Tag Archives: ricky rubio

INBOX: Timberwolves Season in Review Part I: The Backcourt

Ricky Rubio

Patrick J: On Wednesday night at Target Center, the Timberwolves faced the Oklahoma City Thunder in the final game of their 2014-15 season. That game was meaningful for OKC–the Thunder needed the win, as well as a Pelicans loss, in order to make  in the playoffs. (Eds. Note: The Pelicans did not lose. New Orleans is the 8th seed in the Western Conference. Wussell Restbrook is left to stew at home, leap over tall buildings, or do whatever restless superstars who miss the playoffs do. He may want to consult his former UCLA roommate, Kevin Love, who had plenty of experience missing the playoffs until this season.)

For the Wolves, Wednesday’s finale didn’t feel significant at all. It was a continuation of most of ‘Sota’s season, really. The Wolves were out of the playoff race almost as soon as it began, and — through a series of roster management decisions — signaled many times over that they were much less interested in fielding a competitive night-to-night lineup than they were in securing a high 2015 draft pick under the guise of squeezing every ounce of potential out of rookie Andrew Wiggins.

We thought it made enough sense to kickstart the recap process and look at some things we learned about this Wolves team, this season.

Part I will focus on the guards. Part II, which will come over the weekend, will look at the wings.

In this entry, we don’t dwell on Mo Williams or Lorenzo Brown. You already know why.

Read below the fold for more on Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, and Zach LaVine.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under INBOX, Timberwolves

Timberwolves Third Quarter Report: The Issues

youngwolves

At the season’s quarter point, I handed out letter grades to each player. At the halfway point, I laid out team superlatives. We’ve just reached the third quarter point, and with the team fresh off a franchise-altering trade, and without hope of making the upcoming playoffs, I thought it a good time to lay out the big issues they face as the season hits its springtime homestretch.

The following are five issues that the team faces and will hang over the last 21 games of the season. I listed them in increasing order of importance, as I see things:

1. What is Zach LaVine’s position?

On one hand, I don’t view this as a particularly important question despite the emphasis many knowledgeable Wolves pundits place on it; specifically, many criticize Flip Saunders for playing LaVine at point guard when he has struggled there, and they feel his future is off the ball, at the two. I don’t get quite as hung up on that positional distinction in Zach’s case because I think his “upside” will be realized if and when he can get comfortable enough with his handles, against pressure defense, to explode to the rim from the top of the key. That’s a “combo guard” type of play that athletic dynamos like Russ Westbrook have proven to be effective.

Even if LaVine doesn’t have traditional point guard instincts, he’ll create plays for himself and teammates if and when he can master that skill; and he obviously has the athleticism to do it. So from that perspective, I think playing him at point guard right now makes sense. Flip has played him almost exclusively at point guard this season, to the chagrin of fans (and sometimes himself, it seems) and I can only believe he’s doing this with an eye toward the future and the type of player he wants LaVine to become.

But the question matters considerably more in the short term — next season, specifically — if the Wolves are planning to try to win games rather than tank for the draft and develop young players outside of their comfort zones, as they did this year. Because in that case, they need a backup point guard and this year’s version of LaVine is simply not good enough to play that role on a competitive team.

The on/off numbers for LaVine paint an ugly picture. In the 1148 minutes he’s been on the floor this year, the Wolves were outscored by 17.1 points per 100 possessions. In other words, over a large sample size, the Wolves were consistently blown out when LaVine was in the game, and he was almost always playing point guard. Some of that statistic is the fault of other players. Consider that he played by far his most minutes in December (15 games, 29.3 minutes per game) when the Wolves best players (Rubio, Martin, Pekovic) were all on the shelf with injuries. Those lineups were outmanned across the board. Combined with the “Force Feed Wiggins At All Costs” philosophy that Flip implemented, there was no getting around some awful plus-minus stats.

But LaVine’s ineptitude on defense, and in initiating the offense as the lead guard, were substantial contributing factors to the lopsided defeats, too. He dribbles the ball high, and when defenders pressure him, he struggles to do anything beyond a cautious entry pass to the wing. On defense he is pretty good against isolation drives, because of his supreme athleticism and solid effort level. But he does not yet have the court awareness, or the physical strength and developed tricks to navigate pick and rolls with any success. The Wolves allow 113.4 points per 100 possessions when LaVine is on the floor, and just 105.5 when he’s off. That 7.9 point differential is enormous, considering the sample size on each side of it.

So in the season’s final quarter, it will be worth paying attention to every minute LaVine takes the floor and mans the point guard spot. They need to know if he’s improving rapidly enough to be penciled in as a point, or even combo guard in next year’s rotation, or whether they need to find somebody else on the open market or in the draft to back up Ricky Rubio.

2. Is there a starting frontcourt player on the roster?

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Timberwolves

Saturday Jottings: Wolves Beat Suns, Anthony Bennett’s Future, Late-Game Offense

Last night’s win over the Suns was one of the season’s most fun games, for a few different reasons.

First and most obvious: It was a close game, involving a whole bunch of fourth quarter lead changes, and the home team pulled it out in the final minute. Specifically, the Wolves’ biggest basket came on a Rubio-to-Wiggins pick and roll where the next Rookie of the Year showed off his athleticism and poise by absorbing contact and finishing in traffic. Anytime the Wolves beat a decent team on a big play involving Rubio and Wiggins, the vibes will be positive.

Second, the fans came out and the arena had new energy. This was presumably, in large part, due to the Garnett-trade news. There was a period of time between when the trade was announced and the confirmation of when KG will debut here (next Wednesday, not last night) and I can only imagine that a lot of fans bought tickets for the Friday night game hoping it might be the first one with The Big Ticket back in the lineup. Garnett is not yet back in Minnesota, but the team made sure to play a bunch of promo videos on the big screen which was the crowd’s consolation prize (well, along with the big win). But there was a bigger-than-usual turnout last night, and the fans clearly enjoyed the show that Ricky and Wiggins put on. This team is 12-42 right now, mind you. This sort of win/loss record, which is unfortunately common, has traditionally not led to good crowds in the second half of the season. Last night was an exception.

Third, and most perhaps most under-the-radar, Ricky Rubio’s minutes restriction has been lifted and he’s back in full duty. Rubio played 37 minutes of really good basketball, last night. He had the Jason Kidd-style stat line, approaching a triple double with 10 points, 14 assists and 8 rebounds. Ricky had so much control over this game. Kevin Martin was hot early, so Ricky got him the ball. When Wiggins was feeling left out, Ricky chucked a 50-foot pass up the floor, forcing the youngster to chase it down and reward himself with a layup. Later in the game, again after some Martin shots went up, Ricky made a concerted effort to get the new guy, Gary Neal, some touches. He even looked off Martin to make sure this happened. He’s got that “pure point guard” brain that calculates the flow of the game in real time and understands where the ball needs to go to keep everyone happy and — more importantly — to keep the points coming. Ricky’s plus-minus of +14 was the game’s best by a 6-point margin.

All in all, it was a good win against an undermanned, but plenty competitive Suns team.

Some other Timberwolves issues, looking ahead:

* Anthony Bennett is about to enter a two-front battle for his Timberwolves future.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Timberwolves

Some Questions about Rubio’s Return

Like everyone else, Ricky wondered why the Seahawks didn’t hand off to Lynch for the Super Bowl-winning touchdown. Tomorrow night, he returns to action against the Mavs.

On Saturday evening at Target Center, Ricky Rubio went through what must have been the most watched individual practice session of any basketball player, this year. Working with special coach Mike Penberthy, about one hour before tipoff versus the Cavs, Ricky shot threes and dribble jumpers before a surprisingly big crowd, for such an early time. This was because LeBron James was in town and, perhaps more importantly, because it was #TheReturn of Kevin Love (and Mike Miller!).

The Wolves had a huge crowd that showed up early, and Rubio was going through a workout on the game floor while his teammates and opponents were getting dressed in their locker rooms.

He was going full speed, and making a lot of shots. His form doesn’t look great, but it does look improved. There is some visual evidence, for those of us who have been able to watch him in these non-televised moments, that he is improving as a shooter. Just not any data. Yet.

That changes tomorrow, when he returns to game action. The Wolves play at Dallas against the Mavs, and Ricky will be playing. Apparently he’ll be under a minutes limit for a while, presumably because he’s not in regular game shape. Who knows how much he’ll play at first (maybe 25 minutes?) but any amount of Rubio action is cause for excitement for this win-starved team that has lacked floor leadership since his injury way back in early November.

A few questions to consider with Ricky Rubio returning:

* Will the Wolves play better?

Continue reading

13 Comments

Filed under Timberwolves

A Brooklyn State of Mind? Wolves defeat Nets, 98-91

Ricky Rubio played well in the Wolves victory over the Nets on Wednesday.

Ricky Rubio played well in the Wolves victory over the Nets on Wednesday.

Bouncing Back and Developing Winning Habits

The Wolves won a road game tonight over an Eastern Conference playoff team that has legitimate star talent on its roster. That includes former Timberwolf legend Kevin Garnett, whose star has greatly dimmed in the twilight of his career. This felt like a big win after the Wolves’ demoralizing loss against Chicago on Saturday night. That game was decided on a last-second foul by Andrew Wiggins with the Wolves up by one. Jimmy Butler went to the free throw line and won the game for the Bulls from the charity stripe.

Bouncing back from a hard loss like the one against the Bulls, against a talented veteran team like the Nets on their home court in New York City is big for the Wolves. Yes, it’s good for restoring short-term morale, and that is important. You don’t want the team to go into an early season funk in which it develops bad habits that become ingrained in the culture that’s currently being cultivated by the Wolves organization under Flip Saunders’ direction.

