The Timberwolves point guard situation, in theory, should be the most settled position on the depth chart moving forward.
Starter Ricky Rubio is in the first season of a four-year, $55 million contract. Backup Tyus Jones was a first-round selection traded for on draft night just last June and was the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament nearly a year ago.
But it might not have been obvious just a few weeks ago, when the Wolves were apparently in relatively serious discussions with the Milwaukee Bucks, and possibly other teams, regarding trading Rubio. To Minnesota’s credit they did not budge, refusing to give up Rubio for less than what they perceived to be market value.
Nobody knows what will happen this summer, of course. But Rubio has been tearing up the league of late. He has four point-assist double-doubles over his past five games, only falling short in a limited number of minutes in a blowout loss to the mighty San Antonio Spurs.
He hit the game-winning three-pointer over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night, of course, and played extremely well against the Suns in Phoenix on Friday. His shooting woes are still a hot topic of discussion, and while he shot well enough in OKC the jump-shooting and finishing-at-the-rim issues cropped up again in the desert.
In between the two games, however, Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune was able to find quite a few Wolves folks who confirmed just how hard the Spaniard has worked on his jumper, and how pleased they were to see that hard work pay off in a crucial moment on Friday.
Watching from the Wolves bench, Gorgui Dieng later said he started leaping even before Rubio released the ball after he received Wiggins’ pass from under the basket.
“People can doubt him,” Dieng said. “They can say whatever they want about players because opinion is the cheapest thing in the world and everybody has one. If you’re a pro athlete, you can’t worry about what people say. You just have to block it out and play hard. He’s a great leader and he’s helping this basketball team. Before he shot it, I started jumping. He has been working on his shot every day in the gym and everybody knows how better he got now.”
Karl-Anthony Towns said he has watched Rubio shoot that shot he made Friday and many, many others — “Constantly,” Towns said — before practice, after practice and in the gym alone at night all season.
It’s great to see Rubio, who is well above-average in every other aspect of his game, come through in the clutch in the one area that has plagued him in his still-young NBA career.
In Tuesday’s Star Tribune, Zgoda published a feature on Jones, Rubio’s rookie backup. At first glance, his first NBA season is coming along nicely — 45.2 percent from three-point range and a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio that has improved to 5-to-1 over increased playing time in the past nine games — but Wolves’ coach Sam Mitchell has taken a typically strong stance on what needs to improve.
Ask Timberwolves interim coach Sam Mitchell a question about backup point guard Tyus Jones’ 45.2 three-point percentage this season or his 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio the nine games entering Monday, and you will likely get an answer about defensive improvement both from Jones and the second unit that he leads.
There is a reason, of course: Jones is a rookie and like the Wolves other young players, Mitchell says he has “a long ways to go.”
Mitchell isn’t wrong, of course. Zgoda spends the rest of the article talking up Jones and how well he’s played, but truthfully, it’s been entirely a mixed bag.
The three-point shooting prowess, while a painfully small sample size, has been a pleasant surprise. And Jones has been decent at leading the offense, as expected. But the defensive shortcomings have been apparent, and the Minnesota native needs to improve moving into next season.
Here’s hoping that the two point guards atop the Wolves’ depth chart come training camp in October are the same two players that reside there now. A Rubio-Jones one-two punch could be fun to watch alongside the rapidly-improving trio of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine.
Don’t mess this up, Timberwolves. Please, don’t mess this up.