Dueling Leads: The Potential Harmony of Rubio-Shved

Steve McPherson —  December 10, 2012 — 17 Comments

Rubio_ShveD_ABB

With Ricky Rubio’s return from last season’s ACL injury growing ever more imminent (possibly as soon as Wednesday against the Nuggets), considerations about what it will mean for this team going forward have blossomed. One of the most exciting is the prospect of Rubio and Alexey Shved playing together in the backcourt. But that excitement doesn’t come without a healthy dose of trepidation. After all, pairing Rubio with a player like Kevin Love is a no-brainer as far as fit goes: One handles the ball and distributes, the other shoots and rebounds. There isn’t a lot of overlap in their games. But then you watch a clip like this of Shved’s highlights against the Bucks, and you might be forgiven for wondering how they’ll work together with games that can appear so similar.

But never fear: I’ve been listening to the Allman Brothers Band.

Like the Allman Brothers, the Timberwolves possess two talented players with similar skillsets. At 6’4” and 6’6” respectively, Rubio and Shved are acceptably long for their positions, but both are slight. On offense, they compensate for this by being slippery when they drive and also by being willing passers. Neither relishes contact, but both have a fondness for hitting the open man on pick and rolls or when the defense collapses as they go into the paint. Both play passing lanes well for steals, and although Rubio has the edge on man defense, Shved has been better than was forecast prior to the season.

Where he’s not been as good as hoped has been shooting. Although he showed off good range in the Olympics and playing for CSKA Moscow in Russia, it’s taken him some time to adjust to the NBA game in terms of both the longer 3-pointer and in the amount of time he has to get his shot up. The result has been 3-point shooting numbers through 17 games that are right in line with Rubio’s from last season (.342 vs. .340). Over the last five games, though, Shved seems to have come gotten a little more comfy, shooting .464 from deep on 5.6 attempts per game according to NBA.com’s stats. You can also see from the graphic below that some of Shved’s trouble has been shot selection:

120812_Shved shot distro

His best shooting percentages have come from straight on and from the right corner, but he’s only shot 15 times from those two areas, whereas he’s taken 66 shots from the right and left wings and left corner. Basically, his shooting should steadily improve as he figures out where to get his shots from and also when he’s comfortable getting the ball. Rubio will almost certainly help not just Shved, but the whole team in this respect.

Both have also shown an ability to step up in the fourth quarter. Rubio’s steady hand down the stretch has already been well-documented based on his performance last year, but in the fourth quarter, Shved shoots 40% from the field, 37% from deep, and posts his best rebounding, assist and scoring numbers of any quarter.

So what does all this have to do with the Allman Brothers Band? Well, when the Allman Brothers Band released their self-titled debut album in 1969, they were something of their own positional revolution. Guitarists, like guards, traditionally come in two varieties: rhythm and lead. The rhythm guitarist provides the foundation, is often the songwriter and arranger of the material, makes the rest of the band look good. Basically, the point guard. The band’s shooting guard is the lead guitarist: in the best cases, prodigiously talented with an innate sense of the full expressive range of the role; in the worst, a flashy, me-first volume shooter with little regard for the good of the group. One of the most archetypal rhythm/lead relationships is between Malcolm and Angus Young of AC/DC, for example.

These kind of role definitions, though, can often be so deeply ingrained as to trip up even the musicians themselves. George Harrison is generally thought of us as the Beatles’ lead guitarist, but it’s Paul McCartney who plays the solo on Harrison’s own “Taxman”; Harrison’s own lack of confidence in his skills and his resentment of what he saw as McCartney’s condescending insistence on Harrison fulfilling lead duties can be seen in the documentary about the making of the Beatles’ last album, Let It Be. For my part, when I first got Gish by Smashing Pumpkins, I assumed that James Iha was an incredible lead guitarist; I simply assumed that as the songwriter and singer, Billy Corgan couldn’t possibly also be the lead guitarist. (This makes him very Derrick Rose-esque, I suppose.)

But the work of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts shows how inadequate the conception of rhythm vs. lead is, and maybe how misleading point vs. shooting guard is. The opening track from that debut album opens with the playset that would become their calling card: harmony guitar.

Their instrumental version of Spencer Davis’ “Don’t Want You No More” displays the kind of patience and sense of space required to make an offense predicated on two points of attack work. Betts and Allman have to deliver the main riff with a blend of confidence and awareness that can be difficult to achieve—each line has to stand on its own yet mesh perfectly with the other.

This same kind of sense is what Shved and Rubio are going to have to develop in order to make more complex plays work. Sets like the one I looked at from the Cavaliers game are going to require Rubio to be a shooting threat if he’s in Ridnour’s position or to be able to finish at the rim if he’s in the role of Lee/Shved. The latter would seem to be preferable, with Shved spotting up on the wing. Shved will need to show that he can knock down spot-up jumpers. With Kirilenko back in the lineup and Love growing more comfortable, Adelman’s system is beginning to show itself more on offense and Rubio and Shved need to quickly develop the kind of patience and spacing that will pay dividends within that system.

But Duane Allman and Dickey Betts are also each given space to run the show when they solo, and so should Rubio and Shved. Although they both like to run the pick and roll, their ways of using it have slightly different flavors, as do Allman and Betts’ lead playing.

