NEW ORLEANS – The name on the back of the jersey is the same, but Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio admits the guy inside it isn’t the one he was maybe just a week or two ago.
His team has lost three consecutive games and 10 of its first 14 for many reasons, only one of which is Rubio’s lack of offensive production as well as seemingly a lack of the joy with which he has always played.
A sixth-year NBA player, he has struggled with his shot throughout his career, a deficiency he has counterbalanced with his leadership, his defensive instincts and his spirit.
Rubio took two shots, didn’t make either and didn’t score a point in Wednesday’s odorous 117-96 loss at New Orleans. It was a blowout defeat in which rookie Kris Dunn played the entire fourth quarter with the game out of reach and scored the Wolves’ only six points from the point guard position.
In three games before that, Rubio shot 2-for-18 from the field.
Part of it may be that elbow Rubio sprained in the season’s second game and that might not yet be quite right.
“I don’t know,” he said. “At beginning of the season, I got hurt so quick and then I felt good for three, four games and now the last three games, I don’t feel like myself. I have to find myself.”
Part of it also may be a new coach, Tom Thibodeau, and a system in which Rubio must both adapt and lead.
“It’s another adjustment, but it’s not the first time I change coaches,” Rubio said. “I work with different coaches. Every coach has his own unique way to run the team, and I try to translate that on the court. It’s hard, but it’s like everything in the NBA. I’m thinking about having a feeling with the coach, with the new plays, knowing what he wants from each player. I’m trying to translate that to each player on the court.”
Coaching in a league dominated by scoring point guards, Thibodeau was asked Saturday if a team can win without a point guard who’s a threat to score at game’s end, just to keep the defense honest.
“Ricky, he has done some good things,” Thibodeau said. “When we’re playing with pace and we’re pushing and the ball’s swinging, he’s a big part of that. But people have to move when he penetrates. …There’s stuff that’s not only on him, it’s on our entire team.”
Trailing by 12 points in Saturday’s first quarter and leading by eight points midway through the second quarter, the Wolves were outscored 15-4 to end the first half and 36-18 in a third quarter that vexed them again.
Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis scored 45 points — his fourth 40-point game this season — and had 21 of them in the first quarter alone and 39 through three quarters, scoring as he pleased it seemed.
Rubio was not alone with his offensive woes: Andrew Wiggins made one of his first 12 shots and made just two of 19 field-goal attempts all night Saturday. That makes Wiggins 9-for-48 in his past three games and 0-for-11 on three-point shots in that time after he led the NBA in three-point percentage not that long ago.
“The thing is, you need everyone to score,” Thibodeau said. “As long as we’re taking the right shots; we don’t have to settle for tough shots. … Right now, our team’s not playing well. I don’t think it’s one particular guy. We have to get our team straightened out, and we have to understand we can’t make it up. There has to be discipline to this.”
Thibodeau has lamented his team’s lack of toughness in every form more than once this season and did so again after Saturday’s game.
Rubio doesn’t disagree.
“I think everybody’s got to look at the mirror and see if they’re bringing everything in the game,” Rubio said. “Talking personally, I’m not doing it and I have to do it more. I have to be more aggressive. I have to find myself again and lead this team like I’m supposed to.”