Bulls 102, Timberwolves 87: Be aggressive, be be aggressive!
The Minnesota Timberwolves lost a random game on a back-to-back against a team that is much better than them, even with big injuries to their core. This is not new, nor is it really shocking at all. A night after the Wolves inexplicably blew out the San Antonio Spurs the night before and William Bohl tried to murder the idea of the culinary arts, the Wolves just didn’t have it for a full 48 minutes against the Chicago Bulls. Joakim Noah and the defense was simply too much for the Wolves and they got handled in the second half.
C’est la vie.
But once again at the end of a dead season, Ricky Rubio was extremely aggressive with his shot selection, especially early. He’s taken a lot more shots since the season was ended for the Wolves and even though he’s been historically bad as a shot-maker, I think I’m on board with an aggressive Rubio because it seems to get him going in games and give the defense something else to worry about. Let’s discuss, shall we?
Rubio has taken 69 field goal attempts in his last five games with the Wolves going 3-2 in these contests. They’ve got wins over the Grizzlies, Heat, and Spurs with their losses coming on the second night of back-to-backs against the Magic and Bulls. Granted, this is an extremely small sample size to judge, but I’m just trying to provide full context here. That’s 13.8 field goal attempts for someone who is a career 36.9% shot-maker in nearly three incomplete years of action. I’m a fan of this because the defense does have to think about him scoring, and it goes against everything I loved about his patience prior to this recent showing.
I’ve been a big proponent of liking the idea that Rubio doesn’t seem pressured into taking shots when given space by the defense. Earlier in the season, a member of the Rockets was speaking with a media member before the Rockets-Wolves game here and he was discussing the plan to make him shoot because he was historically bad at it (I have no idea if this conversation was on the record at this point and I was eavesdropping so I won’t reveal names here, and I can’t remember if I’ve written it already on here). But you typically can’t make Rubio takes these shots; he’s very aware of that game plan and he tries to use the space to get the angle on his drives or have a full field of vision to make passes. It’s Rondo-esque in this sense.
However, there is a balance needed. Rubio attempts just 8.7 shots per game this season, and as long as they’re good looks, I don’t mind them. But in this recent stretch of being aggressive, it’s reminded me of Steve Nash being implored by Don Nelson in their early Dallas Mavericks days together that he had to shoot more. I CAN’T STRESS THIS ENOUGH: I am in no way saying Rubio is the type of shooter Nash is, nor will he ever be, but making sure the guy running the show is a threat to put a shot up is important to the defense, especially when he’s getting a lot of attempts around the rim.
In the past five games, Rubio has made 46.3% of his shots while taking nearly 160% of the typical number of attempts. That’s a lot of percentages. And while it’s not an overwhelming sample size or impact, the Wolves are a winning team when he takes a lot of shots. When Rubio takes 15 shots or more in a game, the Wolves are 7-5 over his three seasons. In those games, he’s taken 198 shots total and he’s making 39.8% of his shots in those games, which is right around that 40% mark for an elite offense we talked about before the season started.
With Love shooting so poorly in the game (largely due to being defended by Joakim Noah), I worried about Love’s offense possibly suffering in these games in which Ricky shoots a lot, but that’s not the case. Love’s shooting accuracy does decline. He’s only played in seven of those 12 games but he’s averaging 26.4 points, 14.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in those seven games. He is only shooting 40.6% from the field but he’s taking 17.5 shots per game. I think it’s a great sign that an aggressive Rubio still works quite well with Love on the floor. And it doesn’t affect his passing impact because Rubio is averaging 9.3 assists in those 12 games.
I don’t think this means Rubio is a scorer now or should be, but when he gets squirrelly, the offense benefits. It may lead to a couple of risks being taken that shouldn’t but it’s a method of attacking I’m sold on right now and would love to see even later in games. Go to work, Ricky. Go to work.