Many Minnesota Timberwolves fans, myself included, were full of hope for this season. After such a long layoff from Wolves basketball, how could we not be? We were going to get the opportunity to see Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell play together, Anthony Edwards was stealing our hearts, and of course, Minnesota’s prodigal son, Ricky Rubio, returned home. The tables were set for an exciting year of basketball, if not a competitive one.
Well, the fun is over. The Wolves are 3-9, KAT is hurt, and DLo isn’t “that guy,” Edwards doesn’t know how to play basketball yet, and Rubio looks one step from over the hill. Oh, and let’s not forget that COVID-19 is spreading through the NBA like crazy. KAT was diagnosed this weekend, and the Washington Wizards may never play again at the rate that they’re testing positive. The NBA needs to shut down and bubble up before someone gets seriously sick. If one player dies or loses their job because of the coronavirus, all this was not worth it.
Anyway, I’m not here to talk about COVID. I’m here to talk about Rubio. I’m not surprised that DLo can’t win on his own, and I’m certainly not surprised that Edwards is still figuring out the game, but I am shocked at how much Rubio has struggled this season. He celebrated his 30th birthday in October, so he should have a few good years left. If he’s washed already, then say so long to my pick-up career.
Rubio is putting up career-low numbers in points, assists, and rebounds — he happens to be playing a career-low 24.5 minutes a game, but there’s more to it than that. Rubio put up 13 points, 8.8 assists, and 4.7 rebounds while playing in 31 minutes a game last season. This year he’s averaging 6.3 points, 5.4 assists and 2.8 rebounds. That’s a big drop.
Part of the issue is that the offensive issues that plagued Rubio in his first stint with the Timberwolves have returned in his second go-round. He is shooting a miserable 38% from the field, which shockingly is not the worst shooting percentage of his career. From 2012-2016 he shot 36.8% on field goals. So I guess what I’m saying here is that the offensive struggles are not new. He has always struggled on that end of the floor. But why does it feel like he’s been particularly bad this season?
Rubio is pretty clearly not in shape. There was a moment during the preseason when he got a steal, lowered his head, and started sprinting down the court. The only problem is, he didn’t get any faster. I mean, he looked like he was speeding up — head down, big strides, dribble out in front of him — but he couldn’t get up to speed. Another moment during a game against the Denver Nuggets when he got the switch against Nikola Jokic. It’s every guard’s dream and something that the Nuggets work very hard to prevent. We all know that Nikola Slowkic can’t stay in front of NBA guards. Unfortunately for the Wolves, Rubio lacks the speed of an NBA guard right now and had to give up the ball because he couldn’t take advantage of the mismatch.
An out of shape Rubio is about as useful offensively as a mop bucket. He is shooting 23.8% from the 3-point line this season, so if he’s not quick enough to get around his defender and operate in the middle of the floor, then he doesn’t really have a place in the offense. He’s actually shooting a healthy 53.8% from floater range, and he’s just struggling to get there.
But I want to be sensitive to Rubio’s situation. This summer, he was diagnosed with COVID-19. He returned to play in the bubble with the Phoenix Suns, but there is no telling how the virus could still affect him. I don’t want to make assumptions about his health, but it would be wrong for me to ignore that. It’s also completely possible that after the bubble, he took some time for himself and neglected to keep himself in NBA shape. As a fan of basketball, that would be disappointing. As a fan of Rubio and an advocate for work-life balance, I would be happy for him.
Either way, until he plays his way into shape, it’s hard to take any hard stance on where his game is at. What I do know is that he and DLo have not meshed well this season. I know that his offensive woes don’t pair well with the Edwards and Jarrett Culver, who are shooting a combined 38% from the floor. I know that if this Wolves team has any hope of turning this season around, he has got to play better.
We won’t see Rubio play again until the miniseries against the Golden State Warriors next week due to health and safety protocols. Here’s hoping the NBA takes a hiatus before then for all its players and their families’ health and safety.