the guy.

He will not lead you to a deep playoff run. He may not even lead you to the playoffs. He is not good enough.

Sorry I am so rough on you - but please watch the games.

I don't get the animosity (or

I don't get the animosity (or exclamation points!!!!!!) in your comments here. Half this article is about scoring inefficiency being Rubio's Achilles heel, and most of the comments also acknowledge this flaw. I'm pretty sure everyone here wishes RIcky could shoot like Steve Nash (and still be good defensively).

While I didn't see the game last night, the 13 assists and 2 turnovers does not sound like a lot of forced bad passes. And though he only shot three times, shooting more would have taken attempts away from someone else. Rubio usually shares the court with Love, Martin, Pek, and Brewer, and I'd rather have all of them in rhythm instead. (Yes, I'd rather see him get people like Brewer or Wes Johnson involved early because it helps the team function more efficiently).

There's so much more to say, but I'll end with this: Defenses have sagged off him since his rookie year, when he also didn't shoot well (though a bit better than this year) but the Wolves were five games over 500 in games Rubio started, but were five and twenty after his knee injury.

Nice comeback

Reading all these comments I recognize that these guys know way more about B-ball than I do. Fun to read though up till Ron's overboard response. The honeymoon is over to an extent. The honeymoon was that first pass between an opponent's legs for an assist, those early steals, the first no looks. But like any marriage, nothing is quite like the honeymoon in the long haul. I think the odds are better that a guy can improve his shot than that a guy can suddenly gain the court sense, offensively and defensively, that Ricky has. I would say it would be nice to have more of a traditional point guard to come off the bench than Barea and then use Barea in situations that suit him best. Seems like he's always running a giant circle that takes him along the baseline under the basket and then out the other side.

I got the impression from the newspaper at the time that Kahn held off on Love's fifth year because he was saving it for Rubio. The top guy should get the max ticket and if we lose Love down the road it will be Kahn's final bonehead revenge.

Keep writin', Britt. I love your T-wolf columns.

And the commentators who keep coming back too

Bill--
If you have a passion for the game and a thirst for knowledge of how it is played, as I do, then you are always welcome, regardless of what you "know." Regular readers are well aware of the many mistakes I have made--in facts as well as analysis, and in not being willing to let first impressions evolve with what I am watching. In other words, it is all a process for each of us and the key thing is not to get so hidebound or self-satisfied that you retard your own learning curve--something I have also been guilty of from time to time.
Agree with you that improving a shot is much easier than gaining the multi-dimensional court vision and sense of anticipation that Rubio possesses. And in some ways, some shooting improvement from Rubio is probably the best bet this franchise has of taking the next step from a fringe playoff team to one that can cause concern and perhaps pull an upset in the opening round.

He is what he is

You're right that he is both the best point guard on the team and the best point guard that the Woofies are likely to have in the next few years (the best hope is that they draft or trade for a raw prospect that they have luck in developing, but their record in this regard is not good). Of course, it's always possible that there's another David Kahn out their who thinks that -they- can make him into a star when everyone else has failed, but I wouldn't stay up waiting.

Rubio has been playing professionally since he was fourteen; he's not going to make any major changes in his game. He's rich for life, and the worst that could happen to him is that he goes back to Barcelona and stars in the European league.

All that being said, like you I love to watch him play.
In a way he reminds me of Dick McGuire of the old New York Knicks.
McGuire's stats:
Points 5,921 (8.0 ppg)
Rebounds 2,784 (4.2 rpg)
Assists 4,205 (5.7 apg)

Elder Statesman

Wow, Paul,
I always assume at age 60 that I am older than most everyone who reads me. But Dick McGuire predates me by just a titch. I fell in love with hoops living just outside Boston and Bill Russell, Red Auerbach and the gang won about 9 rings in 11 years through my youth. The Knicks during that time were the dregs of the NBA; the Cincinnati Royals with Oscar Robertson and the Syracuse Nationals with Dolph Schayes were two teams I feared--oh and the St. Louis Hawks with Bob Petit and Cliff Hagen. McGuire was a name I heard, but don't believe I ever saw him play.

Back to the Wolves; I disagree with you about Rubio not being able or willing to change his game. Unlike Alexey Shved, I don't believe Rubio would be content being a big fish in a small European pond. And I do believe he will at least redouble his efforts to become a better shooter. Whether that pays off or not remains to be seen.

It's about 5:30 on Christmas Eve. For those of you who cherish this holiday, be it due to Christian religion or a remembrance of youthful material hedonism, or family times or whatever, please have a wonderful Christmas with you and yours tomorrow. I'll glance in on the comments tomorrow evening but will be more up to commenting speed the day after.

