Hartman: Seeing is believing: Rubio can truly play

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 30, 2012 - 6:42 AM

I had my doubts about Wolves boss David Kahn's decision to draft the Spanish point guard. I don't anymore.

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Ricky Rubio drove to the basket around the defense of the Spurs' Danny Green during the Wolves' 87-79 victory Friday night.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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This column is written as an apology to Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn for what I thought, wrote and said on the radio that it was a terrible decision to draft Ricky Rubio. And to Rubio, too, for being wrong about his ability to play in the NBA.

And there's more reason to apologize after Sunday night to Mr. Rubio, after the man from Spain sparked the Wolves to a 19-6 run that almost overtook the Lakers in a 106-101 loss.

As I followed Rubio's career in Spain from afar and listened to some of my friends who I regarded as knowing something about basketball, I had reasons for my theory.

Check Rubio's statistics with Barcelona last year. The Wolves' 2009 first-round draft choice averaged 4.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 42 games. In addition, Rubio shot only 32 percent from the field and 25.9 percent from three-point range, scored a high of 15 points and handed out at least five assists on 15 occasions.

Well, apparently there were reasons why Rubio's stats are so much better this year than they were in Barcelona, one being he never had the chance to play as many minutes as he has with the Wolves this season.

Rubio played six seasons in Liga ACB, the top Spanish pro basketball league. He averaged 21.1 minutes per game over two seasons with Barcelona; this year he's averaging 34.2 minutes per game with the Wolves. The extra minutes, and the freedom the Wolves are giving him to create offensively, are helping him become one of the best all-around guards in the NBA.

Rubio is averaging 11.1 points, 8.8 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. Rubio and Clippers star Chris Paul are the only players in the NBA with averages that high in all four of those categories.

He's shooting 37.7 percent on two-point field goals and 33.3 percent on threes and 80.8 percent on free throws. He also has eight points/assists double-doubles this season, second in the league behind New Jersey's Deron Williams. The Wolves are 6-4 in the games he has started.

Worked hard

"The first time that I came here, you were [putting down] my numbers and I worked hard this summer to not disappoint you," Rubio said following the Timberwolves' 87-79 victory over the Spurs on Friday. "I worked this summer to improve my jump shot because I knew that if I didn't practice, it would be hard playing here.

"I never had like more than a two-month break just for myself since I was 17."

While Rubio said he didn't score like he has the ability to do in the previous six games [he scored 18 Friday], he said: "I knew that I could do it, because I work hard, like I said, and my confidence is high. Sometimes your shots, you're going to miss a lot, but you have to keep shooting because if not, that's going to affect you. It's going to affect your team and you can't help in any way if you don't take the shot.

"Even in the last six games [before the Spurs game] I missed a lot of shots, they said that I have to keep shooting. Like I did against the Clippers, I was 0-for-10 and they were saying, 'Keep shooting, keep shooting, don't worry.' That was my teammates and the staff, they were saying that. That gives you the confidence to shoot the shot."

Yes, again I have to take back all of the criticism of Kahn and Rubio because he is not just a good player, he has the potential to be one of the best guards to play in the NBA.

Experience helps

After the Gophers' 77-72 overtime victory against Illinois on Saturday, basketball coach Tubby Smith said his players have really worked hard this year. "They're certainly deserving of getting a break and having an opportunity to win a game like that against a quality team like Illinois," Smith said. "It was special. You know we got a lot of work to do, but we're impressed with our poise."

The young Gophers didn't panic at the end of the game and came back from a seven-point deficit to tie the score with four seconds left in regulation.

"When you think about it, Ralph Sampson III is a senior, Rodney [Williams] is a junior, we have two junior college players [Julian Welch and Andre Ingram] but they're new to the Big Ten and to our program," Smith said. "But I like the way Austin Hollins, Andre Hollins, Chip Armelin, Maverick Ahanmisi, Oto Osenieks, Elliot Eliason, [most of] those kids are in the program last year and didn't play a lot or redshirted, they've stepped up a lot and that's been the key to our success.

"We have folded at times, but again it goes back to just the experience of playing in these types of games."

The Gophers are 16-6, and with a favorable schedule there's a good chance of getting the 20 victories a team normally needs to qualify for the NCAA tournament. And they already have played a tough schedule, which helps.

Jottings

• All 54 suites at Target Field are sold out now that the one previously owned by former Twin Jim Thome was purchased. Most of the suites were sold on leases of four, seven and 10 years. The Twins already have sold 2.2 million tickets before single-game tickets go on sale Feb 25.

• For the first time, the Gophers athletic department will get about $200,000 of the $300,000 in parking revenue earned annually from Gophers sporting events. This was a move by the new administration, which has believed the athletic department deserved this income for a long time.

• Twins pitcher Carl Pavano, in response to the critics who have the Twins not being a contender for the American League Central title: "I think we all can compete for the division title. [The Tigers] won the division title last year, I'm sure their eyes are on trying to get it again. It's our job to hopefully derail them and play better baseball."

• All the Twins coaches will return with one-year contracts. Manager Ron Gardenhire is signed for two more seasons.

• Quarterback Moses Alipate, who was recruited as a quarterback by the Gophers and listed at that position for the past two years, will be moved to tight end this spring. Alipate has lost 20 pounds and now weighs 250, and he has promised the coaches he will lose another 10 pounds by the start of spring practice. His brother, Marcus, is averaging 4.5 points and 10.8 minutes for the St. Thomas basketball team. Another brother, Mikias, who attends Holy Angels, is being recruited by some schools as a football linebacker.

• Rafa Casal and Jesus Sanchez, reporters from NBA.com/espano/Spain, are here covering Rubio.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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