Ricky Rubio is a charming kid and a pretty good NBA point guard. Let’s all wish him well in his future endeavors. There is a place for him in the Association, and as a Spaniard he will probably enjoy the warmer weather.
Rubio is one of those players who, in the modern era, divides observers along analytical lines. Those who rely on corneas and common sense think he’s a solid player marred by poor shooting. Those who rely on calculators think he’s an underappreciated, borderline star.
You couldn’t flip on a Wolves game last season without hearing a TV voice explaining why you had to be an idiot to not appreciate Rubio.
It will be interesting to see how the TV voices refer to Tom Thibodeau when he trades Rubio, maybe next summer. My guess is they will suddenly transition to telling us how you’d have to be an idiot to not appreciate the subtleties of Kris Dunn’s game.
After using the fifth pick in the draft on Dunn on Thursday night, Thibodeau said he can see Rubio and Dunn playing together. That’s what he had to say, for the sake of this year’s team and for Rubio’s trade value.
Dunn will need to learn the league. With Dunn and Rubio on the roster, and free agency still in play, Thibodeau has a chance to boost a 29-win team into the playoffs in his first season on the sideline.
That’s what Thibodeau noted Friday. When the line of questioning turned to Rubio’s happiness, Thibodeau said this:
“Here’s the thing: We won 29 games last year. You’ve got to change things. We’re looking for as many good players as we can find. If you’re a winner, you’re going to put the team first, and that’s all we care about.”
Thibodeau bracketed that pointed analysis with lots of praise for Rubio.
But the we won 29 games last year; let’s not pretend everything is great line is one I’ve heard from several members of the organization. And that mantra is being delivered by Thibodeau.
Dunn and Rubio can play together, but that can’t be the long-term plan. In the Wolves’ still-theoretical surge toward excellence, there is a new future lineup to dream about:
Point guard: Dunn. Shooting guard: Zach LaVine. Small forward: Andrew Wiggins. Post: Karl-Anthony Towns. Post: To be traded for or signed in free agency, maybe Joakim Noah. Maybe someone younger and healthier than Noah. And Noah, if healthy, would be an ideal player in that lineup.
Thibs’ selection of Dunn is rife with meaning. It means he doesn’t want to rely on a point guard who never seemed to be as good as he was projected to be, and who never seemed to elevate his team. Let’s face it: Rubio has lost a lot of games in a league where good players are supposed to alter the standings.
Last year, Rubio played alongside a historically good rookie in Towns, a rising star in Wiggins, productive role players in Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, the rapidly improving LaVine … and won 29 games.
Scott Layden kept talking Friday about the importance of players who make others better. He wasn’t criticizing Rubio — he has done nothing but praise Rubio — but if Rubio lived up to that standard, wouldn’t the Wolves have won more than 29 games?
If we’re going to wildly praise players who make their teams better, we should also note when a player doesn’t seem to have that effect on those around him.
Rubio never came back from a summer break with a dramatically improved shot or a more powerful body. He is still the same player he was when David Kahn drafted him — an intuitive, intelligent, competitive, incomplete point guard. And he is scheduled to be the NBA’s 14th-highest-paid guard in 2016-17.
This summer might not be the right time to trade Rubio. He could run a playoff team this season. But the time likely will come in the next calendar year to trade Rubio and insert Dunn into a remarkably athletic starting lineup.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. email@example.com