And then of course on the 27th the Wolves are back at it, at home versus Washington, and we'll have more to talk about.

G_d rest ye merry

gentles, all.

Hi, again

I didn't say that I thought it likely that Rubio would go back to Spain, just that he had that option. Remember that he waited for four (?) years after he was drafted before he came over here. He surely knew then that his shooting needed work; if he did it there's no sign. He had last summer to get some help with his shooting mechanics; still no evidence that he did. That's why I'm skeptical. What has changed?

Knee

Britt - I'd be interested in hearing your opinion on Rubio's knee. For all the talk surrounding his shooting woes, I'm concerned he has regressed both as an on-the-ball defender and as a playmaker and finisher- due to a loss of explosion stemming from the injury. Rubio has admitted that he no longer has the vertical he once did. Watching plays from season 1, it just appeared that he played more aggressively, pushing the ball harder. Hopefully he is still rounding into form...

Maybe the knee maybe not

Ryan--
Not sure I agree that he still doesn't push the ball as hard as season 1, or that he lacks aggression--if anything, I wish he'd slow down sometimes and gather the half-court sets under his considerable acumen. And I'm not sure he was ever a great finisher at the rim.
That said, you're right about something being a little off this season, and perhaps last season, although I think March and April were pretty good months once he found his rhythm. In particular, his defense versus quick guards off the dribble, Ty Lawson and John Wall especially, has been a little concerning. I don't know if that's the knee--I don't even know if it is Rubio's fault, not being sure of how the defenses are concocted this season. But he does seem to lack a little lateral agility versus season 1 and even late last season. Is it the knee? Dunno.

Hey there, Whippersnapper...

...said the 65-year old geezer. When you were throwing old names around the first thing that popped in my head was watching Hagen and Pettit in what I think was a championship series. According to Wikipedia, they were playing a lot of finals then and they were my favs as a little kid. Later I came to appreciate that Boston team with Russell and Cousy.

Anyway, I agree Rubio won't go back to Europe anytime soon. I'd like to see him stay in the states and work on his game in the off-season though.

Apparently I'm pretty "hidebound or self-satisfied " because I have a pretty retarded learning curve. Never cared for Garnett much. As with the Twins and Mauer, when a small market team gives that much to one guy in a team sport, I think they are doomed to mediocrity. Truthfully until Rubio came along I wasn't much of a T-wolves fan. My favorite basketball in the last ten years or so all involved watching women's basketball. I became a total fan of Lindsey Whalen when she was at the U and I love the selfless team-first game that the women have, especially with Lindsey on the court. I see that in this T-wolves team. Lindsey had the passing but she had the shot too. But I recognize that Love is number 1 on this team and the best Rubio can hope for is 2 if he gets his shot together.

Merry Christmas!

Great comments

Nice to see a wider range of folks chiming in down here - I hope you all stick around!

I think it's been mentioned elsewhere that a fairly good comparison for Rubio is Jason Kidd - both sub-.400 shooters for their first three years (Rubio is further below that .400 mark than Kidd was). Like Rubio, Kidd was a good PG from the start, he didn't really blossom until his 5th year, and even then it wasn't his shooting that made him stand out. He was a middling threat from beyond the arc until he got to Dallas at age 34, where he found open shots. More importantly for Wolves fans, Kidd never made more than $10mil/season until he was 30 years old and had proven himself to be a top-tier PG for many years. I don't think there's enough evidence that Rubio will follow a similar trajectory, though he certainly can.

What I'm worried about is that Rubio hasn't developed any additional scoring skill to negate his lack of perimeter shooting. Rajon Rondo can't shoot, yet can finish at the rim so he shoots a high percentage - same goes for Tony Parker (who has obviously improved his jumper over the past few years - and who also added that beautiful teardrop floater). Even Andre Miller has no business shooting from the outside, yet has a post-up game and is a great playmaker - there's no reason Rubio can't be just as crafty as him. John Wall, Brandon Jennings...there are lots of PGs in this league that can't shoot - the question is whether we are willing to deal with one over the long term.

As it stands right now, we're two games below .500 with a near-MVP talent in Love and a top-five at his position in Pekovic. It's really hard to say what the root cause of our record is, as bench play was terrible to start the season and a few guys have had wildly swings in performance on a weekly basis. Pairing quality defenders like Rubio and Brewer has not led our opponents to shoot low-percentage shots, and while getting assist-ready scoring threats like Martin, Love, and Pek has made Rubio's job easier, it's also not leading to wins. Though I'll admit in some of those blowout wins it's pretty to watch.

