The Ricky Rubio Files

This is an exciting time for the Timberwolves organization. Whether or not that excitement will translate to a high percentag of wins sooner, later or ever, still up in the air.

Now that Kevin Love has been shipped out of town in exchang for Young and the youngsters, the Twolves roster looks vastly different. It’s so very unique to see a team trade a way their superstar only to see the over all level of excitement about the team, from both players and fans, rise.

Flip Saunders keeps showing what it means to be a leader as a coach and, from practice reports, has his team working very hard, and very practically, so far to start training camp.

No matter how well training camp goes, it is fair to say that this Twolves team will struggle to contend in the Western Conference. The conference is stacked. Absolutely loaded! And while I believe the Twolves have ammassed a satisfactory collection of NBA caliber basketball athletes, their lack of collective experience suggests difficulties.

But still, Flip has the Wolves practicing exicution on a daily basis, and the roster is shaped to be much better on the defensive end. There appears to be a very confident and talented team being built down in Mankato.

Bottom line: this is gunna be a fun season. It is a new era in Twolves hoops. A new begginning, and the franchize managed to not have to take the tanking train a la 76ers. It’s a team balanced with young talent and veterans (or as Ricky Rubio would say: “bets”) that finds themselves in a great place with high excitement and only moderate expectations.

One guy who will play a major role is this guy:

¡RICKY!

Ricky Rubio, now that Kevin Love has left is, basically, by default the new face of the Timberwolves franchise. What ever is said of the guy, I think most Wolves fans are happy to have him running the point for this team. I think it’s clear that the athleticism that the front office has brought to this year’s roster is very concruent with Ricky Rubio’s skills. Dunks After Dark certainly showed that off, with all of the lobs that were caught and finished. With Rubio at the point, we might start to think they play in the city of Dimeapolis, in the state of Lobsota.

But there’s one glaring question mark.

Ricky Rubio’s shooting leaves much to be desired.

That could be my understatement of the year.

Rubio’s shooting is terrible, actually it’s historically terrible. It’s like, kill your fantasy basketball team type terrible. His lack of efficiency from anywhere on the court really paralyzes his ability to be a top NBA PG.

During this summer’s FIBA World Cup, Rubio’s remained awful. Even after teaming up with shooting coach, and former Los Angeles Laker’s three-point splash artist, Mike Penberthy.

This article speaks of the sentiment surrounding Rubio’s showing at the FIBA WC.

You may have seen this article:

http://www.foxsports.com/north/story/aw-shoot-rubio-s-offense-lacking-during-world-cup-091114

The real problem is his lack of scoring, not his lack of offense. It’s foolish to say that Rubio is a bad offensive player, because, even while shooting a historically bad percentage, he still has the ability to make tons of plays. Ricky lead the FIBA WC in assists and didn’t even average twenty minutes per game. Ricky is a good offensive player, not because he make buckets, but because he makes it so much easier for others to make buckets.

Ricky’s lack of scoring efficiency makes the rate at wich he creats baskets for teammates even more phenominal because defenders are allowing him to shoot. Defenders drop back, the go under screens and give Rubio all the space in the world to shoot. This shrinks the possible passing lanes that Rubio has to work with, and makes it more difficult for him to drive lane. We hoped to see Rubio show in the FIBA WC, that his work with Pemberthy has helped. We wanted some sort of proof that he is making strides in the “Magic Johnson/Jason Kidd” direction, of point guards who dramatically improved their shooting a few years into their careers. Instead we watched Ricky struggle mightily, looking almost as shaky as ever, clanking jump-shots pretty much just like I did last monday night.

For this post, The Ricky Rubio Files, I’ve compiled a list of contributing factors that stack up against Ricky in his quest to become a better shooter and effective scorer. Things that, without world class determination and effort, could easily prove to be too big of problems for Rubio to ever reach the stardom that once seemed to be his destiny.

First thing’s first … the obvious.

#1: Shooting Mechanics

Ricky Rubio’s shooting mechanics are very robotic. Although players have developed effective shots with less than awesome shooting mechanics, Ricky just can’t seem to figure it out.

This youtube video (please take the time to watch) by Pro Shot Shooting System (or PSSS, as I will refer to them from now on) explains this reality: Ricky’s jump shot is really bad.

