Rubio enriches backcourt options

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 17, 2012 - 6:07 AM

It's now up to coach Rick Adelman to interchange four healthy and productive Wolves guards effectively.

A day after Ricky Rubio's return, the memories from Saturday night were still strong:

• Coach Rick Adelman, asked about Rubio's flashy passing: "I told him, 'You don't have to do everything in the first game,' " Adelman joked. "But that's Ricky."

• Rubio, sitting in his locker room, surrounded by the media, asked if a great night could have gone any better: "Yeah," he said, smiling. "If I had made that shot."

OK, so Rubio's three-pointer in the waning moments of regulation didn't go in. But the Wolves went on to win their fourth consecutive game and sixth out of seven.

Much of that has come with key players hurt, including, most recently, Malcolm Lee and Josh Howard.

But the Wolves are inching back to health in a few key areas.

Kevin Love appears poised to come back from his bruised right thumb; Love was listed as probable Saturday before being scratched because of flu-like symptoms. And, with Rubio's return, Adelman now has a very productive group of four guards to mix and match in his rotation.

Luke Ridnour has scored in double figures in nine consecutive games, J.J. Barea in seven in a row and rookie Alexey Shved in seven of eight.

Over the past seven games, six of them Wolves victories, Ridnour has shot 50 percent, Barea 50.7, Shved 49.3. Over that stretch the three have combined to shoot 49.3 percent -- 44.1 percent on three pointers -- with 14.9 assists and 39 points per game.

And now Rubio add to that mix.

"There are so many possibilities," Barea said. "There are a lot of combinations that could work. And we have the right coach, too, to do it. I think he'll do a good job of rotating. If we all play good, it's going to be tough to beat us."

The trick will be finding the right combinations.

Ridnour (6-2) and Barea (6 feet) are smaller guards, even at their generously listed heights. The 6-4 Rubio and Shved (6-6) are bigger guards who, though not stocky, have proven sturdy enough to be capable of defending on the perimeter. Indeed, after Saturday's victory, Adelman went out of his way to talk about Shved's defense on Dallas guard O.J. Mayo.

"That's one thing that has impressed us the most is that he competes defensively," Adelman said. "He really listens to what the coaches say ... And Andrei [Kirilenko] talks to him in Russian. I don't know what he says, but I think it helps him. The kid has a lot of moxie about him."

All four are good ball handlers and passers. The question becomes, how do you play them all?

Much has been made of the potential of a Rubio-Shved backcourt, but on many nights playing Ridnour and Barea together will be problematic defensively.

That's why, with Rubio's minutes limited for the near future, it makes sense for Adelman to stick with Ridnour and Shved as starters, with Barea and Rubio coming off the bench.

But, as Rubio's minutes rise, it will be a challenge to get them all adequate playing time.

One answer could be a three-guard set, which could work against smaller lineups. Adelman used it extensively in the Wolves' 32-13 second quarter Saturday.

"The one thing we have with those guys is we can do what a lot of teams do," Adelman said. "You play pick-and-roll. And if the first pick-and-roll doesn't work you swing it to someone else, and you run another one. Eventually the other team's not going to be ready for that second one. And we can do it two, three times."

Ultimately, though, minutes will get harder to come by as Rubio ramps his game up. But the flip side to that is Adelman might be able to keep his guards healthy down the stretch of the season.

In a euphoric locker room after Saturday's victory, the Wolves seemed confident as they embark on a difficult stretch of the season.

"I think we're going to do big things with this team this year," Rubio said.

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