Superb Rubio comps

Anton--
That was a wonderful recitation of bad-shooting point guards and how they compensate(d). And I fully agree that Ricky hasn't appended his game with a similar wrinkle to cause concern among defenders.
Fascinating stuff over at the nba.com stats page, in the SportsVU section. Wolves are wretched in preventing opponents from scoring at the rim--hardly news, as we know, but interesting how everyone in the lineup is culpable. In terms of individual opponent FG% at rim Brewer allows the highest percentage, followed by K-Mart (11th), Love (19th), Pek (25th) and Rubio (31st). Now in terms of actual buckets and attempts, Love allows the most and then Pek closely behind; a function of bigs getting to the rim more often.
Frankly, rim protection wasn't the thing I was most concerned about with this defense; it was the other team's wing scorer going off from distance, midrange and at the rim. Instead, Minnesota has a horrible time against teams that pass the ball well. Last time I looked, teams ranked in top ten in assists were undefeated playing vs Minnesota. So, it is a function of smart passing overcoming the defense's lack of quickness.
Put it another way: It is rare that a big simply backs down Pek or Love and scorers; far more often, it is a baseline cut or a drive down the lane off a pick and roll or some other action that dooms the Wolves.
Anyway, keep chiming in when you are not dropping your wisdom at your own blog at 5Wolves.com

Tonight's game

Tonight will probably be another barometer of what you just mentioned. Last game John Wall lit up Rubio to the point where Adelman had Barea on the court down the stretch. Wall often took the bait and shot plenty of jumpers (which is good) but also had 16 assists. I agree that our defensive problems are not strictly at the rim - we have not been very good at recovering and rotating after a guard forces our defense to collapse. And by "not good" I mostly mean slow - even traditionally mediocre shooters can knock down shots if given ample space. I'd like to see our defensive wings close out strong and force opponents to put the ball on the floor rather than shoot - while that can lead to more fouls on our players, it makes opposing wings who aren't ball handlers uncomfortable (which leads to bad decisions and turnovers).

Wall vs Rubio

We're all about cross-pollination during this holiday hiatus at Minnpost, so let me point folks toward punchdrunkwolves.com, site of frequent commenter Andy G and his able partner, Patrick J, who wrote up the similarities (and differences) between Ricky Rubio and Wizards point guard John Wall in their most recent post, inviting in a smart Wizards watcher who both sees the games and has some command of analytics.
Anton is prominent in the comments section, spreading his value around.
As for Anton's comments here, I agree that the lack of aggressive close-outs is a real problem for this club and do believe it has to do with the "not fouling" aspect of their play.
For those of you who need reminding, the Wolves blew a double-digit first half lead to a then-struggling Wizards team back on November 19, getting outscored 53-37 in the final two quarters. Wall had 9 assists in that second half, feeding Martell Webster and Bradley Beal for a combined 31 points. Corey Brewer jacked up 11 shots in that wretched half, showing signs of the "bad Brewer" that has become predominant of late. And, as Anton mentioned, Adelman went with Barea instead of Rubio on Love (because why not put a pint-sized sub-6 footer on the 6-4 blur when you have a comparably sized point guard who happens to be a better defender?).
Let's hope it doesn't happen again, as Wall is averaging 19.6 points, 9.1 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game. He needs to be defended well, and Rubio offers the best chance for that to happen.

Wolves-Wizards quick recap

Minnesota needed a laugher after two very differently dispiriting games out in LA. Here are some of the key takeaways for me.

No turnovers among the starters. The Wizards got 16 fast break points as it was. Imagine the carnage with careless ball-handling. Especially important was Rubio's comfort level. After some significant struggles recently, he operated with ease. John Wall is a burgeoning star, but defensively has a long ways to go.

Fewer shots at the rim. The bad news: Washington was 75% at the rim last night, the worst percentage any NBA has allowed in its last previous game. The good new is that the Wizards only got 20 FGA from 5 feet or less, which is the fourth fewest of any team in its last previous game. Rick Adelman said after the game that he wanted to make sure Wall didn't get to the cup easily and while Minnesota paid for inviting those jumpers in the first half, the strategy paid off later.

Bench differential. Yes, JJ Barea had a very good game, getting wherever he wanted at the rim and outside, where he had plenty of time to shoot. And Alexey Shved had his best game of the season, a fact that is sure to boost his confidence, which, aside from his toughness, is the biggest flaw in his terrible makeup. But Washington brought out the worst bench I've seen this season. Pulling Wall totally disrupted their offensive rhythm and why Wittman plays Temple over Maynor as a backup point guard is mystifying. In other words, don't expect Barea and Shved to get those kind of free rides--and subsequent strong performances--very often going forward.
On the other hand, Dante Cunningham had an excellent night, with four steals in 11 minutes during his first stint and his typical chemistry with Barea on the midrange jumper off the pick and roll.

