Humbled by Love

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Sports in America, more specifically basketball, place less and less emphasis on the team anymore. Instead they honor individual merits with awards and praise, which seems to grab the attention of the media more often than any team performance ever would unless it were the championship. For example, winding down the day with a little SportsCenter on the tube that evening, all your bound to see are highlights of individuals making plays and then the final score of the game only at the very end. “Kevin Durant drops a bomb from deep … K.D. flies down the lane for the slam … Durantulla scored 46 points and the game-winner. Oh, and the Thunder won by 2.”

It’s not all their fault. It’s been that way nearly forever. Until you strip names off the back of uniforms and force fandom into broadening their scope to take away our “praise be to thee” system, the single player will get praise first, then team second.

With that emphasis individual achievement, it’s easy to let it get to your head. You know, think you’re better than the rest, perhaps forget that a lot of the credit is due to teammates and coaches and trainers. Early in his career, Kevin Love could’ve easily fallen into that trap, having gotten into tussles with teammates and badmouthing a front office (Even if they did deserve it). Some of his actions throughout his career suggest he might think he’s bigger than the Wolves or even the city of Minneapolis entirely. But the way we as fans push athletes to a national-level pedestal, we could just as easily be the ones to blame.

It’s not all about big heads and oversized egos, though. American sports can also be one of the most humbling employment opportunities in the entire world. I watch and play a lot of golf, and I think it’s the best sport to prove my point. Golfers train their whole lives to get their game where it needs to be to win tournaments, money and livelihood. Once they finally make it, there is no team. It really is just them, so their accounted for to make all the right swings and putts with just a tiny margin of error. But it sure isn’t easy with all that pressure on your shoulders and no teammates to divide it up to. Sinking a 4-foot putt is like trying roll the ball over a moving ant; that easy-going 7-iron you hit in practice on the 17th tee feels like you’re swinging wet noodle while trying to hit a skittle off a tee. It can be brutally honest feedback whispering in your ear, “You’re just not that good.”

When times get tough, the tough get going. The saying has never been truer. But not everyone is that tough all the time and so, inevitably, mistakes will be made. That’s why you have to respect the game for what it is, learn your lesson and move on with a new, meek attitude.

***

Humility. It’s a word that I always thought best describes what the majority of good basketball players DON’T have, and that includes our very own Kevin Love. He went from a pudgy white kid with great skill to one of the NBA’s most respected players in just a few years. It’s not easy to make a jump like that without just a little bit getting to your head. The work you put in, the hours of sweat, aches and pain, might help you stay grounded, but when all is going well, it’s hard not to get ahead of yourself and get swept up by the moment. “Yeah, I am this good!”

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***

I love basketball but it’s absolutely the worst sport when it comes to honoring humble beginnings. You’re born and possibly even bred to be much taller than the average human being. And then you use the most simple, basic athletic abilities (Run, jump, shuffle) to gain competitive advantage over the rest of your peers. It’s as silver-platter as a sport can get.

I do believe that Love, who comes from a privileged background which includes an uncle (Mike Love) from the Beach Boys, came into this league a little selfish and perhaps a tad cocky. It wasn’t easy starting out, either. But Love realized that his glory days on the West coast were over and it was time to start anew. He had to work his tail off to show the organization that he could be better than their staple at the time in Big Al Jefferson. He had to win over an entirely unreliable and almost foreign fanbase. And he had to do it all while losing over 50 games a season to start his career. That’s awfully unsettling.

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But having been elected now to his third All-Star game and the first starting bid, I think it’s easy to say that Love has come full circle from his immature beginnings. After all, he did work hard enough to not only beat out Jefferson, but to become one of the elite players in the NBA. He has won over a fanbase in Minnesota by even making non-basketball fans come to watch a game or two. And now the team is finally starting to turnaround their misfortune of the late 2000′s and win some freaking games. If you ask me, it’s all coming together quite nicely for both he and the franchise.

