Ricky, we already miss you. Its hard to tell if Saturday’s performance against the Hornets was simply the product of an emotional hangover or if its simply what we can expect from the post-Ricky Wolves. Either way, it was an unlovely melange of poor shot selection, stagnant ball-movement and listless, unaware defense. As Rick Adelman put it afterwards, (via Kent Youngblood at the Strib) “I thought maybe it was the worst game in a long time defensively for us. No communication, ball-watching, not playing as a team.” True that.
It’s an ominous moment for your Timberwolves. Rick Adelman’s arrival notwithstanding, it often seemed that the only thing standing between this year’s Wolves and the gauzy nightmare of the Wittman/McHale/Rambis era was the floppy-haired Catalan hope machine. Without him, things feel a little scary.
By way of providing solace, Truehoop points out that, despite the surplus of charming smiles, warm feelings and ecstatic moments, Rubio had hardly transformed the Wolves into a titan of offensive efficiency. Last season, the Wolves scored 101.1 points per 100 possessions, this year they’re scoring 101.5 pts/100. Because of this season’s league-wide, lockout-induced offensive tumble, that number is good for 14th in the NBA, but the point remains. What’s more, according to 82games, the Wolves offense was exactly as efficient with him on the floor as off. On the other hand, it seemed clear on Saturday that without Rubio’s probing ballhandling and preternatural vision, there were fewer open shooters, fewer rhythmic spot up jumpers.
On the other other hand, as we’ve already discussed, Rubio was probably even more integral to the Wolves’ defensive renewal. The team was 3.3 points/100 possessions better defensively when he was on the floor this season. The lack of Ricky’s ability to create turnovers, disrupt the pick-and-roll game and conjure frenzied defensive energy was painfully evident against New Orleans.
So how does this affect the Wolves’ decision-making moving forward? Well, as Jerry Zgoda pointed out to ESPN, this probably means the team won’t be looking to move Luke Ridnour, the only Wolf left with any natural-born ball-distribution skills, not to mention their best perimeter scorer, any time soon. And most observers seem to agree that, short of possibly moving Mike Beasley for a draft-pick (would any vampires in the audience care to glamour the Nets into parting with their first-round pick?), the Wolves are best served by standing pat. After all, their long-term needs are still most glaringly at shooting guard and in the middle. Here’s how Zach put it in his most recent 5-on-5 appearance:
I’ll say no move for the backcourt is necessary right now. Ridnour has been one of the more unheralded role players this season and is capable of keeping Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love scoring at high clips. The key will be getting Barea healthy and seeing if Malcolm Lee can provide a spark. Now, if they want to go after Pau Gasol to add elite size, that’s a much better plan to me.
Which, yes, agreed. But can you see any combination of Timberwolves short of Kevin Love or Ricky himself that could entice the Lakers into moving Gasol? Well I can’t.
After all, Rubio’s most significant contribution, as attested to by the recent outpouring of Twitter love, was spiritual. And it was that loss–the way he made us feel, the way he inspired his teammates to play–that was felt most acutely on Saturday.