It’s amazing how fun Ricky Rubio can be at times.
We know about the passing and the steals. We know he can crash the boards and break down opposing perimeter defenders. And we see glimpses of an improved jump shooter. In fact, over Rubio’s last 10 games, he’s over 40% from the field (41.2%) and he’s made 50% of his 3-point shots. Now, I wouldn’t say he’s fixed his ability to put the ball in the basket; it’s still very much a work in progress. But there are signs of improvement.
Two things I look for when Rubio taking a jumper are 1) was he readying himself before the pass got to him and 2) where is the arc on his shot?
Against the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night, we saw a lot of both. When Ricky was being fed the ball on the perimeter, you could see him squaring up his feet, crouching down into a coil to spring into his jump shot, and getting his hands in position to catch the ball and immediately head into his shooting motion. Then when he released the ball, the majority of his shots had an encouraging trajectory. He made a 3-pointer and then another. He was clearly feeling good about his jumper.
Then the Wolves had a 5-on-2 fast break working. Ricky brought the ball up the court and as everybody in the arena, on the court, and at home prepared for a highlight pass (would it be between his legs? The defender’s legs? A wrap-around pass?), Rubio did something I never would have expected. Rubio pulled up for a PU3IT (pull-up 3-pointer in transition) and knocked it down. It was his third 3-pointer of the first quarter and it was only his third attempt. He gave a look to Terry Porter on the sideline and headed back down the floor.
This is something I don’t encourage Ricky to do, necessarily. It was a Brandon Jennings’ moment in Brandon Jennings’ house, except it went in. Perhaps this was just hard work paying off. Maybe Rubio remembers a pre-draft Jennings telling the world that Rubio was overhyped. I’m not sure what the reason was but Rubio came into the Bradley Center hunting Bucks and feeling great about his accuracy. By the end of the first half, he was 5-of-5 from 3-point range and giving the defense something else to worry about.
I don’t expect this to be the norm with Rubio. He finished 5-of-6 from long range and 7-of-12 overall. But seeing improvement is what you want to witness from this kid.
People freaked out about Bomani Jones on Around The Horn selling on Rubio’s shooting ability because there wasn’t evidence he’d ever be a good shooter. I can’t fault Bo for thinking this way because I don’t see any guarantees that Rubio will turn himself into a deadly outside shooter like Jason Kidd became for a few years. But all Ricky has to do is improve enough to be a threat on the basketball court. If he can give the defense something to hesitate for, then he has an extra half-second to figure out what the play he needs to make is.
Give someone like Rubio a half-second advantage and I’m confident he’ll make everybody pay.
Outside of the shooting, he turned the ball over a lot, but I don’t mind him trying to make plays like he was doing. Minnesota dominated the paint and he was trying to continue that trend by getting the ball inside. And while this isn’t a perfect way of looking at someone with a game of a lot of turnovers, Ricky did manage to get all eight turnovers back by getting eight steals to go with his 12 assists and four rebounds.
Nikola Pekovic was a monster throughout the game and he was doing it against arguably the best shot blocker in the NBA with Larry Sanders out there. Pek didn’t allow Sanders to get the space to elevate for blocked shots. When Sanders is coming in from the weak side, he’s great at closing the gap and taking away angles with his long arms. However, when he’s defending someone in the post, he’s a wizard at moving back from the post player enough to give himself room to explode and smack the ball before it’s too late.
Pek didn’t allow that to happen. He kept taking it to Sanders, which is ideally what you want to do with a shot blocker. You can’t be afraid of getting blocked. And as we know, Pek doesn’t fear anything he can’t slay. He dominated the boards early, but wasn’t as aggressive as the Wolves needed him to be on the glass throughout the game. Giving up 20 offensive rebounds (although a handful of those were fluky missed shots inside when the defense wasn’t around) isn’t ideal, especially when you can’t stop the other team’s outside shooting.
That was the impressive thing from the Bucks. They were getting dominated inside, but they managed to still battle to keep possessions alive and made the Wolves pay from the perimeter. Ersan Ilyasova was deadly from outside and the midrange games of JJ Redick and Mike Dunleavy kept Milwaukee in the game.
Overall, I was pleased with the Wolves’ play. The defense wasn’t great, but it was good enough down the stretch. The offensive execution was spectacular and even though the turnovers were high, the outside shooting and decision-making by the Wolves’ players (mainly Rubio in those respects) was solid enough to win on the road.
999 wins for Adelman. 2-0 in April.
So this is what a relatively healthy Wolves’ team looks like, huh?