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Rubio will never be Paul. Not many point guards can dish the ball, control the tempo and create their own shots when they need to quite like Paul. Even though Rubio has shot better from three-point range so far this season (9 for 21, better than 40 percent), there is still an uneasy feeling every time he takes a jumper. You could sense it last night as he lined up a big three ... and airballed it.
What we're starting to worry about just a little is this: in free-flowing games, Rubio is great. He can dish, he can get to the basket and do all the wonderful things he does. Even in tight games, he still has good patience and vision while also being active on defense ... but his value diminishes because he simply can't create his own shot in the way Paul and other point guards can.
In Wolves victories this season, Rubio is averaging a double-double (10.3 points, 10.3 assists). In losses, however, he is averaging just 5.2 points and 7 assists.
Five of the Wolves' six losses have been by four points or fewer. Four of the Wolves' seven wins have been by 18 points or more.
Maybe they'll find a way to win more of those close ones against decent-to-good teams as the season goes along. Or perhaps the nature of this team, and its point guard, is a lot of blowout wins and close losses.
Last week, we posted an assessment of which team had the better chance of making the playoffs -- the Timberwolves or the Wild. In reality, both have good shots of making it this season. That said, in that post we also outlined a few big unknowns as the season moves along. The key ones for each team:
Wolves: Will they be able to keep up the defensive intensity.
Wild: Can Josh Harding keep up his pace? Will there be too many stretches where they don't bury chances?
Last night was just one night, but it was the kind of night where both teams had those questions exposed as potential flaws.
The Wolves got sloppy in the second half and gave up way too many easy baskets to Washington in a 104-100 loss -- a game they led by 16 and should have won.
The Wild was blown out in Montreal as Harding tried gamely to keep them in it but was eventually pulled. Darcy Kuemper gave up three goals in relief in a 6-2 loss, underscoring the team's precarious goaltending depth right now. It should also be noted that the Wild has scored just 12 goals in its past six games, a poor output even though it had been 4-0-1 in its previous five before Tuesday.
In the case of both the Wolves and Wild, it was just one night. But it was one night when both on TV and clearly struggling with issues that very well could determine the relative success of their seasons.
The Wolves and then-new boss David Kahn dealt Randy Foye and Mike Miller to the Wizards, then coached by Flip Saunders, for the No. 5 pick in the draft.
Shortly thereafter, the Wolves converted that pick into Ricky Rubio. It probably remained the highlight of the Kahn era until he was relieved of his duties four years later.
Saunders and the Wizards thought Foye and Miller would be nice veteran pieces on a potential playoff team. Instead, Gilbert Arenas started playing with guns and the whole season went downhill. The Wizards won just 26 games; Foye and Miller made minimal impacts and were both gone after just one season in Washington.
Rubio, of course, is now the Wolves' starting point guard -- hoping to help Saunders, now the Wolves GM, and the rest of the organization make it back to the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
Please remember all this as you watch tonight.
Corey Brewer, almost every game, will look better to the naked eye than he does on the stat sheet. There are notable exceptions, including his most recent effort -- a 27-point outburst against the Cavs in which he was both efficient and red-hot from three-point range (5-for-5).
But typically, Brewer’s contributions are better appreciated with the eye test. He’s always been that way. The differences now – in his second go-round with the Timberwolves – are varied. How much has he improved vs. how much have the Wolves flat-out gotten better since he left in the middle of the lost 2010-11 season? Well, that’s an interesting question. We’ll attempt to answer it, and as usual the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
*First off, there is no doubt the Wolves are better. He was drafted in Brewer’s final two years, the Kurt Rambis years, the Wolves won 32 games combined. The top six guys in minutes during Brewer’s rookie season with the Wolves, 2007-08, were Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Marko Jaric, Rashad McCants, Sebastian Telfair and Brewer. The typical starting lineup in that final season, 10-11, was Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic, Luke Ridnour and Wes Johnson, with Brewer playing heavy minutes off the bench. You get the picture. This year’s team is so much better it’s not even funny.
*Also, Brewer came in with unfair expectations. He was drafted as a shooting guard/small forward, and his rookie season was the first year post-KG. But he was never going to be a typical shooting guard in that, well, his forte is not shooting. So when he didn’t score as much as a top-10 pick might be expected to score, all his other talents looked diminished.
*That said, Brewer has definitely become a better player. As he told us on Wednesday, he probably needed to leave Minnesota in order to find his niche and learn better “how to play.” What he meant by that is finding his niche, which meant channeling his hustle and defensive energy into more efficient outlets and at least becoming someone teams had to guard from the three-point line. The funny thing is, his best season percentage-wise from three-point range (with at least 100 attempts) was 2009-10 with the Wolves, when he was near 35 percent. That’s about where he is this season, too. But his PER has steadily gone up to the point where it now approaches what is considered the league average of 15. He’s figured out the fine line between playing with energy and playing out of control. And he doesn’t have to do too much on this team because all the pieces fit together so nicely. Brewer is shooting 50 percent from the field, including an absurd 56.3 percent on 2-pointers. Much of that has to do with layups on the break – many triggered by Love’s outlet passes.
Where does that leave us? Well, pretty much where we thought it would. Brewer has become more efficient, and if he can make 30-35 percent of his three-pointers while playing good defense, he has value. He’s also pretty much the perfect fit on this year’s Wolves – as opposed to being pretty much the worst possible fit his first time around.
Note: Brewer in the above video (you can see it if you are viewing the individual post) said he is improving at golf and might want a rematch from what happened five years ago.
The Wolves and Nuggets are on ESPN tonight (7 p.m. local time), and as such the folks at the Worldwide Leader have put together a rather amusing promo involving Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio that they were nice enough to share with us in advance of its TV premiere.
The premise is pretty fantastic: Love is driving along in an RV with NBA commentator Mike Breen when he starts seeing a series of billboards featuring his likeness in a seductive pose along with a phone number to call -- 1-855-NEED-LOVE (yeah, that's one too many numbers, but whatever).
You can imagine what happens next.
He fixes the cable?
No, just watch: