Player Profile: Ricky Rubio

Player Profile: Ricky Rubio

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Editor’s Note: Throughout the summer, will profile members of the 2012-13 team and take a look at how they performed as well as their preparations for next season. In Part I of this series, we profile Ricky Rubio and the way he rallied from injury and regained his magic one step at a time.

It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing that makes Ricky Rubio such a valuable player on a team, but if there is one quote that sums it up, this is probably it:

“I just care about winning,” Rubio said after the Wolves’ final home game on April 15. “I just want to win every single game. I know it’s tough…but you want to win every game.”

Rubio brings that intensity every day, every night, every practice and every workout. He embodied determination during his nine-month recovery from tearing his ACL and LCL in his left knee last March, and he fought his way back to that same level of “Tricky Ricky” status that captivated Wolves fans during his rookie year.

There are many nights when it feels like Rubio continues to raise the bar—like regardless of what incredible play he just produced, another is waiting around the corner. This was a building block year, a season that induced incredible patience and persistence due to the severity of the injury from which he was returning. But in the end, he made it all the way back and then some. He fought through the restricted minutes and the stretches when his body hadn’t quite caught up with how his mind reacted in-game.

But he still finished the year averaging 10.7 points, 7.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.40 steals per game, with his steals ranking second in the NBA and his assists ranking 10th.

That might be the most intriguing part of Rubio’s persona on the court. He’s known for his passing creativity, but his defense intangibly helps fuel his teammates while also compiling steals on the stat sheet.

“Defensively, he can be dynamic at times,” Wolves assistant coach T.R. Dunn said. “He can be so disruptive with his play. He has a really good feel for timing, he’s long-armed, he has quickness. He is getting his strength and mobility back to where it was. His anticipation is great. He does a lot of things.”

Every facet of his game has that dynamic feel, and it’s something he’s likely to build on heading into next year.

“Work to be better and especially strong in my legs, my jump shot, my dribble,” Rubio said. “I want to work on everything I can.”

Highlight of the Year

Rubio had plenty of no-look passes and alley-oops to choose from this season, but perhaps the most memorable and nationally-seen highlight came during the 2013 BBVA Rising Stars Challenge in Houston. Rubio drove to the basket around Golden State’s Harrison Barnes and, as he crossed underneath the hoop, he seemingly smiled at the crowd while bouncing a perfect between-the-legs pass to a cutting Bradley Beal for the dunk. Rubio had 10 assists on the night, and his performance along with teammate Alexey Shved produced rave reviews for Minnesota’s up-and-coming young guards.

Top Performance of the Year

Rubio was at his absolute best on March 12 against the San Antonio Spurs when he produced his first career NBA triple-double in a 107-83 victory at Target Center. Rubio collected 21 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists in the game, showing firsthand he’s not only dynamic with his passing but can also influence a game on the boards. It was the 29th triple-double in Wolves history, and his first triple-double since Aug. 20, 2006, when he recorded 51 points, 24 rebounds and 12 assists against Russia while playing for Spain.

Offseason Objectives

Rubio’s biggest challenge this summer is going to be continuing to strengthen his legs, which will in return help him improve much of his game across the board. Rubio showed in 2012-13 that his instincts and desire never waned during his nine-month recovery period, but his body took some time to fully get comfortable and be able to react with the same quickness his mind does on the court. We started seeing it really come back to form in February. On Feb. 4, Rubio began a stretch of six double-doubles in 11 games to end the month.

“He got more confident in his ability to do things on the floor like he did [in 2011-12],” assistant coach Terry Porter said. “I think that showed as the year went on. He showed he was getting his explosiveness back, his ability to get to the rim back.”

The goal for this offseason is continuing that track.

As he continues to strengthen his legs, he’ll continue to create a strong base for himself both as a jump shooter and as he drives to the basket. Shooting was his biggest deterrent when he first came back last year. He shot 23 percent from the floor in December and 29 percent in January—including 10 percent from 3-point range. Those numbers improved steadily throughout the rest of the campaign, as Rubio shot 41 percent from the field in March and hit 40 percent of his 3-point attempts in April (He went 5-of-6 from behind the arc against Milwaukee on April 3).

As he continues to be more and more consistent with his mid-range and 3-point shots, he’ll create more and more issues for defenders trying to decide how to guard him. When he’s not hitting his shots, opponents don’t challenge Rubio by going over top of picks—instead, they wait for him underneath and limit his ability to find teammates with his innate court vision. If he’s able to spot up and knock down shots off those screens, it forces defenders to play him tighter. That opens things up for Rubio to do what he does best.

Throughout the latter months of the season, Rubio worked closely with player development coach David Adelman on coming off those screens and spotting up. Adding consistency in that area will help open up even more for Rubio.

Summer Plans

Rubio spent last summer in the Twin Cities while rehabbing that left knee, working closely with physical therapist Andre Deloya as well as the rest of the Wolves’ training staff. He worked tirelessly trying to return to the court within the first two months of the regular season, and he succeeded with his Dec. 15 return.

This year will be a little different.

Rubio said he plans to spend his offseason back in Spain this summer. The goal was to take three weeks off after the season and then get back to work—during that time, he did spend a few days in Minnesota before heading to Puerto Rico with a few of his Wolves teammates.

It’s a new challenge for Rubio, who has never had a traditional NBA offseason. Last year he focused on getting healthy. This year, he has the chance to truly prepare for the upcoming campaign knowing exactly what the rigors of an NBA season is like.

“It’s something I always thought about … since I was 14,” said Rubio, referring to NBA offseason preparation. “I didn’t have a lot of time to work on my things [last year], and I’m going to do it.”

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