Kinda depressing, huh? … Yeah.

While many players jump-shots would look bad next to Damien Lillard’s, PSSS explains, very plainly, just how much is off with Rubio’s mechanics calling it, dramatically, the perfect storm. I think the most telling issues with this is what was said about Rubio is that he misses way too many shots to the side and that his release doesn’t launch the ball up, but flicks the ball out. This does not result in a friendly arch.

These mechanical issues are difficult to fix. At this point, I believe it would be counter intuitive for Rubio to try to totally revamp his shooting mechanics. But I sincerely hope that Ricky Rubio and Coach P. can find a way to become more consistent.

PSSS is right to say that Ricky Rubio needs a drastically improved jump shot as soon a physically possible. If Ricky can find a way to knock down elbow jump shots and open threes at a higher clip, he would instantly become way more valuable. Defenders would not have as much of an option to sit back and let him shoot, defending passing lanes and dribble penetration. Think how open the court would appear to Ricky Rubio, if defenders had to respect his shot instead of back off.

While poor shooting mechanics plays a major role there’s still more in play here.

#2: Injury

To follow mechanics on the top of my list of contributing factors, I thought it was logical to go with another physical explanation for some of Ricky Rubio’s current struggles shooting the ball.

It was such a bummer for the Twolves when Rubio awkwardly bumped into Kobe Bryant. The whole season changed when that ligament tore. A team that was surprisingly competitive lost the emotional leader who they might not even realized had been their leader, and couldn’t hold on to there hopes for a seventh or eighth seed in the playoffs.

But this was a bigger bummer for Ricky Rubio. He said in interviews that he’d really never went through an injury of that caliber before. Ricky worked very hard to rehab and get back for the next season, but there are always lingering effects of injury.

Take a look at this display of athleticism from young Ricky. If anyone watched Dunks After Dark, they can attest to the fact that Rubio doesn’t have that level of explosion any more. While I don’t believe Rubio dunked in a game as a rookie, I do remember him rising up to flush it down once against the Raptors, only to get fouled hard.

Anybody other than Adrian Peterson loses significant explosion for a while after they injure their knees and when it comes to shooting a basketball even the tiniest change in jumping ability can rock a players timing, consistency and confidence. I also recall Ricky spending a lot of time shooting set shots without jumping during his rehab. Which, while probably better than not shooting at all, could have complicated the development or the retention of consistent form on a jump shot by the time he finally healed.

Injuries have an extended psychological effect as well. Players who suffer an injury are far more likely to try to avoid contact after injury than they were before. They may become apprehensive about drawing contact. This also plays a role in Rubio’s lack of scoring.

Scoring doesn’t just come from jump-shots, but from layups and foul shots. It’s pretty obvious how the psychological effects of an injury can effect these methods of scoring. Lay-ups require a player to have confidence and consistency in their elevation, while attempting a lay ups and drawing fouls definitely lead to drawing contact.

In this lies part of the reason why Rubio misses more lay ups than he should. Rubio simply goes to fast, tries to avoid contact and, therefore, creates for himself a more difficult shot. Also, it’s clear Rubio is wary of contact, because he averaged only three and a half free-throw attempts per game. I think the assertion that Rubio is going to fast for his own good, and making his shots more difficult than he needs to, can play a part in his lack of FTAs too, because he appears out of control. If an offensive player appears out of control and draws any contact, it’s less likely the official calls a foul.

Hopefully, as Ricky has gained another year of health on his knee, he can become more confident and consistent with his ability to finish at the rim, and less apprehensive about drawing contact and getting tot he free throw line.

While poor shooting mechanics, physical injury and the psychological effects of injury certainly play their role, there are other basic, and critical factors in play.

#3 Mentality

Ricky Rubio is a pass first point guard.

Duh. Everybody knows that …

Ricky has said, many times: “Magic Johnson say a basket make one guy happy, an assist? two guys happy [insert smile].” To say the least, Ricky has made this is own personal motto.

But seriously, the fact that Ricky Rubio is a PASS FIRST POINT GUARD should be in massive, capital, and bold font, on the first page of “The Ricky Rubio Files”. Everything that he is as a basketball player is centered around that identity.