The importance of Love. When your team falls behind 9-0 after two discouraging defeats, it is nice to have a superstar to lean on. In that first quarter, Love shot 4-8 while the rest of his teammates clanked for 3-17. That's why the Wolves were only down a point after the first stanza, a crucial factor in the eventual easy victory.

Martin struggles. Just 12 points, with three missed FTs tossed in (or out) for good measure. This offense needs efficiency from K-Mart and they haven't been getting it for awhile now. When I asked him after the game if his recent injury was affecting him at all, he insisted that it wasn't.

The time to surge. This Washington game initiates one of the easiest stretches in the schedule for the Wolves, who now go to Milwaukee to face the 6-23 Bucks, then come home to tackle two key rivals for the bottom playoff seeds in the West, Dallas and New Orleans, before getting OKC without Westbrook and then going on the road versus Philly. Also coming up soon are home-and-home games against Utah this month. If Minnesota is going to establish itself as a viable playoff contender, the next three weeks are the time to do so.

Every hero has there time ...as does every player

I am going to be careful here to not sound like I am comparing Rubio to the likes of Jordan or Kobe. Ricky in some ways is who he is. We got who we got and the wolves knew that. His style of ball playing in Spain worked well for him as it is a totally different style. The NBA has a different breed of players as centers and power forwards tend to be larger and more dominate around the rim and in the paint. This then may explain his struggles with finishing at the paint and just overall his production. Different game for him as he still adjusting to the NBA, working through injury and jelling with his teammates. So onto my point about the hero Jordan/ Kobe point. Rubio may be going through some of these transitions. Jordan and the greats went through trials downs in their carriers before they achieved great success. We all know both of their stories and how they rose above. Please understand, I am not saying Rubio is the next Jordan or Kobe but the storyline of struggles to success are there with the right ingredients. Part of the ingredients to this might be self discipline and a mixture of player development. I think someone in a previous post may have commented on that idea. Ricky will have to work through this with some self determination and help from team development . In some ways they may have to think of a way to use his skills in a way that works for him and the best of the team. Some of the greatest coaches were and are amazing in that fashion. They are able to look at a player that is struggling, reinvent him and give him a new passion for the game. While doing this for each individual player the coach is able to put this all together in a team perspective by building a team cohesion. It is tricky, I am sure, but to me that is the only way that Ricky will succeed. So, is the honeymoon over? Maybe so. But every good marriage continues with hard work and redefining some of the perspectives. But hey, this is Minnesota and we do struggle developing players until we trade them and become world champs somewhere else. Aka ....David Ortiz and handful of others I wish not to say. Trust me, if you live in Minnesota.....you know . Please feel free to respond .

I'm afraid not

Matt--

Thanks for chiming in.
I know you say you don't want to compare Rubio with Jordan and Kobe, but of course that is exactly what you did in the first part of your post. So let's take a closer look.
The "trials" that you refer to with Jordan and Kobe had much more to do with incorporating their enormous talents into the context of a team--"making room" for others without diminishing their own exploits. By year 3 of Kobe's career, he ranked either first or second on the Lakers in points, assists, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks--pretty much everything--which is no mean feat when Shaq and Derek Fisher are among your teammates.
By year 3 Jordan averaged a league leading 37.1 points per game along with 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists.
I don't think being on pace to become the worst shooting point guard of the modern era is comparable to those two players, nor did those two players "struggle" nearly as much in any aspect of their game as Rubio has struggled with his shot.
The second part of your post is more relevant to me, in that you talk about how coaching and Rubio's own self-discipline might help him improve. I do not think his entire game needs to be reinvented, nor do I think at all that he lacks passion for the game. But I do think the mechanics of his shot need to be significantly revamped and I do think Rubio has to forgo some of his international competition and work diligently on a new approach to shooting in the off-season.
As for the final couple of sentences, I don't have much sympathy for fan martyrdom. If you don't like the way things work out for Minnesota teams, sports are so pervasive now that you can adopt somebody else--why not have affection for the way Portland or Phoenix is playing in the NBA, or the great story in Pittsburgh in MLB this past season? And if that feels like a betrayal of your hometown base, fine, I get it. But grumbling about past misdeeds and clinging to former heartbreaks always baffled me as a popular community-organizing tool.
Anyway, forgive that last rant. Feel free to bemoan your fate. But also try to remember that we have had some phenomenally talented athletes who remained loyal and steadfast to these parts, beginning with Kevin Garnett and Adrian Peterson, and currently including Kevin Love. let's never forget the beauty in front of us, regardless of won-lost records. Which, of course, is one of the points of the piece above regarding Rubio.