NBA Saturday: Rubio Living Up to Hype
It was only a matter of time before Ricky Rubio moved into the Minnesota Timberwolves’ starting lineup. Ten games into his NBA career, the 21-year-old was the talk of the league after making an immediate impact in Minnesota and emerging as one of the biggest surprises in the first three weeks of the season.
Last night, against the New Orleans Hornets, Rubio was impressive in his first start, finishing with 12 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals. Despite that being his lone start of the season, Rubio is averaging 10.4 points, 8.0 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals. He’s currently averaging the eighth-most assists in the league and he has the highest efficiency rating among all rookies.
After watching Rubio play, opposing coaches have come away extremely impressed. Toronto Raptors’ head coach Dwane Casey called him a “special player” and New Orleans Hornets’ head coach Monty Williams predicted that he’ll be one of the best point guards in the league in two or three years. Rubio’s own head coach, Rick Adelman, likes what he sees from his point guard.
“He’s been a lot more solid than we thought,” Adelman told HOOPSWORLD. “He’s been very good at rotations, very good at getting back and being in the right spot. Of all of our guys, he probably has done that as well as anybody so I think he’s got a real basketball IQ and really understands the game.”
“He’s a very smart player,” he added. “I think it’s the other stuff. On the court, he seems to be just fine. It’s the things off the court, the demands, where I think you have to be a little careful with him because he gets a lot more attention than everybody else.”
At this point, Rubio is used to the attention. He made his Euroleague debut at the age of 16 and his game has been under the microscope ever since. Rubio had a large following in Spain and it didn’t take him long to win over fans in the NBA. He has received the third-most All-Star votes for a Western Conference guard, trailing only Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul.
While his biggest contributions have been on the offensive end thanks to his up-tempo style and excellent court vision, Rubio has also been a difference maker on defense. Adelman wasn’t sure how effective Rubio would be on the defensive end, but he has been impressed.
“Everybody told me that he had great hands and did a good job, but I didn’t know what to expect,” Adelman said. “One thing I really like about him, he’s not afraid to challenge people, he’s not afraid to get in there and that’s half the battle. Now, with our limited personnel, he may be facing post ups and a lot of different things. Right now, we try to keep Luke [Ridnour] there and J.J. [Barea], just because they’re experienced, but I think you’re going to see him play a variety of different people.”
The Timberwolves are 4-7, which is progress after winning just 17 games last season. However, Rubio isn’t used to losing and that has been the biggest adjustment for him thus far.
“He really wants to win and he wants to be successful,” Adelman said. “It’s hard on him. He’s been on a lot of good teams over in Europe and I think losing is always hard when you’re not used to it. I think that type of attitude is the type of attitude we need. We need to have players who have higher expectations than what they’re used to having and if you lose, that’s not acceptable. You have to learn from it; you don’t just let it flow off your back and forget about it. He’s not that way at all.”
While Rubio is already one of the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year, he’ll only get better over time. There are many times when his teammates aren’t ready for his brilliant passes, but that will change as they get used to what Adelman describes as his “adventurous” style of play. His development is years ahead of schedule and he may become one of the top facilitators in the league in the very near future. Rubio is taking the league by storm as a rookie, but the best is yet to come in Minnesota.
Miami’s Late Struggles Continue: The Denver Nuggets had a five-point lead over the Miami HEAT entering the fourth quarter last night. The game was close; both teams were trading baskets and receiving contributions from a number of players in the third quarter.
However, in the final 12 minutes, one team continued to produce and the other struggled mightily. Denver went on a 12-1 run to start the fourth and won the game in convincing fashion, 117-104. For the third straight game, Miami disappeared in the final stages.
In their last three games, Miami has been outscored 95-65 in the fourth quarter and overtime. Even when they enter the final quarter with momentum, their offense stalls. In their losses against the Warriors, Clippers and Nuggets, they shot 14-48 (29.1 percent from the field) in the final quarter.
LeBron James has received plenty of criticism for his late disappearing act, but there was plenty of blame to go around last night. Nobody stepped up for the HEAT on the offensive end and they allowed the Nuggets to score 31 points in the fourth.
Miami’s preference is blowout wins where the fourth quarter becomes garbage time, but that approach doesn’t work in the playoffs, as we saw last year. They need to solve this Jekyll and Hyde issue before the postseason, where three consecutive fourth quarter flops would likely lead to elimination.
Warriors Signing Earl Barron: The Golden State Warriors are expected to sign Earl Barron, according to sources close to the situation.
The Warriors are facing off against the Charlotte Bobcats tonight, and Barron may be available to play. He arrived in Charlotte last night and, barring any unforeseen problems, he’ll sign a partially guaranteed contract this afternoon.
The 30-year-old center will give Golden State depth at the center position, which they desperately need since Kwame Brown will likely be out for the remainder of the season due to a torn pectoralis major.
Barron spent last year with the Portland Trail Blazers, averaging 3.5 points and 7.0 rebounds. However, the Blazers cut Barron last month in order to trim their roster to 15 players.
Barry Offers to Teach Howard: Dwight Howard entered the offseason determined to improve his shot, specifically his free throw stroke. He hired a shooting coach named Ed Palubinskas after interviewing a number of candidates and worked with the self-proclaimed “Free-Throw Master” throughout the duration of the lockout.
During these private sessions, Howard showed significant progress. He was knocking down free throws and jumpers with ease. However, once the season started, his shooting struggles continued. This year, Howard is shooting a career-low 45.9 percent from the free throw line.
On Thursday, Howard broke Wilt Chamberlain’s record for most free throws attempted in one game. The 26-year-old attempted 39 free throws, but he was only able to hit 21 from the charity stripe. Howard has tried everything at the line; from singing to repeating the word “gooseneck” to remember the proper form and follow through. Well, almost everything.
Rick Barry, a Hall of Famer who shot 89.3 percent from the free throw line during his career, points out at least one thing that Howard hasn’t tried.
“He’s a candidate for the underhanded,” Barry told Fox Sports Florida. “It’s crazy that somebody who is shooting that poorly wouldn’t want the opportunity to improve. When you’re at the free-throw line, it’s always the same. It’s the same distance; nobody is guarding you.”
“It would change the whole dynamics of the offense for the Orlando Magic, and, with his skill level, he would be an even better player,” Barry added. “If he’s your go-to guy, you don’t want him to be your go-to-the-bench guy because you’re afraid of having him in at the end of games.”
Barry has offered to teach his underhanded technique to a number of players, including Shaquille O’Neal, but many players are too proud to adopt the form. After watching Howard struggle against Golden State, Barry said he would help Howard, but added that he “wouldn’t do it for nothing.”
“I wish I could have shot 39 free throws in a game,” Barry said. “I don’t know how you can live with yourself [after missing 18].”
Barry understands why players like Howard and O’Neal are hesitant to use the underhanded shot.
“It’s about ego,” Barry said. “People think it’s a sissy shot, the way a girl shoots. But that’s ridiculous. Why would anyone make fun of you when you’re making your free throws? I remember when I played, a fan yelled, ‘Hey Barry, the big sissy.’ And the guy next to him said, ‘Why are you making fun of him? He never misses.’”
HOOPSWORLD Chats: There is only one chat on today’s schedule. Susan Bible’s weekly chat will get underway at 11 p.m. ET. Make sure to submit your questions early because this chat fills up fast. To view HOOPSWORLD’s upcoming chat schedule, click here.