Get your motor running

Zach Harper —  June 17, 2011 — 3 Comments

I’m no car mechanic, but I’m 98% sure in order to have a running car, you need an engine in it.

Back in the late 90s, the Sacramento Kings were attempting to turn over a new leaf. They had hired Rick Adelman to be their coach, Geoff Petrie was acquiring assets, they traded for Chris Webber, and they drafted a white point guard with a flair for the prodigious from Florida.

Chris Webber was going to be their star. Vlade Divac was going to be their veteran. Peja Stojakovic was going to be their sniper. But they needed someone to run the team on the court. They didn’t necessarily need an extension of the coach on the floor. They needed someone that was going shove a lightning bolt in the opponent’s face and dare them to touch it.

Jason Williams was their conduit for basketball freedom and the person who was going to do something so absurdly ballsy that even if he didn’t connect on the pass or the shot, it was going to energize the team. And despite many behind the back passes that went into the 3rd row, it worked.

The Kings immediately took over the NBA as one of the must see teams. They gelled through passing and excitement. It was almost impossible for them to not be full of chemistry and showmanship because of the way Jason Williams conducted himself and left the door open for inspiration to walk on in.

With Ricky Rubio officially under contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves, it sort of feels like the same thing is capable of happening in the Twin Cities. No, Kevin Love is not as good as Chris Webber was, and we probably shouldn’t get into the Darko-Vlade comparisons. But what is there is a team in need of someone to get everybody excited.

Jason Williams was able to transcend excitement in a way the city of Sacramento had never seen. All of a sudden, they were a guaranteed spot in the Top 10 list every night and you always wanted to see what was coming next. While Ricky Rubio isn’t going to be the best point guard in the NBA any time soon (or ever, really), the potential to galvanize an organization in need of excitement seems to be saturating his fresh new rookie contract.

What have been the highlights for the Wolves over the past two years? Kevin Love had a double-double a lot of times in a row and … well … Michael Beasley blew out his hair once. Other than a fun game here and there, I can’t remember much from the past two seasons to hang my hat on.

When you try to explain why you are excited for Ricky Rubio to be on your team, you generally get the same stigmatic dismissals that may or may not be fair in analyzing Rubio’s game:

– He’s too small to play point guard (even though he’s 6’4” and he’s put on a little muscle).
– He can’t shoot.
– He’s too soft.
– He can’t score.
– He’s regressed and been terrible since the Olympics in 2008.
– He can’t defend in the NBA.
– His hair is stupid.
– La Pistola? More like La Pistola de Agua, AMIRITE?!
– He looks like a Jonas brother.

Some of those are valid concerns. Some of those are just generalizing him based on an archaic ideal of both what it means to be a man and what it means to be a European man in the United States.

However, this isn’t about if Ricky Rubio can revolutionize the game of basketball at the point guard position. It doesn’t really matter if he ever fixes his shot or if he is the quickest initiator we’ve ever seen. Predicting his stats as a pro in the NBA is a fun mental exercise because it plays into the landscape’s necessity of making predictions to see just how well you know the league. But none of that matters right now.

With Ricky Rubio declaring he’s coming to the Wolves, it brings about closure to a 2009 draft night that left this franchise in seemingly perpetual ruin.  With two of the top six picks in the draft, they essentially ended up with nothing the last two seasons. Maybe that’s an overly harsh way to judge Jonny Flynn, but I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to say while he’s given blood, sweat and tears to the Wolves in his short time here, it hasn’t morphed into tangible hope.

Wolves fans no longer now have to wonder if taking Rubio was the right decision. We’re going to get to see that answer unfold in front of our own eyes for the next four seasons, with an option for the makings of a beautiful friendship together. Maybe it works out and he becomes a top 10 point guard in this league. Maybe it doesn’t work out and he’s back in Barcelona in 5 years.

At least we’re finally going to know one way or another and get that much needed closure. And in the process of getting this closure, we’re going to see an exciting brand of basketball that will inject life into Minnesota basketball. It doesn’t mean the Wolves are now closer to being contenders. It just means they’re closer to being interesting.

There is hope that they go from a walking joke about loving point guards to a penetrating fascination with loving THIS point guard.

Rubio’s confidence will be the currency that completes this transaction. In his press conference (EuroHopes was kind enough to translate), he said, “it will be a mentality change. This hasn’t been my best season in Europe, but as team has been great.” He continued on with, “Upon the season ended in ACB I was like a little child, waiting for this dream. I am motivated to play against the best. Is really an adventure. I must live this. I need to try it.”

Am I naïve in believing he has the right mentality to be successful in this venture? Probably. When he’s making the joke of “The weather in Minneapolis is completely different, but maybe is not a problem. My family will play with the snow,” I can’t help but think that he’s ready to make the best of this opportunity and see if he has what it takes in this league.

He’s certainly not the first and won’t be the last, and we’ve seen Darko, Pek and many other foreign players do this same trek with many mixed results before. But there is something inspiring about a young player willing to move halfway around the world in order to challenge himself in his vocation.

It’s exactly the mentality Ricky needs to have and inject further into this Wolves team. There were so many nights this team was competitive and let the wins unravel into losses in the fourth quarter. Some of that was poor coaching and some of that was bad execution, but a lot of that was figuring out that as a team, the Wolves could play with anybody on any given night.

Whether that was true or not is a different story. Having young guys willing to prove they belong alongside the best in the world can prove to be invaluable.

Again, this isn’t about Ricky Rubio being the next Chris Paul or the best point guard in the league. I would be shocked if he averages fewer than five turnovers per 36 minutes as a rookie. When you factor in the adjustment to the league, potentially playing in a system that doesn’t really favor someone like Ricky, and the pace this team plays (allowing more chances of screwing it up as you go), Rubio is going to fail a lot of times.

However, the excitement is going to be there. That feeling of holding your breath as he leads a 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 fastbreak will cause your heart to pound as you wait to see what highlight or lowlight comes next.

Ricky Rubio is going to be the engine that makes this team go. And I can’t wait to see exactly where they end up because of it.

Zach Harper

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3 responses to Get your motor running

  1. Hey Zach.I watched Rubio in quite a few euroleague games this season.Especially in the big quarterfinal series vs. Panathinaikos.For the most part he wasn’t their.If there was a draft pick that played well it was the Mavs 2nd round pick Nick Kalathes.With both teams weighing heavily on those two guys Barca just didn’t get enough and Panathinaikos with a solid contribution form Kalathes wound up winning the whole thing.Kalathes got to the rim and did a heck of a job against Navarro.He has never done anything close to what Rubio did in the 08 Olympics,but Rubio just doesn’t feel the same as he did then.Even though he played the passing lane pretty well he got posted up by Diamantidis.Maybe he wasn’t as focused and thinking too much about the NBA but things just havn’t been going well.

  2. I agree with a lot of your points regarding Rubio’s projected talents. I have watched a few Euro Games with Rubio playing, and it is clear he will have a tough time guarding NBA point gaurds.

    His best chance at success is forming bonds with Love and Beasley and get sort of a “Nash-Amare-Marion” thing going and perhaps play an uptempo style offense, instead of the triangle while the team is still full of young legs.

    I think he should play more of a Eric Maynor / Jose Calderon style of game at first, pass first mentality and not try to take over the game.

    Then once he get the feel for the NBA, he can start chucking them up to help keep the defense on their toes.

  3. FalcoLombardi June 18, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Awesome article, Zach. The Wolves are definitely going to need Rubio to be exciting, now to find a coach that can deliver Bill Pullman speeches like he did in Independence Day.

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