Rember PSSS? They said that Ricky has a two motion shot. Otherwise saying, that there is a pause in his jump shot.

Why is there a pause in Ricky’s jump shot?

Well … probably because anytime he’s starts to shoot he’s thinking: I wonder if anyone else on my team has a better look at the basket that I have right now. Now, this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I think that’s what I wish every player would think … but only to and extent, and Rubio takes it a bit too far.

I truly believe that, consciously or subconsciously, the “to shoot or not to shoot” internal debate is going on in Ricky’s head, nearly every time he goes up to shoot the ball. Because of this, he has developed slower shooting mechanics, and a pause in his form. It’s never good to be doing something, and doubting if you should be doing that something at the same time. That’s cognitive dissonance if I’ve ever heard of it … Cognitive dissonance that, for Ricky Rubio resonates far too much, and far to frequently, with the clang of a rim.

Not only that, but it has been said (I believe by Jim Peterson, or one of the other Twolves TV broadcast voices) that Ricky is “doing calculus” while other players are adding and subtracting.

This is to say, that Ricky is on a different plane of thought when he’s playing basketball. His instincts as a passer, ability to see the floor, ability to thread passes through defenders legs, ability to consistently placing the ball in perfect position for a catch-and-shoot, and his ridiculous ability to use spin to navigate a bounce pass around obstacles to it’s recipient, show just how much Rubio’s brain is working. So much of this is Ricky’s natural ability mixed with the natural progression of his development as a basketball player, therefore it has to have played a major role in how he develops other parts of his game. I’d say he has the same mentality when pick pocketing opponents of the ball, or leaping in to passing lanes. He is in calculation mode, doing stuff with consistency, at high speeds, that the grand majority of people couldn’t execute at a walking pace at their local YMCA.

It so happens that shooting is a different beast. The act of shooting a basketball is one of muscle memory. It is a process that is done, and NOT thought about. The best shooters are fluid and consistent, showing no hesitancy to let it fly. When Rubio lines up to shoot, it’s as if he’s determining how many newtons of force to put on the ball, while calculating the optimal backspin coefficient, as well formulating what shots ideal shot trajectory in micro-radians.

In short, I believe Ricky is so inclined to be a passer that he’s rarely ever ready to shoot, or he’s over thinking the process of shooting.

And unfortunately, this isn’t just your average case of “the yips”. This psychological situation has been marinading for a long time.

#4: Coaching

Having begun his professional career as a bright eyed and bushy tailed teenager, Ricky has always been the young phenom. this has played pivotal and poisonous role in Ricky’s development. In the lower level leagues in spain, Ricky could pass, steal practically at will simply because of his natural gifts. And once he got to Barcelona, he became an instant injection of energy.

Due to the European game only being 40 minutes long, even though he started most of the games he played for Barcelona, he didn’t log that much playing time in NBA standards. Ricky’s passing and aggressiveness on defense are incredible at any level of play, and in this role with both DK Joventut and FC Barcelona, Ricky could be greatly effective as a distributer, a crowd enthusiasm booster, and a long-armed quick footed defender.

But Ricky was never handed the keys to the offense in Barcelona, and it was nothing but effectiveness that allowed him to run the show when he was on the court with DK Joventut, where so many of his pre-draft Youtube highlights came from.

Think about this from a coaches perspective. There is the responsibility of building a team that can compete for Euroleague championships year in a year out. Was Ricky going to stick around to really help that cause? Would it practical for the coaches of DK Joventut or FC Barcelona to spend time developing Ricky Rubio’s jump-shot? I think it might be more practical for a European coach to focus on developing the players that most likely won’t ditch out four years of contract and go to the NBA. I think Rubio’s NBA destiny was only made more clear when he dazzled viewers at the Olympics, and became a Youtube sensation, by the name of “La Pistola” (which still is a great nickname).

Anyways, this has proved to be a major detriment to Ricky Rubio’s development. He was only expected to do what he was best at. Did he ever even get called upon to try to score? I don’t think he ever had to be. With FC Barcelona, Navarro was there to take the reigns of the offense when the team needed a bucket in the half court.