Love is currently averaging 24.9 PPG, 12.9 RPG and 4.1 APG. In fact, he’s chasing Kareem Abdul Jabbar to become the only one since to average 25/13/4 before the All-Star break. He’s also ranked fourth in total scoring, second in total rebounds and tenth in offensive rebounds. He’s been so good that the Wolves’s offensive efficiency with him on the court is 114.6. It’s just 96.6 when he’s on the bench, a difference of 18 points. Having one of the best pump fakes in the biz, he’s posting a career-high 13.3 percent drawn foul rate. His work ethic has helped improve his defense, which was a major weakness when he first came into the league. He’s already recorded 38 steals this season, his career-high being 47. The numbers don’t lie, folks; this guy is really good, and he may just only be scratching the surface.

***

What sparked this article was a transcribe from a conference call Love took, explaining how he found out about his All-Star bid and more. Flip Saunders was jerking him around a bit until he actually dropped the news.

“So [Flip] comes to my room, I open the door, it’s him and Milt and you know, as I’m kind of pushing the door back he said ‘Congrats’. And I said ‘What are you talking about?’ And Flip looks at me and says, ‘You’re going to be an All-Star starter, buddy.’ That was a pretty surreal moment for me,” Love said.

Surreal? But this will be your third All-Star game in as many years…?

“You know for the fans to reach out and vote me in and to play amongst my peers that are very well liked and popular around the world, it really means a lot,” Love said.

Oh, okay gotcha. So it’s more special because the fans voted you in?

“I think it’s a little sweeter this way, because I really didn’t expect it. I was very, I was already humbled by the response the fans gave me to even being that close to the top,” Love said.

Ahhh, now that’s the candid response I’ve been waiting for. Good for you, Kevin. Good for you.

***

We all know that Love’s NBA fairy tale could very well close its chapter in Minnesota in the Summer of 2015 or even earlier. Free agency is looming and his contract’s running low on days. We don’t know if/when he’ll be wearing another jersey but at least we get to say we had a part in molding Love’s exceptional production but, most importantly, his newfound humility.

The handy, dandy 2nd unit; Wolves lose 115-104

Love vs. Aldridge is always an entertaining matchup

Love vs. Aldridge is always an entertaining matchup

I have to believe that there are just about two ways to make a team great in the NBA; 1) Just sign superstars and ride their tag-teaming ways all the way to the playoffs, or; 2) Sport one of the deepest benches, full of more-than-capable players that the coach can lean on even in the waning moments of a clutch win.

After watching last night’s game against the Blazers, it’s clear to see that the Wolves don’t really have either of those above. Kevin Love is a superstar but he’s a little lonely on that front. But then again, the rest of the starting lineup can play pretty great in spurts, making them look like a playoff caliber team. But then the first quarter ends or we’re midway through the third and Adelman motions his hand for (ugh) JJ Barea to come.

The clear difference in this game was the play of the two teams’ bench players. As preface, you should know that the Wolves’ bench is 27th in scoring, 29th in field goal percentage and dead last in overall efficiency on the court. It’s as if their scoop dirt dirt back into the hole that the starters began, looking for paydirt. Last night had an eerily similar trend.

After the first quarter lead, the second unit of Barea, Alexey Shved, Chase Budinger, Dante Cunningham and Ronny Turiaf went out there. All they really had to do was do their best to keep it close while the starters rested. That’s all we really ask. But instead the Blazers took the inferior competition and ran with it to win that quarter by 10. The same thing happened in the fourth, to a lesser degree because Adelman knew it was crunch time and he’d get ripped for keeping Barea and Co. out there any longer than he should’ve.

The bench is a serious Kryptonite to the starters’ armor. And on the otherside of the court, it was completely the opposite. Barea couldn’t contain Mo Williams to save his marriage (Wouldn’t that be sad?!). And Thomas Robinson made Dante Cunningham look like he was ready to quit. Those two combined for 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. I think Adelman would kill to get that out of his entire bench on any given night.

I don’t wanna take credit away from the Blazers by blaming this loss on the Wolves’ putrid bench but it had a big part in it for sure. The Blazers are for real, though. Their early season success isn’t a fluke. LaMarcus Aldridge should be an All-Star. Robin Lopez plays the perfect sidekick to Aldridge in the paint on both ends. And I wouldn’t trade Damian Lillard for Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook or even Derrick Rose. He’s that good, folks. They’re a team built to do really well in the playoffs I think too, and play in a terrific city that loves their basketball with all their heart.

