After a recent practice on the road, when talking about Ricky Rubio’s recent play, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau used a visual aid.
“It has been like this,” he said, making an ascending sign with his hand. “It has been steady all year. The start of the year he got nicked up. That was slow. New system, him not being healthy. But each month he has been better and better.”
How often has Rubio, the Wolves’ pass-first, shooting-challenged point guard, been rumored to be out the door? Most recently, his name, more than any other on the Wolves roster, was bandied about in the rumor mill as the trade deadline neared.
Questions have come since the Wolves took Kris Dunn in the first round of last summer’s draft. Both here and around the league the debate has always been whether Rubio was enough of an offensive threat to play in a league dominated by scoring point guards.
Through it all, all Rubio has done is this: (imagine a hand, ascending).
It happened again in Wednesday’s convincing victory over a completely healthy Los Angeles Clippers team. Outplaying Clippers guard Chris Paul, Rubio helped get the Wolves off to a quick start with seven points, five assists and three rebounds as the Wolves built a 31-19 first-quarter lead.
He finished with 15 points, 12 assists and six rebounds, his 15th double-double of the season and his fourth in six games. This came on the heels of his fifth career triple-double in an OT loss Saturday in San Antonio.
Over his past 16 starts, Rubio is averaging 12.6 points and 10.2 assists. In the six games since the All-Star Game break, he has shot nearly 42 percent. Encouraged to shoot more by Thibodeau, Rubio’s emphasis in that area may be improving his accuracy to the point that his shot could become reliable enough to be effective late in games.
It appears to be steady, measurable progress in a season that started slowly thanks to an elbow injury.
“Yeah, I think so,” Rubio said. “When you go through so many coaches at one point, it was tough in the beginning. But I think I got better as the season goes on, and I feel pretty confident right now. In the NBA you have to adapt. I feel my best right now.”
In the wake of Zach LaVine’s injury, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins have settled into a two-man one-two punch. Rubio has worked very well with both players.
“They’re playing really, really good, and I make plays for them too,” Rubio said. “I think it’s back and forth.”
Said Thibodeau: “Guys have a better understanding of what’s going on, how teams try to defend us, where the holes are.” He added: “Ricky has great instincts. He has great vision. If you cut and you’re open, he’s going to get you the ball. He knows how to read a defense. Those things are all good.”
Good enough to be relatively permanent? Thibodeau, also the team’s president of basketball operations, will be the one making that decision. His immediate assessment is that Rubio is “playing at a very, very high level.”
Rubio wouldn’t debate that.
“I feel I can really control the tempo of the game,” he said. “That’s what I’m good at and what I try to do every night.”
Staff writer Jerry Zgoda contributed to this report.