Timberwolves 107, Pacers 89: Happy Birthday, Ricky Rubio!

The poorest effort the Wolves showed all night was at the end of the above video, when the rookies’ version of “Happy Birthday” fell into halfhearted, off-key mumbling. Other than that, it was a pretty good night for Minnesota.

The birthday boy led the way with 16 points on 4-of-8 shooting, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and was a +22 in 22 minutes on the floor.Rubio began the game 1-for-5 from the field but hit each of his three third quarter jumpers, helping the Wolves extend their lead all the way to 26 at one point. Prior to the game, Ricky worked extensively with new shooting coach Mike Penberthy, who had him going through several midrange jump shooting drills, changing the setup (off the dribble versus catch and shoot), location (elbow or straight on) and timing (pump fake or no pump fake) in an effort to get Ricky to repeat his mechanics in different situations.

Even with his solid night, Rubio is still shooting just 37% (10-of-27) this preseason, including 1-of-3 from deep. His jumper, the eternal thorn in his side, looks better than it has in the past. He’s shooting it confidently, in rhythm, and without as much of the uncomfortable lean and hitch we’ve seen in the past. Will it yield better results? We can only hope. Tonight, as a gift to him on his birthday, the basketball gods allowed Rubio’s jump shots to fall.

Other impressions from the Wolves’ fifth exhibition game, which brought their preseason record to 3-2:

– Minnesota’s leading scorer was Anthony Bennett, who put up 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting in 17 minutes. He capitalized in transition, on cuts to the rim and even on a few jumpers. He had a couple of lapses on defense, especially when trying to get all the way out to cover the Pacers’ Chris Copeland, but all in all it was a very nice night for the former number 1 overall pick. His quickness and agility are light years ahead of where they were at any point during his time in Cleveland. He’s still got plenty to work on, but he has definitely taken steps in the right direction.

– There was a concerted effort to feed Nikola Pekovic during his 20 minutes on the court, and it didn’t always go smoothly. Pek finished 3-of-8 from the field, scoring 6 points, grabbing 7 boards and handing out 2 assists. He still doesn’t quite look 100%, and will probably benefit from a somewhat reduced number of minutes this season.

– If Steve McPherson is Thad Young’s biggest fan, I might be Mo Williams’ biggest fan, and I don’t care what anyone in Portland has to say about it. It was fun to hear him coaching on the floor, especially when teamed up with Shabazz Muhammad and Anthony Bennett. Mo directed traffic, shouting instructions and offering encouragement, salvaging a few possessions when they weren’t going so smoothly by making the right pass and setting up a teammate for a shot. Williams finished with 13 points and 9 assists.

– As a team, the Wolves had 23 assists on 39 made baskets and shot 51% from the field. They only took 8 three pointers but did get to the line 30 times, the third game in a row they’ve cracked 30 free throw attempts. Postgame, Flip talked about having a “system” where guys had to “earn the right to take threes,” so we should all probably get used to the low number of perimeter shots. Getting to the line will help offset what the team will lack in outside shooting; they’re driving to the hoop and drawing whistles at a high rate, which will have to settle for a consolation prize.

– Defensively, the Wolves did all kinds of fun, energetic things with 3/4 court, half court and simple ballhandler traps. They forced 21 turnovers and led the fastbreak points battle 16-to-2. Occasionally, teams will make the Wolves’ pay for their aggressiveness, but if Flip picks his spots correctly, the traps will be useful, chaotic weapons to employ. Minnesota’s depth certainly helps their ability to play such high energy, swarming defense.

– Andrew Wiggins sat out in order to recover from general soreness as a result of a fall the other night against the Thunder. After the game, Jerry Zgoda of the Star-Tribune asked Flip what was hurting, his neck or his back? Flip answered, “His butt. He has a third butt.” I had several follow-up questions in mind, but alas, that was the final quote of the press conference.