As for the Wolves, it wasn’t a good loss but they certainly learned the standard of which a playoff-like team plays at game in and game out. In order to become one themselves, they have some things to figure out and hope that the bench can finally get their heads in order and play a little more consistently each and every night. Until then, you can’t just keep hoping the starters combine for 90 to keep them close.

Wolves should actually feel okay about getting a split in the Northwest trip, holding onto that big win in Golden State. Next up are the Bulls on Monday night. See you then.

Wolves Weekend Recap

It's like day and night

It’s like day and night

There’s the theme for this weekend’s games. P.S. I went with the upbeat version of it to sorta brighten your mood while reading on. Because that’s about as satisfying and happy as I can get.

We’ll start with Friday night’s bout against the Raptors. I’m not sure what it is about Toronto that the Timberwolves just don’t like but they’ve historically never played well north of the U.S. border. And that’s really saying something. The Raptors haven’t been a real competitive team since a few years with Bosh and then the McGrady/Vinsanity years. But this team has developed into a tough squad this year, and that’s saying something after trading away their “best player” in Rudy Gay earlier this season.

Kyle Lowry is legit. Demar Derozan could very well be a bonafide all-star. And Jonas Valanciunas is a pretty big hassle to handle down low on both ends of the court. Even with those three, though, the Raptors are more than beatable on any given night. But that’s just not in the cards for the Wolves. Like ever.

Dating back to the end of the KG era, the Wolves are just 1-17 against the Raptors, including some of the biggest deficits in Toronto itself. All I have to say is history saw this loss coming from a mile away and I think the Wolves themselves did too.

Before this loss, the Wolves were on a 1-3 streak and playing some of the most unenthused, depressing basketball we’ve seen them play all season long. Take that attitude into Toronto and you get what you deserved, a 94-89 loss to a team that, well plays like they actually like each other.

As for last night’s win back home over the Utah Jazz, I’m not so sure how to analyze it, honestly. Watching the game and checking the numbers afterward speak for itself; it was an old-fashioned ass-whooping in every sense of the term. But for a team that should be doing this to bad teams pretty much nine out of ten games all season long, it wasn’t all that impressive.

The Wolves rode Nikola Pekovic’s (the most stable, consistent player on the roster this entire month) hot hand to a big 98-72 win in Minneapolis. Contributing greatly was Kevin Martin, who’s greatly struggled the past few games. He added 20 points, despite still stumbling to put up point from the perimeter. He was just 1-6 from three-point land. Then there was Kevin Love, who 18-13-5 in a good night. Also worth mentioning was Alexey Shved, who added 10 points off the bench.

Other than the starters and Shved, the Wolves didn’t do anything. In fact, if you add up the minutes as well as the plus/minus numbers, the starters combined for plus-157 in 136 minutes played. As for the bench, they posted a minus-27 in 105 minutes of court time. Now I know how to explain the bench players: they just downright suck and have almost all season long. They never play as a unit, rather just rogue chickens with their heads cut off. Other than the occasional one bright spot (Last night being Shved), they continually fail to produce. As for the starters, well, this is close to what they should accomplish on any given night. I mean, they’re that good. There’s no denying Love and Pekovic’s talent, and then Martin’s ability to supplement their game with points from the perimeter. But was last night’s impressive numbers a result of that unit playing well together for once or the lack of balance and power the Jazz, without Gordon Hayward, could sustain?

Given where the Wolves are at mentally right now, these kinds of blowout wins are helpful for their psyche. But I can’t be the only one seeing how lame and limp the Wolves are playing ball as of late. It’s a contagious attitude that’s sprinkled down to all the players and most of the fans to boot. But if you really think about it, if you really think winning can cure all, is beating one of the NBA’s absolute worst teams, playing without their best player, mind you, really a part of the remedy? It shouldn’t. It’s pretty much false hope in my mind.

The only way to get off the schneid is to string together a few of these games in a row. That could be a trying task, considering the next few games include trips to Golden State, Portland and then Chicago. But taking two out of three on that road trip would certainly build a foundation for how to win — and ultimately play — like a playoff-caliber team.

