82. That’s the number I want you to keep in mind.
Because it’s true that Luke Ridnour is not a starting-caliber point guard. Because he’s 31 and battling chronic back problems. Because his best season likely came three years ago for the Bucks when his PER crept up to 17.7. Because he’s never averaged more than 7.5 assists per game and did that all the way back in 2005–06. Because of his good-but-not-amazing career 43/35/87 shooting percentages.
Because Ridnour should by rights be one of the better backup point guards in the league right now but instead started every one of the Timberwolves 82 games, many of them at shooting guard.
Those 82 starts were more than Pekovic and Love combined for. That’s 59 more games than Chase Budinger played, 77 more than Brandon Roy played. He played nearly half again as many minutes as Ricky Rubio. He led the team in free throw percentage among players with at least 50 attempts. He averaged 30.2 minutes per game, good for third (among players who played at least a quarter of the season) behind Kirilenko and Pekovic—who played 18 and 20 games fewer than him, respectively. In a season marked by lineup inconsistency as the Wolves struggled to throw healthy bodies on the floor, Ridnour was an ironman, and that’s not nothing.
Anyone who complains about his shot selection or defense or basically any other aspect of his game this past season certainly has a point, but it has to be balanced with the fact that he was asked to do a job to which he is ill-suited. He’s the John Tyler, the Millard Fillmore, the Chester Arthur, the Gerald Ford of NBA guards—a second banana pressed uncomplainingly into being the top banana by circumstances beyond his control. In fact, he went out of his way to put a brave face on the Wolves’ injury woes, perhaps to a fault.
In January, when he was asked about how the injuries have hurt the team, Ridnour snapped, “You know what, I’m tired of hearing that. Guys are out, so what? Everybody’s got guys out. We’ve got to find a way to win games. Whether guys are in or out, we still have to play 48 minutes. We’re all professionals. We have to find a way to get a win.” Over at MinnPost, Britt Robson saw this as another installment of sports cliché kabuki theater, and I can see that aspect of it as well.
But coded into that burst of nose-to-the-grindstone tough talk I also see someone who’s talked himself into something trying to frame that decision using the only kind of language he’s got. In my experience with Ridnour, he’s not very forthcoming or outwardly vocal, and maybe that above quote shows why. His persistence, his floaters in the lane, his baseline fadeaways off of penetration, his midrange jumpers on baseline out-of-bounds plays, even his PUJITs: these things say more about him than he says about himself.
There’s at least a decent chance he gets moved this offseason. The Wolves have four (maybe three and a half if you think Shved can be a SG) point guards right now and desperately need a genuine wing. If he’s played his last game as a Timberwolf, there will be those who won’t miss him, who might not even notice he’s gone next season. A key part of a successful offseason for the team will mean getting a player who can do the job Ridnour’s been asked to do far better than he ever could. If he does get moved, justice would mean he lands on a contender and contributes meaningful minutes at point guard off the bench, doing what he’s always done but in a structure that makes those things sparkle and shine, rather than suffer slings and arrows.
I hope he wears #82.
Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that Ridnour started all 82 games at shooting guard. He started all 82 games and many, but not all, of them at shooting guard.