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?
The easy answer is, “I sure as hell hope so.”
The Wolves are 8-39 right now, winning 17 percent of their games and setting a pace for a season record of 14-68. (Yowzers.) Measured per possession, they have the fourth worst offense in the league and are ranked dead last in defense. In the small sampling of Rubio’s pre-injury minutes (144 of them) the Wolves scored 110.0 points per 100 possessions. (The Clippers are tops in the NBA at 110.8.) In those 144 minutes the Wolves surrendered 98.7 points/100. (The Warriors have the league’s best defense. Their rating is 97.1)
Plenty of SMALL SAMPLE SIZE! going on here. Rubio won’t magically turn the Wolves into a top-tier offense and top-tier defense, when without him they are at the opposite end of each spectrum.
But his presence will certainly help on both ends of the floor and the Wolves should play a lot better.
* What took so long for him to return from an ankle sprain?
I personally believe that he has been withheld from the lineup for longer than necessary, for at least three possible reasons:
1) Tanking. Without Rubio (or any competent point guard to replace him) the Wolves simply had no chance to compete on most nights. They now have a terrible record and all but guaranteed themselves of an upper-half-of-the-lottery draft pick, this summer.
2) Developing Wiggins. Flip stated emphatically at the end of his last press conference (after the Cavs game) that, if Rubio and Martin had not gotten hurt, Wiggins’ development would not be as far along as it is now. They took the opportunity to forget the idea of point-guard playmaking and instead post up Wiggins. They demanded that he make plays. The results on that front have been good, at the expense of short-term team success. This was no more evident than on Saturday versus the Cavs when Wiggins was going toe-to-toe with LeBron James and finished with an efficient 33 points.
3) Rubio’s shooting practice with Penberthy. They’ve been going through these pregame drills for a long, long time now and I think that it’s reasonable to wonder if this was to give it a chance to show results without all of the (huge) interruption caused by the NBA’s jam-packed, never-ending schedule of regular season games. Pregame shooting routines are one thing, but full-speed shooting practice, with a specialized coach, is another.
* Crossing the bridge before we come to it: What if they play MUCH better?
“Oh no! What if the Wolves start winning too many games?!”
A funny worry indeed.
But don’t completely write this off as something that might go into Flip’s mind if the early results are better than expected and the future ping pong balls start disappearing from the Wolves lottery chances.
They have 35 games to go. If they Wolves were to play all of them with Ricky, K-Mart, Thad Young, Wiggins, and 25 or so minutes per game of Pek, they’d probably have a shot at winning 15 or more of them.
Fifteen additional wins would mean 23 for the season. According to ESPN’s win/loss projections, based on an algorithm from the Hollinger days, Philly is projected to win 18 games and the Knicks are projected to win 19. (Both of them currently have 10 wins; 2 more than the Wolves.) Orlando and the Lakers are projected to win 26.
A league-worst record would ensure the Wolves a top-four draft pick, and give them about a 64 percent chance of picking somewhere in the top three. I think that this is on Flip’s mind, as evidence by the long absences of Rubio, Pekovic, and Martin, and the team’s refusal to sign a Lorenzo Brown type of point guard two months ago, instead of last week.
Off the top of my head, some possible strategies we’ll see for late-season tanking include:
- more rest for these veterans — including Rubio — who have had injuries;
more minutes for Anthony Bennett and Zach LaVine;
trades involving the vets that probably won’t be here long term (Thad Young, Mo Williams)
We’ll see. It would be fun to see the team play well enough for this “problem” to materialize.
* Why I’m extra excited to watch Rubio’s return
I’m getting obsessed with this idea that, for certain enigmatic players, time removed from the NBA and its schedule can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered. I’ve written before about practice, and individual coaching, and even specifically about how Rubio needs to do more of that. As indicated above, I don’t believe Rubio was disabled from playing for the past — I dunno — month? I think he’s been working out hard with Penberthy for a reason: the Wolves wanted him to improve as a shooter without being frustrated and interrupted by the demands of playing in all of these damn games.
If this works for Rubio, I think it will be a big data point in favor of a larger issue: the regular season is not the place for serious individual improvement. The increasingly common path that we’re seeing is the career detour through Europe and/or the D-League, where the once-labeled bust comes back a competent player. Gerald Green comes to mind. Maybe Anthony Randolph will be next. (I’d love to say Beasley, but — judging by some of the stats put up in the Chinese league — I’m not holding my breath that he’s getting serious basketball work in, right now.) If Rubio’s individual coaching regimen has him shooting the ball at NBA-competent levels, upon his return, I think this is big, and should be considered when approaching the development of Zach LaVine and — if they plan to keep him — Anthony Bennett.
Something to think about.
Anyway, those are a few things I’ve been thinking about. More than anything, I’m just excited to watch our best player again.