The Chicago Bulls went to their third option at starting shooting guard on Sunday night at Target Center after Marco Belinelli joined Rip Hamilton on the injured list, and still 6-7 Jimmy Butler delivered a 43-minute, 20-point, 9-rebound performance that once again illustrated the challenges Timberwolves guard Luke Ridnour faces nightly.
Point-guard sized, Ridnour isn’t really a shooting guard, but he plays one on TV for a Wolves team that lacks both size and strength in the backcourt.
He has been asked to play that position for most of the past two seasons because coach Rick Adelman needs a second ballhandler beside Ricky Rubio and because his experience and determination makes him, in Adelman’s estimation, the best defensive option there.
“He has just been incredible,” Adelman said. “We just don’t have any size there. He just battles every night. It has got to be wearing on him. It’s amazing he has been able to play every game and just keeps going out every night.”
One night he might face Indiana’s 6-10 Paul George, a power forward in height and a guard in his skills.
The next, he could be up against Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson, a 6-7 shooting guard who likely comes in at more than his 240-pound listed weight.
“He has been a true warrior,” Wolves assistant coach Terry Porter said. “We’ve asked a lot of him, and he has sacrificed a lot. We appreciate and understand those sacrifices he makes every night. He battles and scratches and claws to the best of his ability.”
The Wolves list Ridnour at 6-2 and 173 pounds.
“It’s a challenge obviously, but I don’t even think about it, to tell you the truth,” Ridnour said. “We’ve been doing it, this is the second year now. I just try and make them work as hard as I can. Sometimes you can’t do much. Just get a hand up and make it as hard on them on as you can, try to body them, try to use by hands and quickness to get deflections, tap the ball away when you can.
“Really just play hard, that’s about all you can do.”
He started the season as the team’s starting point guard while Ricky Rubio recovered from knee surgery, but he has played shooting guard exclusively since Rubio returned in mid-December.
“He never complains; I like that,” teammate Andrei Kirilenko said. “He doesn’t really care. With his ability, his experience, he can really guard anybody. I think he’s a little bit underrated. Everybody thinks he’s small, but he can really hold his ground. It’s very unique for a guy his height being able to guard a guy a head taller than him.”
Adelman suggests the defensive demands affect the rest of Ridnour’s game, “offensively especially.”
It’s a claim Ridnour said he doesn’t believe is true. At age 32, he also said he doesn’t believe those demands will wear down his body and shorten his career.
“Whoever I guard, either way I’m going to compete,” he said, “so it doesn’t matter.”
Adelman knows, though, that the Wolves must find a traditionally sized shooting guard if they intend to not only make the playoffs but seriously contend in the West.
“We do because [otherwise] you always have to adjust your game plan to help out,” Adelman said. “He knows what to do in everything, but he doesn’t have the size.”
Ridnour doesn’t seem to agree with that either.
“You say what you want,” he said. “It’s not my call what happens. I’m just trying to play and make the most of it.”