I ‘m writing this one day after what may be the most emotional loss of the season. So much so that there was discussion on Twitter today about trading Ricky Rubio. The adorable Spanish Unicorn who tried being a wingman to his sister at his introductory press conference, who has had every girl in Minnesota in love with him, and has made passes that kept us talking for weeks, was now the discussion of a trade idea.
If I had not known about the game and simply saw the discussion, I would have thought that our beloved Timberwolves were blown out, and Rubio was so atrocious and all over the place — probably with double digit turnovers — to the point where it pained us to watch him. Well, that’s not the case. Rather, it was an 120-116 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Take a deep breath ladies and gentleman.
Now I don’t want to get back into the devastating loss to the Clippers too much. We all know what happened, and we all feel pretty crappy about it too. That’s not the point of this post. Honestly, there is no singular point that I’m trying to make, but there are a few things that I’ve noticed about the Wolves — in the past 28 games, not the past 1 – that I feel are worth discussing.
A lot of people are getting pretty frustrated with Ricky Rubio and his inability to shoot consistently. This is a valid frustration, and he does need to improve. But people tend to forget that Rubio is one of the main reasons Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic are able have to games like they did against the Clippers. Rubio has shown the ability to score when he needs to. Is he a good scorer? Absolutely not. But are we going to go insane every time he puts up a goose egg? I certainly hope not. Points would help, but he contributes in other ways, and that’s just fine with me.
Once we’re on the subject, let me ask you this question: If I told you that you could have a player that will run your coaches system to perfection, will make all the other players better, will league the lead in steals, AND not even cost you a max player contract, would you be happy with that player if he didn’t score? Because that is what Ricky Rubio is.
This is something that I have discussed with famed Wolves tweeter Patrick Fenelon. If Rubio was a free agent today, I don’t think he gets the max contract. His biggest issue is the above mentioned shooting issue. Yes, he would get a nice sized contract, but I doubt he is a max player at this point; no matter how his camp feels.
This should adjust some of our expectations and feeling towards Rubio. If you view him as a guy who is there to complement your big 2, to make the team better as a whole, but without the same salary demands, then you would be pretty damn happy with him. And hell, if he develops his shot, then he will get the max deal he then deserves.
My point is that Ricky Rubio is great if you view him as what he is now, and not what you think he should be or might become. The moment you start determining for yourself what each player should be is the moment you set yourself up for disappointment. Be happy with Rubio; he’s a damn good player and a joy to watch.
I don’t think any of us have any real complaints about these two guys. A few people have complained that Nikola Pekovic cannot hit a late game shot. I hear it, although I still think it’s a small sample size. However, there is one thing I noticed with these two that constantly annoys me, and that is the allocation of their minutes.
I’m not pretending to be a better coach than Rick Adelman — the guy is a basketball genius, and I merely played pickup ball in high school. That being said, he’s got to find a way to give these guys more 4th quarter minutes. In last night’s game, Jim Peterson mentioned that Kevin Love averages 7 fourth quarter minutes a game. The reason for this is after Ronny Turiaf went down, Adelman decided he must have one of Pekovic or Love on the floor at all times. Dante Cunningham gets the 3rd big man minutes, and Pekovic or Love play the center spot when he’s on the court.
I understand the logic behind this, with the only other healthy center on the roster being a rookie in Gorgui Dieng. But Kevin Love is the best player on this roster, and waiting 5 minutes to put him in is far too long — too much can go wrong. In my opinion, if you were to give the last 4 minutes of the 3rd quarter to Dieng and Cunningham, that would give Love and Pekovic enough rest to play all or most of the 4th. You could definitely give them 10 minutes apiece.
Again, I am nowhere nearly as qualified as Adelman, but giving your best rim protector 4 minutes a game while also giving your best players a chance to rest up for the 4th seems like a bright idea.
My final topic of discussion is the one I find most interesting, and the one I expect most people to disagree with. The Timberwolves MUST stop leaking out on every single possession. When was the last time we saw this work? It seems to me that recently when Love throws the outlet to Brewer it gets picked off. The book is out on that play, and teams have been shutting it down. It’s still there from time to time, and shouldn’t be completely shut down, but I’m getting pretty sick of seeing K-Love looking downfield on every single rebound with nobody near him to help get the defensive rebound. It drives me nuts and it needs to stop. Just give the ball to the point guard and set up the offense.
Speaking of Corey Brewer, I think once Chase Budinger is 100% healthy, he should take his spot in the starting lineup. I know many folks will argue that Budinger needs to be on the bench as the 6th man because our bench has struggled to score, and I get that, but the Wolves need to have another shooter on the floor with the starters. Let’s be honest for a minute. Say Rubio feeds the ball to Love in the post, draws the double team, and looks to kick it out. Pekovic is taken by the center and Kevin Martin is locked up as well. Do you like your options?
For all the talk about how Rubio’s inability to shoot holds back the offense, Brewer is not exactly lights out. And if Budinger was out there, it gives us another shooter on the floor that minimizes the lack of scoring from Rubio.
As for the bench, a unit that features J.J. Barea, Corey Brewer, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Dante Cunningham, and Ronny Turiaf is a high octane defensive unit that will have energy all over the place. You can always keep a starter in there, or mix in Robbie Hummel if you need a shooter. Either way, I like these rotations a lot more than the ones we currently employ.
Overall, I’m really not that worried about this Wolves team. The talent is obviously there and I think they will only get better. We can’t forget that these guys are still figuring themselves out and have had an incredibly tough schedule thus far. Were there a few games they should have won? Of course. But they have managed to stay relevant, and that’s enough for me. I really believe that once this team gets healthier a lot of the current issues will be resolved. It’s not because Budinger and Turiaf are so great, but a team is greater than the sum of it’s parts, and having those guys back to fill in the gaps will help tremendously.
Stay calm Wolves fans. Be happy that this team is competitive, enjoy watching Rubio for the incredible passer and defender that he is, wait for this team to get healthy, and take joy in our relevancy. The season is far from over and I truly believe the best is ahead of us.
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