Ricky Rubio was everything Timberwolves fans have wanted


This was everything we have ever wanted Ricky Rubio to be.

He was his usual play-making self last night in the Timberwolves win against the Lakers, racking up 14 assists and setting up other teammates to draw fouls under the basket. He threw some fancy passes, like his no-look pass to Karl-Anthony Towns in the lane, and also threaded some, like his full-court pass that went just over the fingertips of a defender and right into the arms of a streaking Nemanja Bjelica.

He also played his customary great defense, helping to hold highly-touted rookie and second-overall pick DeAngelo Russell to four points. He recorded just one steal, but the team defense cratered when either he or Kevin Garnett weren’t in the game. His ability and leadership on that end of the floor was apparent all game.

Ricky provided everything we have come accustomed to.

But there was also the points.

Bucket after bucket came straight from Ricky’s hands. He opened the game’s scoring by nailing a three-pointer. The ball was swung around to him in the left corner, and he stepped up and hit it with confidence.

He hit a couple of free throws, then pushed the ball on the fast break, dribbling between two Lakers to get to the rim for a layup. He took and made a contested three off a pick-and-roll with Towns a few minutes later. By this point, he had 10 points in just over six minutes of game time. He was feeling it, and the Timberwolves were winning.

The points never stopped coming, as he finished with a career-high 28. Ricky was aggressive in looking for his shot the entire game. Coming off the pick-and-roll, he was looking to take that 18-foot jumper. He and the coaches have talked about having that mindset in previous years, but there were actual results this game. The aggressiveness Ricky showed was unprecedented and extremely encouraging for the future.

However, that’s not to say that Ricky was only looking for his own shot; his 14 assists show as much. But if you need further proof, there was a perfect example late in the 4th quarter.

Ricky had just made a shot from the left elbow on the previous possession and found himself there with room again. He went up looking to shoot, but then stopped himself just short. He teetered on his tiptoes for a second, then threw a post entry to Towns, who had deep position on the left block. That led to a nice turnaround fade-away from Towns to tie the game at 97.

The play is at the 2:43 mark here, but the whole video is worth watching:

Ricky had 21 points at that point and was really feeling it, but he recognized that, for as well as he was shooting, Towns likely had the higher percentage shot. He spotted open shooters and backdoor cutters while running the pick-and-roll all game. His vision certainly is just as elite as it was before.

The difference in this game is that he was actively looking for his own shot. Furthermore, he was actually making them. Open looks, contested looks, spot-up, off-the-dribble. It didn’t matter. He made them all game.

What does this mean for the Timberwolves? A Ricky Rubio that’s even an average scoring threat would open up so much for this offense. Defenses would have to begin working over the tops of screens in the pick-and-roll, opening up space for the screener to roll down the lane.

His defender wouldn’t be able to sag off of him to clog the lane for Andrew Wiggins and others when they drive. Help defenders would have to step up as he comes off the pick and penetrates, opening up easy passes.

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With Rubio’s vision and unmatched passing ability, he can make defenses pay for being even slightly out of position. If he is able to warp defenses with the scoring proficiency he showed last night, everybody is going to be spoon-fed wide open threes and easy layups/dunks.

Now, it was only one game, and it was against a Lakers team that was “awful” last year, as Mike Tirico called them on ESPN’s broadcast. It will take a few more weeks of this (at least) before we can anoint this version of Ricky Rubio as the new normal.

But remember, he just turned 25 a week ago. This is his 5th year in the league, but he still hasn’t hit his prime yet. It is well within the realm of possibilities that he will continue to improve. People have become used to Rubio not being a good shooter, but he’s still a young player with the ability to improve. Mike Penberthy has made Rubio’s shooting mechanics much more fluid, and that bodes well for future success.

The version of Ricky Rubio that was in the Staples Center last night opens up options for the Timberwolves that haven’t even been considered yet. I don’t know if it will stick, but I am optimistic. Ever since he came back from his ankle injury last season, his shot has looked so much better. That didn’t lead to improved results last year, but with a summer to keep working on it, he showed what he can do on a good night.

People will remain unconvinced until he proves he can shoot consistently, and their skepticism is well deserved. Four consecutive years of poor shooting is infinitely more predictive than one game against a bad team. He won’t regularly put up 28 and 14.

But if he can be a consistent shooter, this Wolves team will be transformed. Between the new shot mechanics, his youth, and his rising confidence in his shot, there is a good chance that the Rubio we saw last night is here to stay, and it’s everything we’ve ever wanted.

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