Texas ass-whoopin’; Spurs rout Wolves 104-86

Just keep dribbling, just keep dribbling ... dribbling, dribbling, dribbling!

Just keep dribbling, just keep dribbling … dribbling, dribbling, dribbling!

Coming into this game, there were two things I didn’t really like.

  1. The San Antonio Spurs are really good at kicking ass.
  2. The Wolves are really good at staying at .500.

Those two facts played a big part into the final of tonight’s bout. The Spurs are just so good at making okay teams like the Wolves look pretty bad. And the Wolves, well, are really good at making themselves look pathetic in cities not named ‘Minneapolis.’

We’re gonna play a little game here. Now don’t go cheat by looking at the box score! Just take a look at these opposing numbers and guess which team is which.

  • Team A: 35.5 FG%, 5/17 3PM, 40 REB, 17 AST, 16 STL, 10 TO, 10 PTS OFF TO’s
  • Team B: 56.8 FG%, 9-13 3PM, 46 REB, 31 AST, 10 BLK, 20 TO, 16 PTS OFF TO’s

Ahh, who am I kidding? This isn’t even a game when everyone can win (Or cheat). Obviously, Team A was the Wolves. What tipped you off? The FG%? Yeah, most likely. But everything else seems up to par. They don’t typically get out-rebounded but when you shoot that bad, it can happen. The assists are awfully low but the Spurs make it look puny with their insane total. 16 steals is nice. That was mostly caused by bone-headedness from the Spurs and their surplus of turnovers. But when you can only convert 10 points out of 16 steals and 20 turnovers, you’re doing something wrong.

Or maybe you’re not doing anything wrong. There’s something funky about these Wolves. The poor shooting nights have become synonymous to almost any game they get into. Kevin Love is prone to have bad nights, as is Kevin Martin, but there’s just no help ready to step up. Nikola Pekovic has been the most consistent option all season long. Otherwise, if one of those two guys have an off night, it’s pretty much a wash for that one because no one has, or maybe even can, step up and make a difference in the scoring column. Corey Brewer’s awful December is creeping into January. JJ Barea’s too busy dribbling. Ricky Rubio, HA!

There’s not too many other options from there. It’s good to have Chase Budinger back but from a reduced bench role until he’s 100-percent, he won’t be able to get enough time or shots to reduce any void left from either Kevins’ off-night. Everything I’m laying out shouldn’t be new, and it’s definitely very much alive in the back of Rick Adelman’s mind, especially when he stares down his bench in some clutch moments during any game. The help has to come from within because I don’t see any roster movement coming soon. But it also needs to come soon. 36 games into the season means we’re almost halfway done, so a run has to come soon, otherwise we’re facing ping-pong balls yet again.

I don’t mean to get all panicky, especially after a blowout loss to one of the league’s, not just the conference’s best. But these are recurring faults game-in and out, and it’s getting more and more frustrating as the season wears on. Let’s hope that both Kevins and the Wolves as a whole can turn it around Wednesday at home vs Derrick Williams and the Sacramento Kings.

Lest the three-ball reign; Wolves rout 76ers

HTW is back and so is the Wolves' firepower (For one night, at least)

HTW is back and so is the Wolves’ firepower (For one night, at least)

Ahh, it’s good to be back! A bug in our system may prevent us from writing about our beloved Wolves but it certainly did not bring down any passion I still share for this team.

So watching them win huge, 126-95, in Philly tonight was a blessing because we can all agree that the last few games, particularly the loss to OKC, totally sucked.

The Wolves used a three-point barrage to beat the 76ers to a bloody pulp tonight on their homecourt, and boy, was it needed. Here’s the analogy I’ll use; how many of you are the middle child? Bueller? Anyways, if you are, you know what it’s like to get beat up by the eldest. I mean, they’re bigger, stronger and, of course, older and wiser. There’s usually no way out of it except to scream for mom to tell them to stop. So you’re sitting there, all pouty and bruised when you’re little sibling walks into the room. They rub you the wrong way, poking and teasing, and next thing you know, you’re wailing on them out of sheer frustration.

