2016-17 Season, Game Analysis

A Ricky Rubio Record: Wolves 119, Wizards 104

The Timberwolves beat the Washington Wizards by 15 points on Monday night at Target Center because they continued to play good all-around basketball. Much like their other impressive wins of late, the game involved an early lead (41-23 after the first quarter), stingy defense for long stretches of the game (Washington shot 42.9% from the field and just 26.9% from three) and a couple of big offensive performances from Ricky Rubio (22 points and a franchise-record 19 assists) and Karl-Anthony Towns (39 points and 13 rebounds).

The Wolves led for the entire game, building the huge early advantage behind Rubio defense-turned-to-offense; fast-break basketball that had the fans excited from the get-go despite Towns sitting much of the opening quarter with a couple quick fouls. Brandon Rush, who has contributed very little in recent weeks, buried 3 threes in the opening quarter (4 for the game). Rubio was leading and orchestrating just about everything that was happening, racking up 9 points and an absurd 10 assists in the first period alone.

This play was especially cool:

Despite the highlight-filled first quarter and huge early differential, this was not a blowout win. The Wolves got lackluster performances from key bench players, especially Kris Dunn and Shabazz Muhammad. Dunn made some poor decisions with the ball — dribbling high and flashy enough for Brandon Jennings to steal it, throwing a lob pass that had no chance of working — and ended with 0 points (0-1 shooting), 2 turnovers and 0 assists in 9 minutes of (-5) basketball. Thibs was visibly irritated with Dunn’s decision making with the ball in his hands. Bazz played a little bit more than Dunn (15 minutes) but was equally ineffective, shooting 1-6 from the field and scoring just 2 points with a team-worst (-10).

The bad bench play, combined with John Wall playing Quarters 2 through 4 like the Transition Terror that he is, allowed this game to get pretty close. The margin hung around 8 to 12 in the third and fourth quarters. It was a 5-point game with a little over 4 minutes to play when Rubio hit KAT for a three at the top of the key. From that point, the Wolves took control and ended up winning by a slightly-misleading but very impressive margin against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

Rubio checked out with less than a minute to go to a standing ovation. After the game ended, Marney Gellner interviewed him on the floor about his career night and franchise-record assist total.

KAT interrupted.

Anyway, it was another feel-good night at Target Center, where the Wolves have now won 4 home games in a row, dating back to February 24, right after the All-Star Break. The last 3 of those have come against some of the best teams in the league (Clippers, Warriors, Wizards). They now go on the road for a three-game trip that won’t be easy. They face the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, Miami Heat on Friday, and the Boogie & Brow Pelicans on Sunday.

A few quick hitters about this game and a few other Wolves happenings to wrap this up:

  1. Earlier on Monday, Towns was named Western Conference Player of the Week. (Ironically, Wall was announced as his East counterpart.) For the week, he averaged 29.0 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and shot 63.3% from the field. That is good basketballing. If he keeps playing like this, he’s got a shot at making an All-NBA Team.
  2. Rubio is playing the best basketball of his career. After the game, Thibs likened his success to KAT’s award, explaining that what he likes is their “impact on winning.” Consider that some of Ricky’s best games of late have come against Chris Paul, Steph Curry and now Wall. Those are three of the greatest point guards in the league, and Rubio has outplayed all of them. (Wall, on Monday, came the closest to playing him to a draw.)
  3. Towns obviously played a very good game against the Wizards. You don’t score 39 points on 17-26 shooting while playing poorly. That said, it wasn’t my favorite *style* of KAT game. He took umbrage with the early-game officiating — both his own early fouls and then some non-calls against his own shots — and seemed hell-bent on going 1-on-1, sometimes to the detriment of team chemistry, but more so to the detriment of his defensive focus. He played a poor first half on defense. To his credit, he was really tough on the defensive boards late in the game. This is nitpicking, but only to say that his worst-among-starters plus/minus (+4) is worth noting, given that his gaudy stat line will draw more attention from the masses after a win like this.
  4. Andrew Wiggins played a pretty quiet game, ending with 15 points (5-15 shooting), 5 rebounds and 1 assist. His jumper was falling short in the first half, and the team mostly — and successfully — steered the offense toward Ricky & KAT action. For what it’s worth, Wiggins seemed to play pretty good defense. He was (+20) on the night. Wiggins has been on a bit of a cold streak for the past few games, after playing some of the best basketball of his career, before that.
  5. The team defense was very good in this game, with the limited exceptions of Towns in the first half, and a handful of Wall transition plays that, honestly, looked pretty unstoppable. That is more of a failure of the offense to not be in position to get back than it is anything the defense could’ve done differently. John Wall with the basketball and the whole floor of players moving in the same direction is just unfair. He is going to get there faster than anyone else and he’s incredibly skilled and intelligent in transition scenarios.
  6. Nemanja Bjelica had a nice game off the bench, subbing in earlier than usual for Towns (who had the 2 early fouls). “Belly” had 16 points on 6-7 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds and 2 assists in 29 minutes of (+17) basketball. He was a big part of the crazy first quarter.
  7. Perhaps the best way to close this one… Thibs smiled during the game and we have video to prove it.

