Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio‘s play of late has been nothing short of spectacular, and he, along with Karl-Anthony Towns, is keeping the Wolves on the fringes of playoff contention in the Western Conference.
It feels like just yesterday that the Timberwolves drafted the international sensation from Spain. And while it took him two years, Ricky Rubio finally came stateside in 2011 and brought a flare and excitement that the team had been missing for a long time, all while finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting.
Rubio quickly became a fan-favorite and was viewed by many, including the organization itself, as a franchise player. He, along with Kevin Love, were going to form a formidable duo for years to come and turn the Timberwolves into a Western Conference powerhouse.
Fast forward to the present, and Rubio is now witnessing a second (third?) rebuild, playing the role of a veteran for this new young core as the longest-tenured player on the team (no, Nikola Pekovic doesn’t count) and has yet to make the playoffs in all of his seasons in Minnesota. And now, no longer is he seen as a franchise cornerstone.
More emphasis has been put on shooting in the modern NBA, and as the one major flaw in his game, it has left him exposed to plenty of criticism. As his career has progressed, his continued poor shooting increasingly overshadowed all the other positives he brings to the court, preventing him from turning into an elite point guard.
This issue seemed to have reached an all-time low in the beginning of the season. Rubio’s confidence looked gone as he continually refused to shoot the ball, and it affected all other areas of his game, as he was on pace to average a career low in assists per game. No longer did he look the part of a starting point guard, but was somewhat consistently outplayed by the third-string point guard on the team in the underrated Tyus Jones.
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The team actually played worse with him on the court for the first time in the opening months of the season and it was almost looking like he had become an expendable piece of the team. The magic that had captivated the hearts of all Timberwolves fans looked gone.
Looking back at it now, it’s clear that we jumped the gun on the Spaniard floor general, as he has proceeded to improve and play arguably the best basketball of his career since the All-Star break.
He’s been a +6.5 when he’s been on the floor, looking to score more aggressively than ever and playing with confidence we haven’t seen all season. And it has paid dividends, as he has averaged an impressive 15.7 PPG on 46.9 percent shooting from the field and 43 percent from beyond the arc, all while dishing out 11.3 assists per game.
Post-All-Star break, he is finally playing like the point guard we had envisioned he would become. Thibodau has to be glad he didn’t pull the trigger on a deadline trade as the team has won six of their 10 games against some of the toughest competition in the league.
And even more importantly, Rubio’s improved performance hasn’t come at the expense of the young core. On the contrary, his style of play allows him to thrive alongside his teammates, as opposed to rumored trade targets Reggie Jackson and Derrick Rose — who have marginalized their teammates all season — a situation the organization did well to avoid.
Does this mean Rubio’s future in Minnesota is secure again? Probably not. Kris Dunn is still on the roster and Thibodeau’s former starting point guard, Derrick Rose, is going to be a free agent this summer. And there’s the angle that Rubio might not want to be on the team as he has expressed interest in leaving the team in the past if the Timberwolves miss the playoffs again, a probable scenario considering the team is now four-and-a-half games out of the eighth spot. (Of course, he’s under contract, so this really doesn’t matter at all, if true.)
However, this stretch has allowed him to change the narrative of his season, distracting us from the uncertainty of his future by recapturing the excitement of his rookie campaign, and reminding fans why they believed in him in the first place. And you can’t ask for much more than that.