That’s the mentality the Wolves had coming into tonight’s contest. The big, bad older brother Oklahoma City beat us up pretty good, even if it was close. It’s still bitter and hurts deep inside. So what’s the best way to get that out? Beat up on the younger, less experienced one, who simply loves to instigate the matter. That was Philadelphia tonight. It’s nothing personal against Philly. The Wolves were looking for anyone to take their frustration out on tonight. It just happened to be the poor 76ers.

But I don’t care. They needed this blowout win to prove it to themselves that they’re not broken. The season is still very long and there’s time to figure out how to scheme out a win over the bigger brother another day.

To get into the numbers a little bit, the Wolves ended up draining 16 threes, a season-high for them. The 76ers actually nailed eight themselves, which is pretty good. But what was mostly different from tonight than most of the Wolves’ scoring outbursts was the dispersion in the scoring. Typically you see just Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic dominating the scoring column. Well, they did so again tonight (42 points combined) but Corey Brewer added 15. Kevin Martin also netted 18. But the bench really came up big, which isn’t so typical, coming up with 47 points as well, mostly from JJ Barea (13), Dante Cunningham (10) and Alexey Shved (10).

Those last three guys are going to be a big piece of the season’s story moving forward. If Adelman can find some trust in those guys to come off the bench for 15+ minutes per game and NOT screw things up too drastically, this team’s makeup will be greatly different than if they can’t. Cut down the turnovers and at the very least just turn those into field goal attempts, and I think this unit will be more reliable than the previous couple months. Barea is the starter but Shved is going to be key as well because he has the potential to fill a sixth man sort of role. It’s just all about consistency for all three of them, which they’ve struggled with all season long. So really we just have to hope and pray that these kinds of nights happen a little more often.

Twas a great win tonight, and now the Wolves are back to .500 at 17-17 (That’s nothing new). They get one day rest but then gotta come prepared for a fiery Suns team on Wednesday night. Luckily, it’s at home but it won’t be as easy as preseason predictions had it to be.

Back to old ways; Wolves beats Portland, 120-109

Ahh, teamwork

Ahh, teamwork

So the Timberwolves whooped up on arguably the hottest team in the West right now pretty good tonight. And although the final margin was just 11, the deficit was really  a lot bigger, according to the eye test.

This was the first time since probably early November that the Wolves actually looked like the offensive powerhouse they’re built to be. They had just about every facet of their offense working in unity to create a beautiful symphony. Kevin Love played the inside-out game, burning Lamarcus Aldridge from both areas. Nikola Pekovic was a monster in the paint by using non-monsterish, finesse moves like that new turnaround mid-range jumper. And then Kevin Martin picked up the slack by being an efficient scoring guard from all over.

The first half was one of the most entertaining halves I’ve seen the Wolves play this year, and there’s been a lot of them to this point. But they just had it working and against the Trail Blazers, who’ve had our number in the past, it was exciting to watch them go full-throttle. And by “number”, I mean they’ve won 21 of the last 23 meetings against the Wolves. Ouch. It’s typically a tough, back-and-forth meeting between these two that seems like it should be dominated by terrific, one-on-one play between Love and Aldridge but always comes down to some random perimeter guy from PDX (Wesley Matthews, Nic Batum) blowing up Wolves at the seams. And it was oh-so close to being that way again tonight.

After jumping out to a 30-plus point lead in the second (It was 69-43 at halftime), the Blazers staked their bid at a comeback. Behind the incredibly gifted Damian Lillard, the Blazers kept pushing the Wolves into an uncomfortable spot, time and time again down the court. Soon enough, that “impenetrable” lead dwindled down to just four points and almost all was certain that the Blazers would finish this comeback and, at the very least, take the lead.

Luckily, the Wolves had just enough fight in them to fire up some threes to finish the third quarter on a solid run of their own. Three-pointers from Love, Martin and JJ Barea (Two from him, actually) stemmed the run and pushed that lead back up to 20 points before the fourth quarter, as the Wolves ended up sealing the deal in the end.

