Wessel: As losses keep piling up, Ricky Rubio's progress a bright spot
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It has been just a shade under 11 months since Ricky Rubio shredded his knee, and the Minnesota Timberwolves' point guard finally is settling into form.
Rubio was one of the few bright spots in Wednesday's 104-94 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. He finished with nine points, 11 assists, four rebounds and three steals in a season-high 36 minutes.
It has been a gradual rise in play for Rubio since returning in December. Much to his chagrin, it didn't come all at once.
But over the last 10 games you've started to notice an extra pep in the point guard's step. You can see it in his eyes as he scans the court while bringing the ball up. And you could definitely see it on Saturday, when he threw a behind-the-back-pass to himself.
The numbers back it up, too. In the last six games, Rubio has averaged 10.8 points and 9.1 assists and shot 42% from the field. In the five games before that, Rubio's numbers were almost cut in half, averaging five points and six assists on 26% shooting.
Everyone knew it was going to be a slow road back for Rubio. Patience isn't exactly a virtue for the hyper-competitive 22-year-old, and he often got frustrated with his slow road back. He is a proud athlete who had never suffered a major injury since turning pro in Spain before he was old enough to drive in this country.
That competiveness and desire to lead his team to victory was part of what hampered his comeback. After an impressive, adrenaline-fueled first game back against the Mavericks last December, he had been up and down.
In fact, calling it inconsistent might be being nice. Rubio was too often trying to overcompensate for not being at 100% physically and hurting the team at times.
"I think he was forcing the issue way too much," Adelman said recently. "He wants things to happen so badly that he is pushing it."
This came to a boiling point when acting head coach Terry Porter opted to leave Rubio on the bench down the stretch in a Jan. 23 loss to Brooklyn. Rubio was critical of Porter after the game and appeared as upset as he has ever during his time in Minnesota.
But things began to change shortly after that mini-controversy, if you can even call it that. Rubio put up one more clunker in a loss at Washington before beginning his current run of form.
His minute cap was officially removed, allowing him to settle into games more without the fear that he'll get the hook once his minute limit is reached.
On offense, Rubio has gotten more aggressive in attacking the basket early in the game, allowing himself to get into more of a rhythm early rather than settling for jumpers later in the game when his legs are fatigued. It also forces defenses to be honest and guard Rubio. He will never be the scorer Russell Westbrook is, and that's fine, but he does need to at least be a threat to score so defenses can't cheat.
Rubio's progression was one of the key aspects to this season, and it will remain that way, despite the team's 18-28 record. The Wolves have now dropped 12 of their last 15 and have about the same odds of making the playoffs as David Kahn does at being executive of the year.
It may have taken him longer than he would have liked to start playing at a high level, but the key is now to sustain that level of play and build off of it.
With the playoff window nearly shut, there will be less pressure and no excuses not to continue developing so Rubio can hit the ground running next season.