The view from my seat in the auxiliary press area adjacent to the Minnesota Timberwolves bench at Target Center can sometimes leave a bit to be desired. But on Monday night it provided the perfect vantage point to fully appreciate what Ricky Rubio can bring to the new and unquestionably improved Timberwolves.

 

The 21-year-old Spanish wunderkind already had a handful of assists to his name and looked like he belonged on an NBA court, making his regular season debut two years after he was drafted fifth overall by Minnesota. It was the fourth quarter – a stanza which featured Rubio for its duration – and the Wolves were clawing back from what had been a 12-point third-quarter deficit to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

 

Rubio hustled the ball up the court with just under 11 minutes remaining, a gaggle of Thunder players in front of him to his left as Rubio moved from left to right from center court towards the 3-point line. Fellow rookie Derrick Williams, meanwhile, sprinted through the traffic toward the basket. The confluence came together perfectly, like an eclipse, where I was lined up directly with Rubio and shared his line of vision. For a split second I saw the tiny crease open where Rubio could squeeze a pass to Williams for a dunk. But by then it was too late, as the window closed as quickly as it had opened.

 

Fortunately for the Wolves, Rubio had the ball and I did not.

 

Rubio saw the opening before it was created, and had the ball through it with a quick, one-handed bounce pass the hit Williams perfectly in stride. The 20-year-old elevated and threw down a reverse two-handed dunk that sent the capacity Target Center crowd into a frenzy.

 

“You can see the court vision he has,” coach Rick Adelman said. “He is really good in the open court and that is why our guys have to learn they can’t walk up the court or jog, they have to run up the court every time.”

 

If there’s a cure for the morose which has plagued Minnesota fans since Kevin Garnett was traded, Rubio has his thumb on the plunger.

 

The takeaways regarding Rubio Monday night were three-fold. The first I already mentioned – the fact he belonged. Rubio was comfortable and confident. There was little he could do to slow Russell Westbrook one-on-one defensively, but Rubio’s got plenty of company there. His final line – six points, six assists, five rebounds, no turnovers – couldn’t have been scripted better, at least by a realist.

 

Takeaway number two is his willingness to take a chance. Sometimes that window Rubio saw before it opened will turn out to be painted shut. The resulting turnover will undoubtedly be ugly, but Rubio obviously doesn’t mind. He understands the reward, both short- and long-term. The immediate benefit of such risks when they work out will generally be a dunk or a layup. But the long-term profit is much greater. Without a pass to be received, the Wolves’ wings could easily become discouraged and choose to jog up court and remain on the perimeter. By taking the calculated risks, the Minnesota’s high-flyers will be encouraged and motivated to constantly run the floor, allowing the team to take advantage of its greatest assets – length and athleticism.

 

The third takeaway is Rubio’s style and pace. With Luke Ridnour running the fast break, and Jonny Flynn in previous seasons, players like Wes Johnson and Michael Beasley were unable to fully take advantage of their athleticism in the open court off the ball because of the aggressive nature of their point guards. Both Ridnour and Flynn erred on the side of pushing the ball towards the basket, with Ridnour more than willing to take the shot and Flynn often throwing bad passes because of overzealousness and poor spacing. Rubio isn’t slow, but he takes his time. Even on fast breaks, you can see Rubio waiting for plays to develop. He understands spacing and passing lanes and has the patience to let the movement play out while calculating the best response based on his intuition.

 

This court sense will only improve as he adjusts to the NBA game and his new teammates.

 

“We just have to give him a little bit of time to work his way in,” Adelman said. “It is going to be an up and down situation for him. All rookies face that. He seems to have an awful lot of hype going his way but I don’t see him buying into that. I just see him as a young man that really wants to learn, really wants to do well and he is just going to get better.”

 

You can see that, wherever you’re sitting. 

 

Weekend Recap

February 4, 2008

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First off, I’d like to thank Stensaas (bah!) for the text message on Saturday night. While watching the Minnesota Wild contest on television and seeing the Wild score to go up 3-1 in an eventual 4-1 victory, “I’m in a glass case of emotion!” could be heard being yelled in Columbus via FSN North. I was happy to hear about it, and even happier that I was the person who came to mind when it needed to be shared with someone – which reminds of a “that’s what she said” moment, which I’ll get to shortly.

Hi-five to David Tyree! After finishing the regular season with four catches for 35 and no touchdowns in 12 contests, the special-teamer caught three balls for 43 yards and a score in the Super Bowl, including this jaw-dropping dandy that pretty much saved the day for New York after Eli Manning refused to be sacked.

