Playmaker Rubio emerging as a scoring threat for Wolves

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 1, 2013 - 7:55 AM
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Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio's knee has recovered to the point that he can handle physical play, as he did Saturday night in his matchup with Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley at Target Center.

Photo: KYNDELL HARKNESS, Star Tribune

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Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio continues to show signs of being a significant scoring threat after struggling with his shot in the weeks following his return from knee surgery.

In Saturday night’s 99-86 loss to Memphis, Rubio went 6-for-12 from the field and hit one of his two three-point shots on the way to a career-high 23 points. He also had 10 rebounds, nine assists and a steal, coming one assist away from his second career triple-double.

Rubio has scored in double figures in seven consecutive games, averaging 15.1 points in that stretch.

Perhaps more importantly, he has been efficient doing so, shooting 43.8 percent from the field in that time, and has hit four of nine three-point shots.

“One thing he has to be able to do is hit the open threes,” coach Rick Adelman said. “He has to knock those down.’’

The midrange jump shot is important, too, particularly because of the way opponents are playing the Wolves on pick-and-roll plays. If Rubio can consistently hit the jumpers teams are giving him, it will free up teammates for more open shots.

That said, Saturday’s performance showed yet again how far Rubio has come since his return to action Dec. 15. He has not yet qualified for the official league leaderboards. But, among point guards, Rubio’s 2.3 steals per game would place him third, his 7.3 assists would place him ninth and his four rebounds would place him fifth.

“He has come a long way,” Adelman said. “I’d like to see him finish the season out where he continues to progress and continue on from there. He’s got his confidence back in his knee, and he’s getting back to doing the things he was doing last year.”

Sudden impact

Perhaps an indication of how quickly Chase Budinger has become an important part of the Wolves’ rotation was the way the offense struggled so much Saturday with him shooting poorly (1-for-6).

Adelman has said many times since Budinger’s return seven games ago how the threat of Budinger’s outside shot has helped the spacing of the Wolves offense when he’s on the floor.

“He really helps us,” Adelman said. “He spaces the court. People are aware of him. It’s just like when Kevin [Love] came back briefly. He didn’t shoot it very well, but they weren’t leaving him. Chase gives us that. He gives us good ball movement. He’s another guy you want to see finish the season on a positive note, get himself ready for next year.”

But Saturday, playing in his seventh game in 10 days after coming back from knee surgery, Budinger struggled. He failed to connect on either of his three-point attempts among his five misses.

His knee is still not 100 percent, but Budinger said it was soreness in other parts of his body that was hampering him, including his back and hamstrings.

“I’m only [seven] games in,” he said Saturday. “My hamstrings were on fire tonight. Every time I tried to do something it felt like I was going to pull one.”

Etc.

• Forward Dante Cunningham said his right hand — which he injured during Friday’s game against Oklahoma City — wasn’t a problem and didn’t affect his shot. Still, his 2-for-8 performance Saturday against Memphis marked the first time in seven games he hadn’t shot 40 percent or better.

• Adelman said midseason acquisitions Mickael Gelabale and Chris Johnson have shown enough that they are candidates to be on the team next season, especially if they work on their games during the offseason. “This summer will be big for them,” Adelman said. “We like them both.”

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