– This was a nice showing by the Timberwolves, but it’s painfully clear that the Pacers are bad. Paul George (obviously), David West, Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Watson were all DNPs, but even if West, Stuckey and Watson are healthy for the regular season opener, there just aren’t any shot creators besides George on the roster. Indiana had issues generating good looks, struggled to score in the paint (just 20 on the night) and tallied just 14 assists as a team. Frank Vogel is a good coach and they still employ one of the best defensive anchors in the game (Roy Hibbert), but the Pacers’ offense will be almost unwatchable until Paul George comes back to the team, if at all.

– The entire bench erupted in cheers when Brady Heslip logged his 4th and 5th preseason minutes and recorded his second preseason bucket.

– Flip wore a very sharp corduroy jacket.

– Zach LaVine had two layups and zero dunks and I nearly demanded a refund even though I hadn’t paid for a ticket.

– Minnesota plays tomorrow night in Milwaukee and the game WILL BE TELEVISED on Fox Sports North.

– The Wolves’ opener is a week from tomorrow! Tonight was fun and all, but I can’t wait to see games that count.

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21 thoughts on “Timberwolves 107, Pacers 89: Happy Birthday, Ricky Rubio!

  1. Are we sure trading Chase is a good idea? All I have to go on are stat lines but Chase seems to be getting back into form.

  2. It was hard to tell how long some of those 2s were from my seat. They did well curling Martin or Budinger off the elbow, the type of 2 that makes sense because of the option to attack the rim. Indy knows how to defend the 3, and all of the Wolves’ shooters are catch-and-shoot guys who rely on having their defender drawn away from them. I don’t see how they’ll be able to do that consistently with a player (especially against a shotblocker like Hibbert), so they need to rely on the scheme to do it.

    Bennett seems more effective closer to the rim than behind the arc; usually the 3-point shooting bigs aren’t cutting to the rim and crashing the boards (2 things he’s done well with), and I don’t know if they maximize Bennett’s offensive value by having him behind the arc and not close enough to be an inside threat. I’d be interested to see what his shooting % is near the basket, because he has a 7’1 wingspan and was very efficient at the rim in college. It’s not just the wide open attacks to the rim; he’s been good when guarded down there.

  3. The double-edged sword with Chase is how much he overlaps with Martin and Hummel, which is good because they can run plays for him but bad because he’s the least unique of the wings. The team has also been down this road with him so often that I don’t blame them for wanting to move on and make sure they have an emergency PG suited up who isn’t LaVine (whether that’s JJ or someone else). It is interesting and not a coincidence that Barea hasn’t played at all in the Target Center games.

  4. Really we have only been down this road with him once, last year was a complete wash waiting for him to return but that’s not the same as “he is playing well in preseason” The year before we really did not know what we had he got hurt so soon, but the little we saw of him looked promising just as it does now.

    I can see we owe him $10mil and we want to got out from under it. But $5 mill per is nothing considering the new TV deal. The guy, from everything I have read looks very good. Add in we really cannot count on Martin to go full season without missing some time. JJ is really the guy that needs to go. If we really get down to Zach as the emergency PG (as in he has to play because Rubio and Williams cannot) then we are in trouble anyhow and may as well roll with it. The kid needs to play sometime. During a lost season (which is where we would be) seems like as good a time as any. I mean best case we’re looking at 35 wins this year unless things really come together. Thats the year you roll the dice with the young guys.

    I am interested in why you think JJ not playing any home games holds significance. Flip has been giving everyone time off all preseason.

  5. So excited for what Bennett is showing. He’s like a more talented Dean Garrett, ready to benefit from Flip’s PGs setting him up.

    No Williams is also huge for this team. Coaching guys up on the floor while still producing, a la Terry Porter. I wonder if he will help Rubio’s development as well, showing how to be verbal and orchestrate plays.

    I also kinda like some of these wonky rotations. Adelman seemed so rigid in his rotations. With this team, it’s so deep comparatively that they may be able to mix and match more each night to exploit weaknesses.

