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Continued: Hartman: Games of Rubio, Love wow Saunders

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 13, 2012 - 6:56 AM

Flip Saunders, who has had a chance to watch the Timberwolves on television since he was replaced as head coach of the Washington Wizards in late January, believes Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio, who didn't put up big statistics while playing in Spain, is far better suited for the NBA.

"In Europe, the game is much slower," Saunders said. "The game is much more physical as far as they let players hit you more, ride you more.

"So because Ricky is a little bit slight right now because he's still young and still maturing, over here we have rules where you really can't touch some people so [the style of play is] really is made more for him as far as the quickness of the game and the speed of the game. And Rick Adelman has done a great job with him, [and assistant coach] Terry Porter, as far as working with him."

Rubio has been nothing short of sensational in his rookie season. Saunders said he believes Rubio's shot has improved from when he was in Spain.

"It still has a lot of [room] for improvement," Saunders said, "but the thing he can do, has always been able to do, is really see the floor, the open floor in the transition-type game. Players like playing with him because they knew if they get open that he's going to get them the ball.

"[Rubio has] got a good future. He is what he is. I think he's got great vision. He's going to get better because he's going to get a little stronger. Whether he becomes a dominant player is going to [depend on] how much his shooting improves. But he ... makes plays for others and makes people better. And defensively he has long arms, so he gets his hands on a lot of balls, gets a lot of steals."

Really high on Love

And when asked about All-Star Kevin Love, who is posting fantastic statistics in all phases of the game, Saunders said: "I think if you talk to most people and you're going to pick a power forward, he's the most complete power forward right now as far as his ability to do everything. He probably is the most unique player that's been in the league in a long time. I think it ended up being a great pick.

"Very rarely do you see a player like him that has the ability to rebound as he does, but has also now expanded his game to be able to shoot the three as he does on the perimeter.

"There's certain guys that have played in this league, whether it's Dennis Rodman or way back [to] guys like Paul Silas and people like that, that just have a knack for rebounding the ball. Love is just one of those guys that has a knack. He's a really unique player. You have to give the guy credit. He's a guy who had a very solid year last year, went into the offseason and lost weight and transformed his game even more with losing weight and becoming even quicker."

Saunders said Love has become a much better player than he thought he would be when he was drafted.

"When he came out, I thought he had a chance to be a player that was going to play in this league a long time and be a double-double guy. But I thought more like 15 [points] and 10 [rebounds] as opposed to getting 27 and 15 every night. He's surprised a lot of people and done a great job."

Saunders believes the Wolves have a great future, but the Western Conference remains daunting.

"The big difference is they still have a lot of teams they have to jump over," he said. "They're much improved, but they have a solid 10, 11 teams that are all very good teams.

"It's very bunched up as far as the league right now. I like the future of the Wolves, they have a great future. They have in Love a great big man that's going to be there for a long time. With Rubio they have a guard that's going to be there. They have some other good young talent to go with them.

"The big thing with them [determining] how far they go in the future will be the development of [rookie Derrick] Williams. Does he develop into a solid small forward? Right now he's more comfortable playing power forward, but your best player is a power forward. The development of him at small forward is going to be key for them."

Saunders also has great respect for Adelman.

"Rick has always been a great coach," he said. "He's out there and very level-headed. He teaches the guys how to play, lets them play. He's always had a lot of veteran teams. So he's done a very good job with a young team. He knows how to take the players and maximize their strengths.

"He's done that with Love, he's done that with Rubio, and at times when [Michael] Beasley hasn't been hurt, he's gotten some good production from Beasley and even [Darko] Milicic, when Milicic hasn't been hurt. So like I said, Rick has been a great coach, a great individual, a great person, and I'm sure he's fitting in great in the community up there."

Jottings

• If the Vikings are looking for a team to trade with during the draft, the Patriots -- who own two first-round (27th and 31st overall) and two second-round picks (48th and 63rd) -- might be a candidate.

• After former Wild head coach Todd Richards led Columbus to two victories over the Wild in the past week, his record stands at 5-9-1 since taking over as interim coach Jan. 10, including going 3-2 in his past five. Meanwhile, Wild coach Mike Yeo and the local squad have posted a 4-7-2 record since that date and have lost four in a row. Yeo's record through 55 games with the Wild is 25-22-8; in Richards' first year with the club in 2009-10, he posted a similar record (27-24-4) through 55 games.

• Hassan Mead, the great Gophers men's distance runner who is healthy again after missing a lot of action because of injuries, qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championship in the 5,000 meters with a time of 13 minutes, 33.42 seconds while running in Seattle with the Gophers track team. Mead's time is the fastest in the country so far this year.

• According to Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, Francisco Liriano finished up well at the end of his stint pitching in the Dominican Winter League, pitching five shutout innings with four walks and five strikeouts in the Dominican Republic's 2-0 victory over Mexico in the Caribbean Series last week. "He did walk too many, but more often than not, we're interested in making sure that they get the work in," said Ryan about the lefthanded pitcher who had an ERA of 5.49 this winter. "He might have been working on that fastball command. That's exactly what he should have been working on down there. You know you can try to strike people out in the Dominican Winter League and he would do that with that slider, but he needs fastball command more than anything."

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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