Rubio, Barea Building Off One Another

Rubio, Barea Building Off One Another

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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When it comes to communicating with one another, Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea have options. Both fluent in English and Spanish, Rubio of Spain and Barea of Puerto Rico make the Timberwolves a bilingual back court.

But there’s yet another option—one that speaks louder than words. The no-look passes and alley-oop feeds Rubio has seemingly trade-marked? Barea’s quick cuts and slashes to the basket? That’s international linguistics.

A third language the two fluently share.

“It doesn’t matter,” Barea said, smiling. “I think in basketball terms, he’s got them down.”

The two have a special connection in Minnesota. Barea, a seasoned veteran who helped the Dallas Mavericks win the NBA title a year ago, has accrued experience and maturity as a ball handler during his six-year career. Rubio, the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft, arrived this season after two years filled with intrigue on whether he could immediately adjust to the NBA style of play.

Turns out, both are not only excelling with the Wolves this winter—they’re feeding off each other.

Barea, like his other Timberwolves teammates, is finding himself with open looks at the basket thanks to Rubio’s unpredictable passes. And Rubio, who shares an agent with Barea and watched him in the Finals last year, is learning a fearless approach. Barea, at 6-foot-0, has taught Rubio that taking open jump shots and driving to the lane should not be intimidating. Instead, it can be a tool that further opens up his passing game.

“It’s amazing what he did with his size, because sometimes players like him are scared or something,” Rubio said. “He’s not. He seems like a 6-8 or something like that because he goes to the basket. No matter who is under the basket, he tries to score.”

That fearless approach is paying off. In Rubio’s first three games, he averaged 4.3 shots and at times looked hesitant to take his open looks. In his last seven contests, he’s taken at least eight shots each game, is averaging 11.1 points—converting 42.9 percent from 3-point range—and upped his assists per contest from 7.3 to 8.1.

Barea told Rubio early on he can benefit from taking that approach.

“I’m trying to talk to him a lot—just be ready to shoot,” Barea said during the season’s first week. “He’s got to shoot more, be more aggressive shooting. That will help his passing. I think that’s the one thing he can work on a little bit.”

Rubio said Barea gives him invaluable advice.

“He helped me a lot,” Rubio said. “He’s a vet; he knows how to play. I’m new in this league; I have to learn a lot of things, and he tries to help me every time.”

Still, it is each player’s natural ability that makes them a unique, dynamic combination. Each night Rubio finds another way to squeeze in an alley-oop collaboration with fellow rookie Derrick Williams or forward Anthony Randolph.

And Barea, who returned this week from missing five of six games with a strained hamstring, maneuvers through opposing defenses, averages double figures while playing about 17 minutes per night and is the team’s top free-throw shooter at 94 percent.

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For a duo that is consistently gaining recognition from players and coaches across the league—Miami’s Dwyane Wade compared Rubio’s approach to the game to Steve Nash, and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said Barea has the ability to perform on the biggest of stages—the sky’s the limit. Feeding off one another, these two additions to the Wolves roster continue to thrive and complement each other.

Speaking basketball’s international language, these two have a lot to say.

“Anytime you can play with another point guard like that, he can pass the ball and he can get the team going,” Barea said. “It makes life a lot easier for him and for myself. We’ve just got to keep trying to get better.”

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