Tonight was a huge test for this Timberwolves team. A week ago this squad went into Staples Center and almost defeated the Los Angeles Clippers, formally known as Lob City. This wasn't just a big test for this Wolves squad, but also for Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio as he faced off against Chris Paul for the second time this season. A test that was failed, both by the Wolves and Rubio, as Minnesota fell short after a late push in the 4th quarter led by Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer. Los Angeles handed Minnesota its second loss at Target Center this season with a final score of 102-98.
Through three quarters, Clippers star Chris Paul was held in check by Minnesota. He played to Minnesota's hand and let his supporting cast help him through it. But during crunch time, Paul showed why he should be in the MVP conversation this season. Halfway through the fourth quarter, Paul stepped up, as a star should, to help his team stop a late game run by Minnesota, by draining two three's as well as a jumper right in Rubio's face. Frustrated, he couldn't hang with Paul. He gave head coach Rick Adelman a helpless look as Chris Paul, seemingly effortlessly, put the game out of reach. Paul finished the game with 20 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, and four steals. When the time came for Ricky to step up and make a play, he was not confident in the jumper he worked all offseason on, and was unable to orchestrate a response on offense.
Now, i'm as big of a Ricky Rubio supporter there is. Like most, I was ecstatic when Kahn drafted him and always believed he would end up playing in the frigid Minnesota winters. I know the season is still very young and Rubio could find his shot, but it's time for him to live up to the max contract the team allegedly saved for him. Rubio's stat-line in the loss: five points, six assists and four steals, although he did a good job taking care of the ball with just one turnover.
Every player has bad stretches, even the great Michael Jordan went through them. But usually when you play the best player at your position, you step your game up. This didn't seem to happen with Rubio, who failed to fascilitate the offense for the team early on. Where are the dazzling Rubio passes and quality fascilitation he is known for?
Through 12 games this season Rubio is averaging eight points, nine assists and three steals.
And while it's very early to start talking about his next deal, as of now those are not numbers worthy of a maximum contract despite his elite defense. And while some scoring regression was likely given the addition of Kevin Martin, it is time to see some growth. Ricky needs to develop an offensive game in order to help this team stay in games when Martin and Love aren't getting quality looks. In order for Minnesota to get to the next level, given the lack of cap room and assets available to add other pieces, they need Ricky to make a leap. Look at the elite teams in the Western Conference: Clippers (Paul), Oklahoma City (Russell Westbrook), San Antonio (Tony Parker), Golden State (Curry). They all have an elite point guard running the show. Based on what we have seen thus far, Rubio has a very long way to go until he is in the same conversations as these other players.
Kevin Love and Martin are tearing it up to start the season. Nikola Pekovic is coming around, having another solid game tonight. Brewer adds energy to this squad, along with JJ Barea stepping it up of late. Chase Budinger is on the mend and Robbie Hummel has shown he can fill in. And while Rubio's flashy passes and electric defense is great, It's time for the offensive aggressiveness to come alive inside Ricky. You can say that Love is the anchor to this team, or even Martin. No, the way I see it, this is Rubio's team. He makes the offense run and flow. He is the motor that runs this squad.Time will tell, but at the end of the day, this Timberwolves team will go as far as Ricky Rubio will take them. Hopefully, Ricky can get back on track as Kevin Garnett comes back to the Twin Cities for a reunion against his former team on Friday.