Allman’s style was more fluid, but also rawer, like burnt honey, and his playing was grounded in the blues and the soul and R&B session work where he got his start. Betts’ style was sharper, more cerebral, but also broader, encompassing more country sounds and expanding into jazzier territory as on his own instrumentals like “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”

Likewise, Rubio runs the pick and roll to free space for the roll man to pop out or dive to the hoop, and he’s already shown a strong connection with Love on the former and Pekovic on the latter. Shved operates a little differently, more often turning the corner and pulling up for a midrange jumper or driving all the way into the paint to find either the roll man or a cutter, often Kirilenko. His most consistent pop partner has been Dante Cunningham, who’s shown a reassuring ability to hit the elbow jumper.

When one of them is running the show like this, the other has to figure out how to simultaneously not get in the way and be ready to help. Allman and Betts were masters of this, especially in a group that also featured organ, bass, and often two sets of drums. When Gregg Allman starts the his organ solo on “Don’t Want You No More,” you can hear the two guitarists settle into a nimble back and forth of chord stabs and arpeggios, supporting and framing the organ. When Betts solos, Allman’s guitar parts become more legato and foundational. When Allman takes his lead, Betts’ comping is more energetic, punctuated. In each case, the comping complements the lead player’s foundational style: Betts, again, is craggier, while Allman is smoother.

Over the course of three albums before Duane Allman’s death in a motorcycle accident at the age of 24, the Allman Brothers Band demonstrated how players that are generally similar can work off each other’s smaller differences to create something that highlights and magnifies each’s unique abilities. It was a creative partnership built on understanding, awareness, patience, intuition, responsibility and—of course—tremendous talent. The Wolves would do well to consider it as they look to build an offense based around the dual leads of Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved.

Steve McPherson

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17 responses to Dueling Leads: The Potential Harmony of Rubio-Shved

  1. This was awesome. Need to go find my iPod and queue up som Allman Bros immediately.

    I also don’t think Ricky and Alexey are going to have an issue. I remember being shocked earlier this season when it hit me during a game that Adelmans offense could fully incorporate five ball handlers on the floor. It’s like rugby football instead of AP football – you can use one amazing back to move the ball forward, or you can use a bunch of guys who are all pretty good working together.

    Already we’ve seen AK, Shved, and Barea or Luke play extensively together. All are good to great offensive initiators, and they play fine. With Ricky and Shveds intelligence, I think they will quickly figure out how to play off each other. Or more correctly, how to play off everyone else out there. This offense isn’t built around great shooters as much as its about getting great looks. And check out his euro clips – Ricky knows how to capitalize on easy looks to the basket.

  2. That has to be one of the more inventive sports analyses I’ve ever read, but as a fan of the Wolves, the Beatles and the Allmans, damn if it wasn’t apt. Nice job. Now let’s see if Ricky and Alexey can play “Whipping Post.”

  3. This is fantastic.

  4. So, does Alexey die young or does Ricky? Hopefully the parallel is not too close.

    Great read.

  5. “His best shooting percentages have come from straight on and from the right corner, but he’s only shot 15 times from those two areas, whereas he’s taken 66 shots from the right and left wings and left corner. Basically, his shooting should steadily improve as he figures out where to get his shots from and also when he’s comfortable getting the ball”

    He has shot 32.5% overall. I have doubts that being 2/3 from right corner or 5/12 from the center are statistically significant differences.

  6. I hope neither of them has to die. Not everything has to run parallel.

  7. Awesome article. This is when Wolf Among Wolves is at its best. McPherson is on fire lately!

    I’m confident those two will figure out how to work together well, mostly because I believe Shved is more like the shooter we’ve seen the last 5 games rather than the first 13, especially when he starts getting more open looks courtesy of Rubio. I love the idea of having two dynamic creators. If one doesn’t have it going, the other will. Especially with Roy and Bud out, I want to see more Shved at SG.

  8. As an NBA fanatic and veteran of more than 50 Allman Brothers shows (although none with Duane) I hereby declare this the greatest blog post in the history of the internets.

  9. Great article, I really loved the compare and contrast between music and sports, keep up the excellent writing!

  10. Shved and Rubio have the advantage that they don’t have to do this while also being high

  11. They will compliment each other well. They can run the pick and roll with one another all night. and Rubio will give Shved more/better looks at the basket. Shved will pass anytime, but would rather shoot. Rubio loves to make everyone else look good.

  12. I love the article! Very well written! As far as Rubio and Alexey are concerned I think they’ll be fine working together since both of them are willing passers. We also have to remember that Shved is a very good cutter. We have yet to see this because he has had to play PG most of the time. But if you see his videos playing for Russia he executes a lot of baseline cuts and usually completes an alley oop. I can’t wait to see AK and Shved cutting those baselines and dunking that ball.

  13. This was beyond incredible. As an Allman Bros. addict, to imagine basketball being played with the same syncopation is simply awesome. Great, great writing.

  14. Homo homini lupus est December 11, 2012 at 8:08 am

    The Adelman Brothers Band… “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function”. (F. Scott Fitzgerald) … well done.

  15. Really great work here, Steve. I wrote about the dynamic that Rubio and Shved could create here within Adelman’s backcourt. It’s all in the timing of things, though. Rubio, looking to regain his legs let alone create chemistry with a new backcourt mate, will take time. Just how much does Adelman and the Wolves have?

  16. Wow, what a fantastic, inventive, and thorough piece of writing. Such a good read.

    Just out of curiosity, who is Derrick Williams in all of this. And also, do you think Shved will hold down the starting SG position from here on out? I sure hope so. He is so fun to watch.

  17. This was a fun read, and I’m giddy about the thought of a Ricky/Alexey backcourt. With AK47. And Pek. And Love. Crushing in the frontcourt, creating in the backcourt, and the kind of perimeter defense that will mean Love and Pek aren’t constantly trying to pin down a penetrating guard.

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