As both POBO and coach, to be successful Saunders needs to ensure good habits are developed. The rookies have upside, but what kind of professionals they’ll develop into over their career will largely determine whether they reach it. This is why it’s encouraging to see the Wolves playing very hard in each game so far this season.  This year’s Wolves play more aggressively on both ends, and, frankly, they play hungrier than last season’s Wolves ever did under Adelman. If these trends continue, they’re going to be better than the Vegas bookmakers prediction of 26 wins. They’re 2-2 now, and are one whistle in the Chicago game from being 3-1.

No Sleep in Brooklyn

Tonight’s win over Brooklyn was far from a sure thing. The Nets came in at 2-1 and remain perhaps the most intriguing talent in the Eastern Conference. Even having lost Paul Pierce in free agency, the Nets’ core of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett, and Brook Lopez, who’s back from a serious injury, is a slew of experienced pros with many All-Star appearances among them. They relocated to the most interesting part of the United States, are owned by perhaps the most intriguing owner in the NBA, and have a new high-profile coach in Lionel Hollins, who replaced Jason Kidd after Kidd was ousted in a ill-fated power play apropos of a classic Russian tragedy.

But the Wolves outplayed the Nets on their home floor and managed to seal a victory in a close game that they deserved to win.

Continue reading

8 Comments

Filed under Timberwolves

Connecting the Dots that Might Determine Ricky Rubio’s Future

rubiodots

A lot is happening in the life of Ricky Rubio. The Timberwolves point guard is entering his fourth season in the NBA, and the first without head coach Rick Adelman and sidekick power forward Kevin Love. Replacing Love are players who’re more athletic but less skilled and far less developed. The new narrative surrounding the team has naturally cast Ricky as its next leader.

But the story is more complicated than one young man’s ascension to leadership.

Rubio and his agent Dan Fegan are in a stage of negotiations for a contract extension with the Wolves; the deadline is October 31st. If they don’t strike a deal, Ricky will play this season knowing he will become a (restricted) free agent, next summer.

On top of that off-court distraction, his jump-shooting struggles warranted the hiring of a special shooting coach.

And perhaps most importantly, all of this is happening in the wake of a franchise crossroads where — largely out of necessity — the team is rebuilding around youth instead of seriously competing for a playoff berth. Even though it seems natural that the Wolves will become Ricky Rubio’s team, it might not happen. Rubio was notably absent from the team’s offseason marketing campaign. How he fits into a fresh rebuild remains to be seen, and his future as a player is cloudier than many would have expected a short time ago.

Let’s begin with the “dots”; the issues and factors that surround Rubio as Timberwolves point guard, and then analyze how those dots could be connected for different purposes.

The Dots

Rubio’s Contract Situation

First of all, Rubio will earn about $4.7 million this season. That much is certain.

The question is what about after this season. Rubio and the Timberwolves have less than three weeks to reach a deal, else they have to wait until next summer when he will be a restricted free agent. The latest report is that the Wolves have offered him the handsome sum of $48 million for a four-year contract. Rubio–almost certainly at the direction of his agent–is demanding a five-year “max” salary. The Wolves are unwilling to give him this deal right now, which almost every pundit agrees is beyond his market value.

This means that Rubio will probably play this upcoming season with an (effectively) expiring contract, and the knowledge that his performance on the court will go a long way in determining his financial and residential future.

Can Ricky Learn to Shoot?

Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Timberwolves

Measuring Success for the Timberwolves in 2014-15

fork-in-the-road

I am back at the blog after a summer hiatus and I’m excited about the season. You know the reason already–change.

If you’re reading here, you probably already know all about the changes from last season–Rick’s out, Flip’s in, Love’s out, Wiggins is in, the Wolves are gambling the farm on young talent, yet have failed to move numerous veteran players on bad contracts who promise threaten to slow the youngins’ development, and that this odd mix of the young and the promising and the old(er) and overpaid could create locker room weirdness.

While I’ve been away from the blog, I’ve still been reading the excellent news updates and analysis that is churned out daily on sites like Canis Hoopus, A Wolf Among Wolves, TWolves Blog, and numerous others (see, e.g., here, here, and here). These sites extend the beat reporting by the Strib, the Press, and Fox Sports. Equally  important, their material is the lifeblood that keeps Wolves Twitter vibrant in the lean months when no games are actually played, no drafts are happening, and (Wolves) free agency activity is minimal. They are the locus of coordination for the 24/7 chatter on teh interwebz that satiates the irreconcilables among us Wolves fans. (Eds. Note: If you’re reading this post, you’re probably in this group.)

Being away from blogging for a few months can serve to restore, or alter, a blogger’s perspective. You can’t read everything, you’re not farming for tidbits to harvest, and you have time to step back and take a longer view on why it is you’re blogging in the first place.

For me as a Wolves blogger, this has allowed a kind of introspection about the real meaning of all of the changes to the franchise’s architecture. The issues I’ve kept returning to are simple, fundamental, and, I believe, are ultimately the ones that will make or break fans’ retrospective on 2014-15 when they look back at the upcoming season, and the offseason changes that preceded it, in the coming years: competitiveness and progress.

These are meta-issues that have little to do with confidence bands on predicted 2014-15 wins. From a less abstract perspective, these issues imply two sets of questions heading into this season:

Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Timberwolves