Since the All-Star break, and probably more notably not being traded to the New York Knicks for Derrick Rose, Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio has been on a completely different level. A level that makes the idea of trading him for Rose, or even in general, completely laughable.
While it is not obviously not known what happened with the negotiations and if the Timberwolves were even seriously considering trading Rubio. It’s also not known what was said behind closed doors, but it seems apparent that something happened to trigger the sixth-year point guard from Spain to play the best basketball of his career.
In the 19 games since the trade deadline, Rubio has averaged 16.2 points, 11 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. More impressively, he has shot 44.1 percent from the field, 41.2 percent from behind the arc and 90 from the free-throw line during this span. Besides steals, all of these numbers would be career-highs for Rubio.
Besides steals, all of these numbers would be career-highs for Rubio.
The spike in numbers has also coincided with the absence of guard Zach LaVine. Without LaVine, Minnesota desperately needed someone other than Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins to step up offensively. Rubio hasn’t disappointed with the extra responsibility, as his usage rate over the last 19 games is 22 percent, much higher than the 15.1 percent before the all-star break.
“It just opens up the floor, they have to play everybody honestly,” said head coach and team president Tom Thibodeau after last week’s home game against the Los Angeles Lakers. “He’s doing a good job of moving without the ball, particularly when Karl and Wig are being double-teamed, he’s finding open areas. He’s making a lot of good reads.”
Over the last 19 games, the Timberwolves are averaging 107.4 points per game — 2.6 more points than they averaged prior to that — and are shooting 36.1 percent from behind the 3-point line, which is a full percent higher than the first half of the season.
Unfortunately, despite Rubio’s play, the Wolves have only managed a 9-10 record. The lack of scoring depth on the team hasn’t helped the chances of winning games. But the team has managed wins over Utah, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State, Washington, Indiana and Portland. It has also dropped games to the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings.
Over the last six weeks, Rubio has gone head-to-head against some of the best point guards in the NBA. During a stretch of three home games that the Timberwolves won, Rubio matched up with Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and John Wall and averaged 18 points and 14.7 assists per game. He also held the trio of all-stars to 20 points per game on 36.5 percent shooting. He also managed to take advantage of young backcourts, like the Los Angeles Lakers — who he torched for 26 points and 12.5 assists per game in the two games against them in March.
Rubio’s play has obviously been over a relatively small sample size, but if it were maintained over a full season, it would be a historical season. According to NBA.com, Portland’s guard CJ McCollum is the only player this season to have a field goal percentage of over 44 percent, while shooting over 41 percent from behind the arc and over 90 percent from the free-throw line. Curry and Clippers guard JJ Redick are the only other players to do it since the beginning of the 2014-15 season. Houston’s James Harden is currently averaging 29.2 points and 11.2 assists per game. If he can keep the assists average over 11 per game, he would become the first player since Steve Nash in 2009-10 to average at least 16.2 points and 11 assists per game. Rubio’s numbers over the last six weeks would put him in elite company in the NBA history book if they were over a full season.
Whether Rubio is ultimately Thibodeau’s ideal point guard of the future remains to be seen. Despite the incredible play over the last six weeks, it is entirely possible Thibodeau chooses to move on and hand the keys to the team over to Kris Dunn. It is also possible the last 19 games have been enough for Thibodeau to commit to the 26-year-old point guard who is still under contract through the 2018-19 season. It’s unclear if this has been a trend of what to expect from Rubio in the future, a complete mirage or if we can expect something in between. What is clear is something changed in Rubio’s game since the trade deadline, and it has been fun to watch.