Until next time.

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5 thoughts on “A Ricky Rubio Record: Wolves 119, Wizards 104

  1. As a Rubio supporter, I am so glad that he is playing the type of game that better fits his style and now is hitting shots that are wide open. He is playing as close to his rookie season level, as I have seen. The thing I liked about Rubio, from the first day is his ability to make others better. Now it seems like the team is making Ricky better.

    First, think of the assists that Ricky would have if he had played for Miami with Wade, LeBron and Bosh at the start of his career. Or if Kahn would have chosen Curry instead of Flynn to go with KLove and Pek. Assists are the only stat that rely on another person to do there part or you get nothing. As well as this team is playing, Ricky has only one player now that consistently hits a shot that is thrown to him and that is KAT. Wigs looks worn out, so his shot comes and goes. The rest will miss a bunny or wide open three more often then not. If he had the Spurs to throw to, he would get thirty assists some nights.

    Secondly, Ricky may be the best bounce passer I have seen since maybe ever. Magic was an amazing passer, but didn’t usually go bounce. Same with some of the other great passers since Showtime. He is able to put spin and thread a needle with a bounce from three quarters court and that is truly amazing. Combine with his ability to pick a pocket and get rebounds and his has always been excellent at everything, but scoring. Now he has at least gotten aggressive and found some ways to keep teams honest with FT and some less than beautiful jump/set shots. I have always said that Ricky seems to make shots that are more important in a game than choking like some players do. He just needs to remember that when he hits those open 12 footers or makes the lay-in, it opens other options to the offense and makes passing easier. With Wigs struggling and LaVine out, it is interesting that these are the games Ricky finds his shot.

    Lastly, I hope this finally puts an end to the Rubio must go for the team to become champions ranting. I know Kevin Lynch can’t seem to find it in himself to credit Ricky, but Thibs seems to enjoy his point guard a lot more now. Maybe because his protege, Mr. Dunn is not ready to be the next Derrick Rose MVP version. Both Wall and Rubio did what they could to get their team on tract, but where Wall had to take the game away from his team, Ricky kept his teammates hungry and engaged. It is fun when Ricky is running SnowTime.

  2. This was really a fun game. Rubio is playing great and the assists franchise record is a symbol of what he’s been doing and the kind of player he is.

    The Wolves are playing at a high level, but strange things are shifting under the surface. I think the takeaway is that despite some shifts, we are still able to get wins and play consistently. These include: Ricky going nuts, but most notably taking on a sizable chunk of the scoring void. Wiggins playing really poor on offense and thus leaving a scoring void (other than the LaVine void). Bjelica playing up to his potential. Shabazz falling back down into semi-serviceable bench player range. Towns showing us MVP level talent on a consistent basis.

    Some things I take from the list above. It’s not hard to hold ‘shackled Rubio’ against Thibs. Rubio and our offense could have looked like this most of the season. It’s hard to think of a specific developmental point worth not playing like this. On the other hand, Thibs has shown great patience with Bjelica and I think it is starting to pay off for real. He’ll have his ups and downs but I think he found his footing. But I’m not sure Shabazz’s mean is what we want from a ‘scoring punch off the bench’ type player. He might just not be good enough if he can’t be a little more consistent. I like a lot of things about Wiggins, but I just can’t help but feel worried with the way he has been playing. We’ve been winning in spite of him. That’s just not good enough for someone with his level of talent. On the other hand Towns has both been improving as the season has gone on (at times very slowly, impressively as of late) and is more consistent than Wiggins. As I’ve also pointed out before, Towns does more non-scoring things to help us win such as rebounding at a high level, getting blocks, and passes out of the post. This recent stretch only buoys my confidence in Towns and only causes more hesitation about Wiggins. I hope they will both be all stars for us, but as of now Wiggins has more work to do.