I just read a fantasy hoops article on a website that will remain nameless that encouraged me to pick up Al Jefferson, Joe Johnson, Jason Richardson, Brandon Roy and Richard Jefferson, among others, off my league’s waiver wire. That’s a great idea! I think I’ll go check my fantasy hoops teams right now and see if those guys are still available. Hopefully my league-mates didn’t get to the article first!!! I’d link to said story, but unfortunately that particular article was for PAYING customers only.

I’m standing in line at the pet store today to get Grace the dog (pictured above) her meds when I put down my coupon on the counter while I wait for the young woman in front of me to finish checking out. She sees my coupon and loudly tells the cashier to hold on a second, she thinks she has a coupon, too. After finding her coupon, she hands it to the cashier and breaths loudly, as though she just saved the building from a time bomb explosion at the last possible second. Then she looks at me with a smile and says, “glad you had that out.”

Pau Pau New Laker

February 1, 2008

Ever have one of those days where you’re hung over because you went to the bar after being laid off the day before, then your washing machine breaks and the repair man that later shows up can’t fix it, then the vertical blinds your girlfriend ordered arrive but are too short because you were too incompetent to properly use a tape measure the first time? No? Well, take it from me, its not much fun.

What is fun, however, are NBA trades! If you hadn’t yet heard, the Grizzlies sent grizzly Spaniard Pau Gasol to the Lakers along with a second-round draft pick in 2010 for Kwame Brown (pronounced “cap relief”), Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the rights to Marc Gasol, and first-round draft picks in 2008 and 2010. Memphis has talked about trading away Pau for a couple of seasons now, and his big contract didn’t much jive with the rebuilding the Grizzlies are doing. As for his fantasy value, I expect Pau to put up better numbers than he did in Memphis because the Lakers are hungry for any kind of help inside with Andrew Bynum on the shelf. However, when Bynum returns, both he and Gasol will probably see their averages dip from where they are currently. In the end, Kobe Bryant is the big winner with defenses finally needing to help out inside with not one, but two capable scoring options.

The big losers? Well, owners who were hoping to get something out of Ronny Turiaf for at least a few weeks are out of luck, and those who picked up Brown in hopes he’d help in Bynum’s absence can chuck him back into the free agent pool. He’ll be a role player at best in Memphis. Hakim Warrick’s value will take the biggest jump because Stromile Swift is en route to New Jersey for one of the Collins brothers (not Phil) and Warrick fits the uptempo, athletic feel that coach Mark Iavaroni grew comfortable with in Phoenix.

Unwatcha-Bull

January 31, 2008

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It’s certainly been a rough year for my favorite NBA squad. Yes, the underachieving, oft-injured Chicago Bulls fell in an ugly way to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night, scoring a season-low 67 points and failing to capitalize on the Wolves scoring just eight points in the first quarter.

The one bright spot for Chicago recently, at least from a fantasy perspective, has been Kirk Hinrich. With Luol Deng sidelined due to an Achilles injury, the strain on the Bulls’ offense was evident, but since Ben Gordon went down with a sprained wrist, Hinrich has taken the offense squarely on his shoulders. The fantasy digits in the five games missed by Gordon certainly haven’t been bad:
PG Kirk Hinrich, Bulls (Game Log)

Date Opp Min Pts Reb Ast Stl Blk 3PM FG% FT%
Jan 30 MIN 41:00 14 3 9 0 0 1 29.4 75.0
Jan 29 MIN 43:52 27 3 6 2 0 2 40.0 81.8
Jan 27 PHO 40:24 31 5 3 1 0 0 52.2 87.5
Jan 25 CHA 44:00 14 4 8 2 1 0 37.5 100.0
Jan 23 IND 40:54 38 7 10 2 0 4 66.7 100.0
Average 24.8 4.4 7.2 1.4 0.2 1.4 46.4 87.1

Thanks to scientist CP for the html table, by the way. Hinrich is averaging 42 minutes per game over his last five – eight minutes above his season average. He’s shot no better than 40 percent in three of his last four games, which isn’t helping his already career-worst shooting percentage. What’s worse, it seems that the cavalry is not coming to save him. The Bulls have the second least average NBA experience in the league, and are sixth youngest overall. That youth and inexperience is showing – coach Jim Boylan himself told the cadre of reporters that his team “just shut down” and acted “childish” in the second half. Hinrich is having a tough enough time on his own, he doesn’t need the additional burden of trying to straighten out guys like Tyrus Thomas (OK, Boylan didn’t mention him specifically, but after watching the game I’m going to read between the lines) as well.

Eventually Gordon and Deng will be back – Ben said in the locker room after the game he’ll probably be back on Saturday – and that will be less pressure on Hinrich. But that will also mean fewer minutes (ideally, if he doesn’t want to end up missing time with nagging injuries) and worse fantasy digits. So if you’re looking for a guy to sell high on, Hinrich is probably a good candidate.