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Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio, center, of Spain drives between Los Angeles Clippers guards Chris Paul (3) and Darren Collison, right, in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles on Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013. Clippers won the game 120-116 in overtime.

Alex Gallardo, Associated Press - Ap

Souhan: Add Rubio to the list of Wolves draft mistakes

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • January 10, 2014 - 11:42 PM

The Timberwolves canceled their practice Thursday, allowing them to avoid answering questions such as ‘‘Why do you hate each other?’’ ‘‘Why do you misplace your fine motor skills in the fourth quarter?’’ and, in an existential query that gets to the heart of franchise history, ‘‘Why?’’

Wednesday night, Kevin Love ripped a couple of teammates after the Wolves choked away another winnable game, hinting that there are rifts in the locker room. It was the latest sign that the Wolves might be doomed to another in a long line of Wolves-like seasons.

It’s all very melodramatic, but Love’s unwillingness to bring J.J. Barea’s favorite scones to morning shootarounds isn’t what ails this team.

The Timberwolves’ problem, as always, is that they don’t have enough good players because of bad drafts and that nagging perpetual franchise curse.

By now the Wolves expected to have two fully developed stars, in Love and point guard Ricky Rubio.

Instead, they have one star and one major disappointment.

Rubio is killing the Timberwolves. They’re 0-10 in games decided by four points or fewer. Magic Johnson called the last few minutes of close games ‘‘winnin’ time.’’ For Rubio, it’s just as likely to be ‘‘sittin’ time,’’ because Rick Adelman has felt compelled to often bench the player that former Wolves GM David Kahn thought was more valuable than Love.

Love had a bad night Wednesday, but he has made himself a legitimate star by augmenting his game every offseason. One year he lost weight. One year he added a three-point shot. Through diligence, he has developed a baby hook, spin moves, low-post footwork and the strength to finish at the rim, one of his greatest weaknesses as a young player.

While Love has dedicated himself to his craft, Rubio has regressed. He remains a deft passer and a willing defender. He’s charismatic and unselfish. But just when he should be showing off a polished jumper that would make him and the Wolves’ offense dangerous, he’s launching flat shots that would get him laughed out of most YMCAs.

Because these are the Wolves, Rubio is not just disappointing, he’s endemic. He is another player the Wolves drafted at the wrong time for the wrong reason. He’s a bad decision who led to more bad decisions.

Remember, Rubio was supposed to be the lone salvation of Kahn’s first draft, when he passed over Steph Curry to take Jonny Flynn in 2009.

Because Kahn took Rubio, he traded Ty Lawson. Because the Wolves invested faith in Rubio, they traded down in the 2013 draft and took forward Shabazz Muhammad instead of selecting a promising guard such as Trey Burke, C.J. McCollum or Michael Carter-Williams. (Officially, they selected Burke and traded him to Utah, although they drafted Burke for the Jazz.)

This team would be better with Curry and Lawson. Or Curry and Burke. Or Burke and Lawson. Or Sam Cassell and Terrell Brandon on mobility scooters.

Playing in an offense that benefits anyone who can make an open shot, Rubio is averaging a career-low 8.8 points on a career-low 34.7 shooting percentage.

His inability to make open shots allows defenses to cut under screens and shade toward other shooters, gumming up the offense. For the Wolves to thrive in the fourth quarter, they need Rubio and Love to play two-man pick-and-roll games. Those games don’t work when the defense doesn’t respect the point guard’s shot.

Love can’t create his own shot, and Rubio can’t make one.

Some of the Wolves’ problems could evaporate. Locker room disagreements occur on good and bad teams. The return of Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf from injuries should dramatically improve the bench. Strip away current events, and the Wolves have an excellent coach, a productive star in his prime and a softening schedule.

Rubio is the key. If he becomes an offensive threat, the Wolves could make the playoffs. What’s sad is that he didn’t spend last summer improving his shot, leaving his franchise uncertain it can rely on someone who was supposed to become a franchise player.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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