    Neither Jones or Dunn played a lot in this nor distinguished themselves. Clearly, Thibs wanted this win and was willing to ride Rubio big minutes to get it. Between the two, Jones looked a little better recording 3 free throws, a couple of assists and somehow a block (that must have been when I got a snack). Dunn looked really bad. He just has this street ball, loose, whatever kind of style of playing on offense that magnifies his already massively underdeveloped decision making. On the other hand, Tyus tends to mitigate his physical limitations with good decision making and plays smart on both ends. I can see why Thibs is infuriated with Dunn. Seems like a waste, because at worst couldn’t he be a Smart/Allen type guy? Not yet…

    I loved the way Towns played in this game. Yeah, there were warts. But with MIA Wiggins we needed him to have this kind of game. We needed this win and we needed points given Wiggins and Shabazz disappearing and LaVine gone. Towns and Rubio put the team on their back… again. Forget plus minus—we don’t win this game if Towns doesn’t play this aggressive.

    Strange how Rubio is playing so well against such a list of PG’s lately. Maybe not strange… Rubio is a tough match up in a way because his skill and style is different than most current NBA PGs. Wall is big and athletic and did less than nothing to stop Rubio’s distribution. And Rubio found ways to score against him. Wall’s mainstay was charging in transition with the hope of a foul (the refs were happy to oblige). He scored 14 of his 27 from the line and only shot 37%. Most notably, he only recorded 5 assists and normally I think his passing mixed with scoring is what makes him stand out. He got his points, but in a way he was as off as the other great PGs Rubio has faced lately.

    This was a game I’ll always remember as a Wolves fan.

  3. Oh, by the way… That Thibs smile was SCARY! It made me nervous more than anything. And I can’t stop wondering what that was all about… Thibs can be annoying (don’t bring your small children courtside!) but he has some endearing aspects as well–he’s a character.

  4. Hard to criticize when you build a lead, hold it, and blow it open in the final minutes against a good team. Rubio/KAT/Bjelica and Rush played well – Dunn/Wiggins/Bazz are looking tired – Dieng and Jones were solid, but not great. Fatigue in a playoff run is going to be a problem unless Thibs adds a couple of bench players to the rotation – namely a few minutes from Aldrich – and even more important using Stephenson to help Wiggins/Bazz and Dunn get their legs back under them again. This team is close – We have the roster (even before replacing PEK/Hill and Likely Payne and/or Aldrich – and this basically takes no minutes out of our present rotation. Add LaVine back into the mix and our depth is much better – presently Since Jan 9th, we are playing somewhere around the 5th seed – do this for a full season, while developing a couple promising rookies in D-league and this is the start of something good. Meanwhile, its going to be difficult to rest Wiggins/Bazz and Dunn enough to get their legs back – and to keep KAT and Rubio from hitting the wall. Dieng seems to be that amazing player who never hits the wall.

  5. First off, I love the new look to the site. I think of all the T-Wolves sites, AWAW has some of the best reads after each game. Thanks.

    I agree that during this last ditch effort to get to the playoffs, Wiggins may be running on fumes, but Bazz and Dunn seem to be playing as they have all year. Good and bad with only a few stretches where they look like they are getting it. Given how much KAT has played this year, he looks surprisingly more fresh now than earlier; as does Ricky and G. I just hope no one gets hurt. That would be the only drawback to pushing hard for a playoff spot. Developing a winning attitude with your key players is so much more important than a spot in the lottery. Watch how the Lakers will limit the growth of their young players as they tank to keep their draft pick. Ingram and Russell are loosing focus already.

    Not having Zack is an awful loss, even though we are playing some of our best basketball to date. If Rush and Belly could play the rest of the year as they did against the Wiz, I would think we could free up the Wolves from looking for a SF or stretch four in FA, but I fear that even tonight against the Celtics we could see Bad Belly and No points Rush.
    It was smart not to invest too much in FA this past year, but next year we have to have depth that is consistent. I’m predicting a Utah like jump for our wolves next year if we can attract the support players that can be counted on every night.

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