Even when he came to the Twolves, Rick Adelman would run his corner offense which uses multiple ball handlers and “Chris Webber/Vlade Divak/Kevin Love” high post sets, effectively taking the ball out of Rubio’s hands. Though the lock out made it practically impossible for Adelman to immediately install his offense which gave Rubio more freedom when he was on the court, but J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour also got significant minutes and did a lot of ball handling.

And finally, this season, we did see Rick Adelman’s corner offense go through Kevin Love in the high post removing the ball out of  Rubio’s hands.

There’s more to be said in this train of thought, but I think it is better put under it’s own heading.

#5 Expectations

Like I wrote in the coaching section above, for much of Rubio’s now surprisingly long basketball career, expectations on Ricky were the same. He was asked to do what he was good at doing: defend, pass, have fun, and entertain the crowd.

Now, (thanks to wikipedia) take a look at Ricky’s playing time in his professional career:

Picture 31

This shows how much Ricky has been thrown into the NBA fire. His rookie season was his first time that he ever played that big of a role on a team. It’s quite a jump going from 22.7 minutes per game playing in a offense where he did a lot of “Navarro-watching”, to logging ten more minutes per game, leading an NBA offense.

Rubio’s pre-injury rookie season, really made Minnesota basketball fans excited, and looking back, whether he knew it or not, Ricky was the leader of that team. He was making the team go. This raised the high expectations for Ricky.

Had Ricky ever thought of himself as a leader on a team? A step into his shoes suggests not.

Think about joining a professional basketball team as a fourteen year old, when most hoopers his age in the U.S.A. are thrilled to have made their JV squad or to be playing with their peers in the AAU circuits. Everywhere he went, he was … the kid. It’s not natural for a kid to take on a leadership role in a group of adults.

So, Rubio has effectively played a professional basketball a career, that can almost now be rounded up to one decade, playing the role of “young guy who does his thing”. All of that and he’s still only twenty three.

Take a look back at his career stats. Ricky’s never been a good shooter. It seems that here in Minnesota, is the first time in a long while that he’s been encouraged to try to score the basketball. Back seven years ago, Ricky seemed to be able to do that pretty well against his peers. Here’s a link to Ricky Rubio’s crazy triple double in U16 play for the spanish national team.

But now it’s a different story. Now, even Ricky’s agent is heaping on the pressure. If he is in anyway to be worthy of anything close to a max deal, Ricky needs to dramatically improve his efficiency and game impact. This expectation certainly holds its clout over the psychological side of Ricky’s “gettin’ buckets” block. It plays a role in much of what I’ve mentioned so far.

So what now?

I am very encouraged by everything I hear from Ricky Rubio. It sounds like he’s found a good frame of mind. If you haven’t already, take sometime to listen to Rubio’s interview that was aired on NBA TV during Dunks After Dark.

The truth is, Ricky Rubio needs to have fun and play the game. He has to be encouraged to shoot, and he has to take it upon himself to try to beat back the forces standing up against him and find away to become a formidable force scoring the basketball at the NBA level. While these forces are heavy, I believe that the Twolves are set to give Rubio all of the chance in the world to figure this out. Coach Mike Penberthy says it perfectly in this interview with the Pioneer Press.

Rubio doesn’t have to take many shots, he doesn’t have to turn into Stephen Curry. He simply has to find a way to capitalize when the defense leaves him open. If he can manage to do that, I have no doubts that he can this team full of young athletes to success. It has already been reported that Ricky Rubio has been very vocal in training camp. Good to see he’s making strides toward accepting his identity as the team leader he is.

This will be a very fun season. For me, it can’t come soon enough

MCB2 out!

About Michael C. Boosalis II

I'm a guy who loves Jesus, family, friends, encouraging Brothers & Sisters in Christ, prayer, worship, sports (Twolves, Twins, Vikings, Golf), poetry, piano, guitar & Opera. After graduating from Gustavus Adolphus College in 2012, I have been living in Minnepolis, exploring my interests in journalism, ministry, music performance, creative writing, teaching, and urban farming. Just about every day, I hope to spend some time into my two blogs,"tobeafruitfulbranch.blogspot.com," about life as a follower of Christ, and "A 612 Sports Persepctive," that compiles all my writing about sports (mostly Twolves, Vikings and Twins) as well as chip away on my plethora of ideas for short stories, and a novel I have been working on. I've been a Twolves fan ever since I can remember

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