Love, Rubio, Pekovic Looking To Pick Up Where They Left Off

Love, Rubio, Pekovic Looking To Pick Up Where They Left Off



Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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They just didn’t match up.

If you look at the number of minutes guard Ricky Rubio, forward Kevin Love and center Nikola Pekovic were on the floor together last season, you won’t find a large sample size. To be precise, they shared the court during a grand total of three games spanning 13 minutes in 2012-13.

It was a situation of wrong place, wrong time. During the nine games between Rubio’s return on Dec. 15 against Dallas and Love’s re-injured hand on Jan. 3 at Denver, Rubio missed four games due to back spasms and inactivity on tail ends of back-to-backs, and Love missed two games because of an eye injury and an illness.

By the time Day 1 of Training Camp was over this week, Love, Rubio and Pekovic had played together more in one day than game minutes all of last season. During their time together this week, it appears the group picked up where it left off two years ago.

“It just feels, you know, we never kind of lost [it],” Pekovic said.

If this trio can stay together this season, they comprise the core of everything the Wolves hope to achieve this year and moving forward. Rubio is the flash and the flair, the means of facilitating from the outside and on the fast break. He brings a little magic and a little mystery every time he touches the ball. Love is the focal point of the offense, the stretch-4 that can score down low, pick-and-pop and hit from the outside. He’s able to draw defenders away from the hoop offensively, and on the glass he’s as innately gifted as any in the NBA. Then there’s Pekovic, who physically can match up with anyone in the league. He’s a force in the paint, provides a post-up game and works hard at creating some space for his guards off screens.


The key will be continuing to grow together, better learning each other’s tendencies and adding facets to their own games that complement one another.

 

"We’ve got to have our main guys," coach Rick Adelman said. "If we’re going to have a chance to succeed, we’ve got to have our main guys playing."


At this point, Rubio said since they’ve been together three years in the same system they’re very much aware of what is expected from them. It’s just a matter of staying together and improving how they operate each day. President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders said because there are defined roles for each player, it isn’t taking them a lot of time to get re-adjusted to one another.

With Rubio, Pekovic and Love, there isn’t a lot of mystery. They know one another. Now it’s just a matter of building up those minutes again.

“You can see it already out here,” Adelman said on Wednesday. “Both Kevin’s are making threes. When you have guys that can knock it down…we had situations today where Ricky had the ball. Pek’s rolling, you have Kevin Love standing up top and Kevin Martin in the corner. Who are they going to try and take the ball away from? So it makes a difference.”

Even still, there are challenges. This team will be able to score. The biggest thing the Wolves need to prove is that they can defend in unison. It’s been an emphasis this week, and getting in tune on both ends of the floor was a big reason why Adelman kept Rubio, Love and Pekovic together for the majority of the scrimmage minutes in the first two days of practice. Since then, there has been more mixing and matching.

“It makes sense, just because we probably played 15 minutes [last year],” Love said. “It makes sense for him to do that.”


From the team’s vantage point, having all three players in uniform is a pretty significant mental boost. Last year, it was a grind knowing the team was so strained. Players were forced to play positions outside their natural roles, guys who were used to playing limited minutes were given heavier workloads, and you never quite knew who would be paired together on any given night. Minnesota had 16 different starting lineups last year—no combination started more than 23 games together, and none of them included Love, Pekovic and Rubio together.

With all three together, the team gains stability.

“As long as we stay healthy, we’ll see those guys on the court,” Derrick Williams said. “Ricky passing the ball, Pek posting up, Kevin doing a little bit of everything. It’s going to be tough to guard us, not just those three but the whole team.”

Adding in Kevin Martin and projected starting small forward Corey Brewer to the mix should only help open things up. Brewer runs the floor well in transition, and Martin is a sharpshooter from the outside that has showcased that skill throughout camp this week.

The pieces were put in place around the Wolves’ core this offseason. Now it’s time to build around that foundation even more.

“We know what we like to do and what we like to play,” Rubio said. “We know each other. We have a great chemistry off the court, and that’s going to help on the court to know what we want.”


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