It was that trio, Love, Martin and Pekovic, that did all the damage in a multitude of ways to take down the fiery Blazers tonight. Love narrowly missed recording his first career triple-double with 29 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists. He actually finished the first half with eight of those nine assists. And then Martin made a nice return back to early-season form, scoring 22 points on 8-15 shooting. But it was Pekovic that took the cake for me. He netted a career-high 30 points and 14-19 shooting. He was so, so good at sealing the Blazers’ centers in the paint and then finishing on easy layups. He also showcased that new turnaround mid-range jumper, which fell a couple times tonight. We’re starting to see some growth in his game, leaning more towards finesse moves around the rim. It may seem awkward at first, and I’m not sure why we’re not used to it having watched Al Jefferson play in Minnesota before, but the numbers will continue to roll in for him and he’ll get the recognition league-wide that he deserves.

Speaking of deserving, Mr. Lillard needs some praise. I don’t care that he’s on the Blazers. This dude is insanely good. Right now, I’d take him over Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and, yes, even Ricky Rubio. He carries himself with such great maturity and his body language clearly proves his desire to win and get better each and every night. His game just about has it all, and we certainly saw that tonight, while he tried to lead the Portland comeback single-handedly. If the Blazers continue on this hot run of theirs, look for Lillard to continue to put up huge numbers and slide under the wing of national attention.

Now back at .500 on the season, next up for the Wolves are the Lakers with a battered but battling Kobe Bryant on Friday night.

The rise and demise of Ricky Rubio

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Ricky Rubio’s good and all, but could he be better? Oh yeah.

Just a quick note before you read on, Ricky Rubio went 2-12 with six points in last night’s loss to the Celtics. He even lost significant playing time to the hands of JJ Barea and Alexey Shved down the stretch. This is the story of the rise and demise of Ricky Rubio and his offensive charm.

In 2009, former President of Basketball Operations David Kahn was in a prime position to turn the Timberwolves’ misfortunes around in a big, big way. Armed with two draft picks in the first seven slots in what seemed to be a pretty solid draft talent-wise, Wolves fans were more than excited to get off the hump and in a hurry.

Well, four years later, we know how that scenario turned out. Most notably, Kahn chose Syracuse point guard Johnny Flynn over the country’s college basketball sweetheart in Stephen Curry. Flynn is currently playing (pro?) basketball in China, although rumor has it he left the team already, while Curry is becoming the superstar some thought him to be right out of college. Despite dealing with a myriad of injuries in his short career, he’s still the face of the Golden State Warriors, averaging 24.1 points and 8.9 assists per game, leading them to a modest 13-12 record this season.

Meanwhile, the other storyline of that draft was Sir Ricky Rubio. The mystical point guard out of Spain was all the rage from that draft because of how mysterious he was. At just 19 years of age and a big question mark regarding his contractual eligibility, Rubio was a hot commodity but it was like having a really big, shiny box and not exactly knowing what’s inside until you open it.

Thanks to a trade with the Wizards, the Wolves were lucky enough to open that box. And even though they had to wait with it under the tree for two years, what was inside was just as shiny and exciting as the box itself. Rubio, alongside Love’s emergence as one of the NBA’s top players, finally rejuvenated a desperate fan base and even instilled some hope for a brighter future in Minnesota. Better late than never, amiright?

But now that we’re in Rubio’s third season, that glitter and shine we all fell in love with is starting to dull and it needs a major rebuffering. The youngster with boyish charm off the court and flashy game on is now struggling to regain that favor with the fans, or at least this critic.

Perhaps I’m being a bit too hard on the guy. After all, on the surface, Rubio could very well turn out to be the best Timberwolves point guard of all time. The competition isn’t all that fierce from Pooh Richardson to Terrell Brandon to Stephon Marbury. If he stays long enough, he could and most likely will break records for assists and steals in Wolves history. Through 122 games played over his three year career, he’s averaging 7.8 assists per game, giving him 950 on his career, which puts him just outside of the top 10 in Wolves history but on pace to break Kevin Garnett’s record of 4,146 in just about six more seasons. Not easy but definitely possible if he remains a Wolf. He’s clearly a magician when it comes to distributing the basketball. And although we haven’t seen as much flash this season like we have in the past from Rubio, he’s still posting consistent numbers and finding players for open shots. He’s ultimately what keeps the offense moving and he’s any coach’s dream point guard from that standpoint.

