Rubio keys: Move the ball, improve the D

December, 15, 2012
12/15/12
2:18
PM ET
By Deontay Morris, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Dazzling point guard Ricky Rubio has been cleared to play and is expected to play Saturday against the Dallas Mavericks for the first time since suffering a torn ACL late last season.

Last season, Minnesota was 21-20 before Rubio was injured, and it finished the season losing 20 of its final 25 games after he left the lineup.

In case you need a refresher, let’s remind you of his value to the Timberwolves and look ahead to where he can improve his game.

Looking back to 2011-12
You probably recall that the key aspect Rubio brings to the Timberwolves is his tremendous court vision and passing.

The main replacement for Rubio, Luke Ridnour, has played admirably this year – but hasn’t had quite the same impact as Rubio on defense or as a playmaker.

Ridnour has reached double-digit assists once in the first 20 games this season; Rubio did it nine times in his first 20 NBA games last season.

Since the 1999-2000 season, only John Wall (8.3 APG) averaged more assists in a rookie season than Rubio. Last season, Rubio became just the fourth rookie in NBA history to average at least 10 points, 8 assists and 2 steals per game.

That performance led to his finishing second for rookie of the year behind Kyrie Irving.

Rubio had an assist percentage of 38 percent, which was second-highest among rookies in the past 10 seasons, trailing only Wall (assist percentage measures the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while on the floor).

When Rubio came over from Spain, there were concerns about his defense, but he was able to ease those worries.

His long arms and better-than-expected athleticism helped him be a pretty good defender.

Last season, when Rubio was on the court, Minnesota gave up just 99.6 points per 100 possessions. When Rubio was on the bench and then hurt, the Timberwolves allowed 106.8 points per 100 possessions.

Looking ahead to 2012-13
Rubio’s next step in growing as a player will be increasing his efficiency from the field.

Last season, he shot nearly 36 percent from the field and 34 percent on 3-pointers. His effective field goal percentage was just shy of 40 percent, worst on the team.

Rubio endured a 10-for-46 stretch in the seven games before the season-ending game in which he got hurt against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Rubio is aware of how much of a weakness this is and has worked diligently with assistant coach Terry Porter to improve during his recovery from injury.

He’ll get his first chance to show that against the Dallas Mavericks, whom the Timberwolves beat twice in three meetings with a healthy Rubio last season.

Rubio was just 10-for-32 from the field in those three games against the Mavericks. But, in the nearly 73 minutes he was on the floor in the two wins, the Timberwolves outscored the Mavericks by 28 points.

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