    Lastly, #threegate. Is Flip’s system for earning threes an overreaction to Adelman green lighting threes, even when they were poorly executed? Flip seems to be all about shot selection, and while he may overvalue a good looking long 2 over a shakier three, on the whole I guess im not sure how much it is going to hurt us. In this day and age guys know the value of threes. You can’t even be a casual fan and not realize that the three point shot is huge. They’re going to take them regardless of Flip, just like they’re going to dunk regardless of Flip. Teaching guys to recognize good shots is extremely important, and limiting their focus in the preseason may be a good strategy.

    Too wit – 30+ FTAs for three games in a row? I’ll take that. Transition buckets? Yes please. That’s what a Rubio team should do – get out in transition and drive to the hoop for and 1’s. Occasionally hit a spot up three pointer.

  6. “they’re going to dunk regardless of Flip”?

    As for Budinger, he’s had an injury cost him significant time during 2 seasons where he was expected to be a key bench scorer. I think they both count. It makes some sense they are considering trading a guy with 2 knee injuries in 2 seasons. Also, “he’s got to play some time” doesn’t apply to a 19-year-old rookie shooting guard who had more turnovers than points in his main preseason action at the point. Guys should play when they’re ready; it’s what’s best for the player and the team (especially this team, which has guys who are ready). And as someone who watched a lot of Jonny Flynn, Wes Johnson, Malcolm Lee, Derrick Williams, and Alexey Shved, I’d argue that it’s also better for the fans. We saw what Dieng was able to do once he was ready to play and didn’t have to sit through him fouling out and fumbling passes.

  7. gjk, you’re taking what I said out of context. He’s got to play sometime and “If we really get down to Zach as the emergency PG (as in he has to play because Rubio and Williams cannot) then we are in trouble anyhow and may as well roll with it” is not the same thing as force feeding us Jonny Flynn, Wes Johnson, Malcolm Lee, Derrick Williams, and Alexey Shved.

    Budinger showed again last night why he needs to stay.

    Bubble guys:


    of those players who should go? I would rather see JJ gone, could make a case for why it could also be Hummel, but do not want to give up on either Budinger or G3. Chase because I think we’ll need him. G3 because of his potential upside.

  8. Makes sense. My disagreement should’ve probably been more focused on disagreeing that the season would be lost if Williams went down for a long stretch. Barea has been the primary backup PG for the last 2 seasons; as disliked as he is, they’d survive notably better if he was in there instead of LaVine. JJ may struggle running an offense, but I’m worried about getting the ball up the court against a press and generally avoiding turnovers. Also, you set up a scenario where one them is out for an extended period, but if it’s just a few games here and there (more likely), that seems different.

  9. gjk, I think the problem with that is if we don’t trade Chase then we probably have to trade JJ since we don’t have enough roster space right now.

  10. Ok so its only pre-season but Ricky Rubio is shooting 47% from the field while averaging 13 points, 6 assists and 2.5 steals . Should we be excited? I mean 13 and 6 isn’t exactly superstar but the 47% surely is an encouraging sign right?

  11. You realize he only averaged 22 minutes per game in the preseason right? I think most would be happy with 13 a game at that fg%, but he will average more assists for sure at his normal minutes.

    13 points, 6 assists, and 2.5 steals on 47% fg from Rubio 22 minutes is fantastic.

  12. Compare with the mins, Rubio’s 13 and 6 are really fine. If he can get 15 and 10 with 43 – 45% FGs in the regular seasons, it’s already worth a big contract.

  13. According to Marc Stein, JJ Barea’s contract is close to being bought out by the Wolves and he is hoping to re-sign with the Mavs. So looks like the roster is down to 15

  14. Yeah, I get that all 4 of the site’s writers have other gigs, but there’s 4 of you, and I’m sure 3 of you will be using your press pass (partially earned by writing about the Wolves) to see the home opener.

  15. Hey guys,

    Sorry about the lack of content lately. Season preview stuff has got us all pretty busy. Keep in mind that we write for other places, and that 3 of the 4 of us do this as a side gig. We’ve got jobs and families, too. The 4th, Zach, writes for CBS Sports and is insanely busy at the moment, too.

    We’d love to have more for you, and we’ll get back on track when things settle in! Thanks for reading.

    William Bohl

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