Then you have the defensive side, where Rubio may just be one of the best on-ball defenders at the point guard position. At 6’4″ with long, swaying arms, Rubio wreaks havoc at the top of the key. He’s got quick feet to stay along with even some of the quickest, more athletic guards in the league. At first, he struggled with those guys because of just how explosive they are. But after a few years of getting used to the speed of the NBA game, he’s figured out how to better position his body to stop the head-on drives to the basket. Perhaps the best part of his defensive game, though, is his mental makeup to gamble and take risks. And, boy, has it paid off. We’ve gotten used to Corey Brewer’s cat-and-mouse defense, where he lunges at offline passes to get a finger on them, but Rubio is more particular about it. That special Spidey sense has equalled 2.4 steals per game, which already leads the Timberwolves all-time, although he’s still a long ways off of Garnett’s 1,282 total steals. It’s still clear that Rubio’s killer instincts on defense are potentially more valuable than his offensive prowess, and I really mean that.

Part of my reasoning about his defensive skills being more important is because he seems more mature than he did when he first started on that end, whereas on offense, Rubio still has a lot of room to grow. Specifically, we’re singling out Rubio’s poor shooting numbers.

Typically, by a player’s third season, they start to solidify habits in their game. By that third year, a player’s maturation has just about blossomed and the things they’re doing on the court now are likely what you’ll see for the rest of their career. That doesn’t bode well for Rubio’s shooting habits. As of right now, Rubio is a career 36 percent shooter, 33 percent from deep. Those current numbers make him the poorest shooting point guard in the NBA in the last three seasons. Ouch.

Let’s have a look-see at what Rubio’s shot chart looks like this season:

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A little bit too much red on that chart, if you ask me. But as you can see, he’s actually improved on his three point shot, which is good. But there are two areas that really strike a nerve, given Adelman’s offense and Rubio’s strength running the pick and roll. The mid-range jumper is key to being a pesky pick and roll guard. Think about your options when big Pek comes and sets that screen. For one, you can go right over the top and shoot the jumper from deep. But that’s not a very high percentage shot. So another option is to use the screen and go around, giving you either a clear shot to the basket or an open area to hit the pull-up jumper. That’s what makes Chris Paul such a dangerous option because he can hit that shot with ease. And then your third option is to attack the basket and look for a layup before the help defense collapses down on top of you.

Now, that second option of taking that pull-up jumper is not Rubio’s strength. We’ve seen him hit it before but the problem is that he comes so sharply into that shot at such a steep angle that, once he actually rises to take the shot, he’s moving forward so much that the shot is almost always too deep. And that’s a real problem considering Rubio’s jumper is on a low-arcing curve, naturally, which leaves very little room for any touch. And then you have that third option of attacking the rim. But the problem is Rubio is not very good at absorbing contact, especially with the body, so he shies away from contact quite often. When he draws the foul, that’s a good thing because he can hit free throws at a decent clip. Otherwise he finds himself in trouble in the paint and around the rim, as proven by his paltry 29-72 clip in that area. For most players, that should be close to the easiest shot in basketball but for a sly, slinky guard like Rubio, who masters finesse over speed and power, he can get beat up pretty good down there.

For being a pick and roll artist, you have to be able to expand your game. In his first three seasons, Rubio has not been able to do that. And for someone who appreciates elite talent for what they do (i.e. Chris Paul) it’s hard to look past Rubio’s glaring blinding weaknesses on the offensive end. The flash is fine. The charm is exciting. The defense is wonderful. But Rubio still has a long ways to go before the Wolves go and consider giving a player a big, or a potential max contract, to someone who can’t even crack the “below average” category in terms of shooting percentage. The name of the game is to put the ball in the hoop, and Rubio’s not even average at that. C’mon, man!

So whenever you go back to that 2009 draft and debate with your buddies, everyone always dwells on the “What if we took Curry over Flynn.” But isn’t it fair to evaluate, with over three years now in the league, if taking Rubio over Curry was the right choice? It’s too late to dwell on any past decision but it’s time to start thinking about whether or not Rubio was and is the right choice for the long-term future of the franchise.