Column | Rubio's Rise, MVP Race & The End Of The Season
We have nine games left for the Timberwolves this season (as I type this with a broken hand – maybe more on this another time – on March 29). Wow! Only nine! Holy moly!
That seems wild. But time flies. That’s life. One day you’re 8-years old eating Dunkaroos, playing video games, and the next you’re 26 eating cereal and Cheese-Its for the majority of your meals while watching YouTube videos for 73 minutes straight. Life doesn’t wait.
Here are three thoughts of mine as the season comes to an end.
At the beginning of the season, we were all wondering what was up with Ricky Rubio. In November, Rubio was averaging just seven points and 6.4 assists per game, a big decline from his career averages.
But as the Spaniard got more and more comfortable with Tom Thibodeau’s system, my goodness has he ever flourished.
In the month of February, Rubio averaged 11.8 points and 10.4 assists per game. In 13 March games, he’s been even better, averaging 16.6 points and 10.3 assists.
On the season, Rubio is averaging 10.5 points (up 0.4 from last season) and a career-high 8.9 assists per game. He’s also on pace to shoot above 40 percent (40.8) for the first time in his career, while also shooting a career-best 88.7 percent from the free-throw line.
There’s still improvement to be made with Rubio’s shot, but you can’t just leave him open. He’s shown the ability to hit open shots, especially from midrange. From 10-16 feet, Rubio is shooting 48.3 percent, up more than 20 percent (!) from last season.
And while we think of Rubio as “old” with how young the other Wolves are, Rubio is only 26 years old and is entering the peak of his career.
Just a few fun facts for you:
- Steve Nash (my favorite player, so to talk dirt about him now feels wrong. Forgive me, Steve) averaged more than 10 points per game just once before turning 27. Rubio has in five of his first six NBA seasons.
- Rubio ranks fourth in the NBA with 3.8 deflections per game.
- Rubio ranks sixth in the league, creating 20.4 points per game via assists (per NBA.com) behind James Harden, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Chris Paul. Those players are very good at the game of basketball.
You can discuss Rubio’s shooting, that’s fine. But it’s becoming less and less of an issue and it’s probably time to recognize how effective he is in other facets of the game.
Westbrook vs. Harden
Not in an actual fight because Westbrook would definitely win because I’m pretty sure he’s an alien.
We are talking about the MVP race.
Westbrook leads the league with 31.4 points per game and, more impressively, is freaking averaging a triple-double with 10.5 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game. With that being said, Westbrook is shooting 23.9 times per game and is shooting 42.3 percent from the field, his lowest mark since 2009-10.
Without Kevin Durant, Westbrook has the Thunder at 42-31 overall, sixth in the West.
Westbrook’s numbers are sensational, but you could argue that Westbrook is stat hunting (I would certainly make it). He seems like a guy who knows what his numbers are at all times, and I’m not saying that’s necessarily the worst thing.
And then there’s Harden. After Houston was an afterthought, limping into the playoffs as the eighth seed last season, Harden and coach Mike D’Antoni have the Rockets locked in as the third seed and they a legitimate threat to upset the Spurs and/or Spurs.
Harden is averaging a career-high 29.3 points per game, while dishing out 11.3 assists and hauling in eight rebounds per game.
(Let’s not dismiss that Harden is only two rebounds per game away from averaging a triple-double, too. Probably a more impressive one than Westbrook’s.)
Yes, Harden is averaging 5.8 turnovers per game, which isn’t good. And he already has 428 turnovers on the season, six more than George McGinnis who previously set that “record” all the way back in 1974-75. But guess what? Westbrook isn’t far behind with 391, the fifth-most in NBA history.
You can’t go wrong with either guy. Kobe Bryant (who recently just said he doesn’t really watch basketball anymore so I guess take this with all the grains of salt) thinks both players should win.
(We haven’t mentioned Kawhi Leonard or LeBron James yet. Both are worthy of at least mentioning in this.)
But if I had a vote, which I don’t even though I have a blue check next to my Twitter which is what I thought was the qualifier, I would go with Harden.
Playoff Race Heats Up
With 10 or less game remaining for most teams, there is certainly a lot left to play for.
A few things to keep an eye on:
- The Celtics are a half game up on the Cavaliers for the top seed in the East. Cleveland is a really good basketball team but has played really bad lately. We’ll see if LeBron and Co. can grab that top spot for the third-straight season.
- For the final spot in the East, the Bulls are just a game back from the surging Heat and the eighth seed. From the fifth seed (Atlanta) to the eighth seed, only two games separate four teams. There could be plenty of shuffling.
- In the West, the Warriors are 2.5 games up on the Spurs. They probably have the top seed locked up. But will we see Kevin Durant back before the playoffs and if so, will he throw Golden State off? The Warriors are 8-2 in their last 10 games.
- The Clippers are 1.5 games back from the four-seed behind the Jazz. BUT, they are only a game up from the Thunder from the five seed. That’s the difference between playing Utah or Houston, which in my mind, is a huge difference.
- And finally, for the eighth seed in the West, the Blazers now hold a game lead over the Nuggets after Jusuf Nurkic had a “REMEMBER ME?!” game against his former club on Tuesday night.
Plenty to look forward to with the season coming to an end.
As always, thanks for reading. Enjoy the rest of your week.