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Minnesota Timberwolves 2020-21 season grades: Ricky Rubio

Ricky Rubio of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Ricky Rubio of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

Ricky Rubio’s reunion with the Minnesota Timberwolves didn’t exactly go as planned.

Still, Rubio improved as the season went on and the pairing with D’Angelo Russell that struggled mightily to open the season appeared to gain some traction late in the year.

What is the viability of a Russell-Rubio backcourt moving forward? Does Rubio fit the roster in 2021-22?

Minnesota Timberwolves 2020-21 season grades: Ricky Rubio

When the Wolves acquired Ricky Rubio on draft night back in November, the idea was that Rubio would add a second playmaker to the lineup and allow D’Angelo Russell to reprise his part-time off-ball role that he played back in 2018-19 in Brooklyn alongside Spencer Dinwiddie.

As yours truly argued in the wake of the trade, swapping out James Johnson for Rubio not only made sense from an on-court perspective, but also in terms of the cap sheet and, perhaps most obviously, in regards to leadership and experience.

While Rubio’s leadership has been invaluable — Anthony Edwards called Rubio the best leader he’s been around in his entire life — the other areas in which he was supposed to contribute did not exactly get off to the start that the Wolves had hoped for when they acquired Rubio.

Rubio scored in double figures exactly one time in his first 24 contests back in a Wolves uniform. He missed two games as a close contact to a positive COVID-19 case, and Rubio himself admitted to not being in great shape, presumably at least in part due to his own bout with COVID-19 last summer and an odd ramp-up to the season.

Over those 24 games, Rubio averaged just 6.0 points and 6.3 assists per game while shooting 35 percent from the floor and 19.5 percent from 3-point range.

Frankly, those numbers made young, first-Wolves-stint Rubio look like Reggie Miller.

But shortly after becoming a regular starter in the wake of Russell’s knee injury, Rubio straightened things out. In a 17-game stretch from Feb. 14 to March 22, he averaged 12.6 points and 7.6 assists per game while shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from beyond the arc.

Once Russell came back, Rubio remained in the starting lineup for much of the rest of the season. While his scoring output dipped once again, he played much better than he did in January and early February.

When the dust settled, the two-man numbers for Rubio and Russell weren’t great — a -8.0 net rating in 370 minutes — but they were significantly improved from what we saw early in the season. Both players were healthier and in better playing shape by mid-March, and the two began to mesh much better on both ends of the floor.

Moving forward, it’s unlikely that Rubio would continue to start next to Russell, assuming that Malik Beasley is back and healthy next year. Still, Rubio could fit as the quarterback of the second unit and occasional backcourt partner for Russell.

His $17.8 million expiring contract may be easier to move at next year’s deadline than it will be this summer, but there will certainly be interested suitors.

Ricky Rubio’s 2020-21 Season Grade: B-

Rubio’s start was unquestionably disappointing and a major factor in the Wolves’ early-season struggles.

But his midseason improvement and the leadership qualities he exhibited for Edwards and other young players matter, and there’s a solid chance he gets to run it back with this same group again next year.

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On the flip side, the Wolves could choose to bring back Jordan McLaughlin as the primary backup point guard and try to cash Rubio in via trade. The fit between Rubio and the rest of the Wolves roster isn’t entirely perfect, so the possibility is certainly not off the table.