When the Timberwolves traded for Ricky Rubio, they envisioned him and D'Angelo Russell being able to pair seamlessly in the backcourt. The talk coming out of training camp was positive on all fronts — and then the games started, and the combination wasn't exactly fruitful.
That was a reality President Gersson Rosas acknowledged when discussing the state of the team after the Wolves didn't make any moves at the trade deadline Thursday.
"Early on, unfortunately, and you guys are tuned in, the returns weren't good …" Rosas said. "It wasn't good offensively. It wasn't good defensively. We like having multiple ballhandlers on the floor at all times. There might be some experimentation with that. But the key factors have to be that we have enough defense on the floor to get stops because those two ballhandlers have to create transition opportunities."
For over a month, Russell has been recovering from arthroscopic surgery in his left knee and that has acted as sort of a palette cleanser at the point guard position. Rubio has handled starting duties and played significant minutes. But as Russell nears a return, the same problem that existed earlier in the season could return. The Wolves are hopeful coach Chris Finch can help iron out any issues.
"To be fair to Ricky and to D-Lo, it took a little bit of time to get their rhythm together," Rosas said. "Now that they're at a better place, once D-Lo gets back, I think we'll look at it because we're in the season where we've got to figure out what we have, what works and what doesn't work, in order to move forward. So we'll look at it. But a lot of early returns were bad."
For instance, Rubio shot just 36% overall and 21% from three-point range over his first 25 games. With the Wolves having one of the NBA's worst defenses in terms of efficiency, those transition opportunities Rosas spoke of never really presented themselves.
Finch said he would have no issues trying to juggle a two-guard lineup.
"I'm a big fan of it," Finch said. "Right now the game is trending toward ball skill, penetration, passing and things that really can attack a lot of switching or different defensive looks that we see right now. The game is played with a lot of freedom and a lot of fluidity. One of the ways that defenses are countering that is more switching. So you need guys that can get through gaps and create shots."
Jordan McLaughlin was back on the floor for the first time in the second half of the season after he cleared COVID protocols. McLaughlin was active for Wednesday's game but did not play.
"It's been tough," McLaughlin said. "Just sticking with it, trying to stay mentally locked in and physically getting my body back to where it needs to be to go back out there and perform."
McLaughlin said he and the team tried their best to keep him informed as they installed new plays under Finch coming out of the break.
"They sent me some film clips ..." McLaughlin said. "They told me some of the adjustments that we were making on the defensive end and things like that. Just getting the clips and watching them on there."
Guard Josh Okogie remained out because of the COVID protocols after he was a late scratch Wednesday because of potential virus exposure.