Column: Rubio Holds Keys To Team's Future Success

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Rubio Holds Keys To Team's Future Success

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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There are a few key ingredients in a winning team—some are controllable and others are not.

The uncontrollable element is health. You can’t predict when or where an injury (or series of injuries) will take place, as the Wolves learned time and time again this season. And perhaps the most recent and most damning example of this in the NBA came on Friday night, when Lakers all-everything Kobe Bryant went down with a torn Achilles. He’s had 17 years of incredible health, and it yielded five titles. Without him, an already challenged Lakers team seems far less daunting.

So health is an essential, and it certainly is unpredictable. But the other two facets are incredibly important and, from an organizational standpoint, they are controllable. A team needs talent—that goes without saying—but it also needs players with desire.

A lot of times that’s easier said than done, but it’s unquestionably easy to spot when you see it.

Ricky Rubio has it.

Last night, the Wolves won their 30th game of the season. It’s the first time this franchise has reached 30 wins in its history without Kevin Garnett, and Rubio was asked postgame if he thought reaching that milestone was satisfactory in the sense that, with all the suffered injuries in what turned into a lost season, this team was headed in the right direction.

“Yeah, but we also lost 50, too,” Rubio said. “That’s a lot.”

He said it so matter-of-factly. He didn’t hesitate, didn’t sugarcoat this team’s performance this year. His mind didn’t wander into a state of manufactured enthusiasm about reaching a win total no Wolves team had ever reached without KG. That isn’t the goal, and Rubio didn’t pretend to be thrilled about it.

This season began with so much anticipation. This was the year the Wolves got back to the playoffs. This was the year we got to see what Love, Rubio and Pekovic could do with a supporting cast tailored to coach Rick Adelman’s needs. But one by one, players fell. Those dreams ended during a swoon in late-January. By the time the Wolves beat Phoenix 105-93 last night at Target Center, led by Rubio’s 24 points and 10 assists, Minnesota was long gone out of the playoff chase.

But throughout this process, with Rubio the focal point sans Kevin Love and, at times, Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko, he’s maintained a constant message. Win or lose, Ricky beats into the ground that simply being here is unacceptable. Losing is unacceptable. Missing the playoffs is unacceptable.

When you have a young leader who pounds that message every night, it’s hard not to believe that good things are coming.

Some people have that key innate ingredient to win. Some don’t. Rubio has it.

It’s not just a team-driven drive. Rubio has an internal motor that has driven him since he was young, and it’s led him to incredible heights. It’s a fire that is visible every night on the court, particularly lately when he’s often seen hitting an end table or kicking an open chair after a play.

His drive has translated into tangible evidence on the court. He worked so hard this offseason trying to recover from his torn ACL and LCL last March, and he came back with a mind-blowing return against the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 15. When he hit a physical wall in January, he fought through it and has, to date, racked up 12 double-doubles heading into the final two games of the year.

When he went through a shooting slump over the past week, at one point shooting 3-of-31 from April 6-10, he kept shooting (Even Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant miss shots, he says, so why can’t he?). He responded with 12-of-25 shooting over his last two games, including 24 points last night.

And when he initially had to battle his own body trying to catch up to his natural instincts defensively, often being so close but not close enough grabbing steals and disrupting opposing teams’ offensive sets, he persevered. He is currently second in the league with 2.42 steals per game (behind Chris Paul’s 2.43) and has seven 4x5 games (five points, assists, steals and rebounds) this season—tying Paul in 2008-09 and LeBron James in 2004-05 for the most in a season over the past 15 years.

All of that is because he has the passion to win and the drive to succeed. Later on in last night’s postgame, Rubio made another statement that sums up his determination.

“[My shot] I something I have to work and work hard and I know it, I’m going to do it,” Rubio said. “I’m not going to stop working. It takes time.”

Rubio has that “it” factor. His mindset is a reason why Wolves fans should believe good times are coming. You can’t control injuries—you can only hope they don’t come in volumes like they did this year. But you can control talent and mindset.

And you can’t ask for a better leader when it comes to those two ingredients.

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