His improvement as a scorer has been well-documented. Ricky Rubio is shooting more, shooting better. But perhaps lost in that improvement is his free-throw shooting. Always strong from the line, Rubio took it to a new level in March.
He ranks 10th in the NBA in free-throw percentage (88.6), but in 14 games in March he made 65 of 70 free throws (92.9 percent). He had a streak of 43 consecutive makes end in Thursday’s victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, and he has made 48 consecutive technical free throws.
“I’ve been around players like that,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Ray Allen [a career 89.4 percent free throw shooter] was like that. Karl-[Anthony Towns], for a big, is terrific. The other night, what we saw in Indiana, late in the game, with the game on the line, to have the ability make three? That’s not an easy thing to do.”
Rubio was 11-for-11 at the line Tuesday, including three with three seconds left to give the Wolves a 115-114 victory over the Pacers. He went 9-for-10 on free throws in Saturday’s 123-117 loss to Sacramento.
“You practice, you work hard at it,” Rubio said. “And then you just let your mind be free, and just remember what you have done in practice. Focus. Sometimes you miss free throws because you’re tired and you don’t focus enough in the technique.”
Rubio’s more aggressive play has resulted in more trips to the line; in March he averaged 5.0 attempts, well above his career average of 3.9.
And he’s making more than ever, including some very clutch attempts, like the ones in Indiana. “When that happened, you don’t think that you have to hit three free throws,” he said. “You have to think one by one.”
At first glance, Saturday night’s game at Target Center looks like a matchup of two teams in a similar place. Both the Wolves and Kings were out of the playoff picture; they entered 12th and 13th, respectively, in the Western Conference.
But, according to someone who should know, the two franchises are far, far apart.
Omri Casspi has played for both this season. He began the season with Sacramento, the team that drafted him in the first round in 2009. He played two seasons there, had stops in Cleveland and Houston before re-signing with the Kings in 2014.
He was part of the deal that sent DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans Feb. 20. After injuring his thumb in his first game with the Pelicans, he was waived Feb. 25. He signed with the Wolves on March 20.
Casspi sees two teams going very different directions. “It is not similar at all,” he said. “The Timberwolves are well ahead in their rebuilding. They’re putting the right pieces in the right places. This team, whether I’m here or not next year, should win 50-plus games. Sacramento, now is starting to rebuild. It will take time.”
• Casspi is not the only one who expects big things from the Wolves going forward. Here’s what Kings coach and Minnesota native Dave Joerger had to say: “They will be in the playoffs. I don’t know how they can’t make the playoffs next year. They will be in. I’m impressed with the way they play. It’s been fun to watch the process. Flip [Saunders] got the thing going in the right direction.”
• Zach LaVine was given the Flip Saunders Legacy Award in a pregame ceremony. It’s presented to a player who has demonstrated excellence in community service and is voted on by Wolves players.