According to Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, second-year point guard Ricky Rubio could be back Saturday against the Dallas Mavericks. His teammates and Minnesota Timberwolves fans will welcome him back with open arms, as his dynamic skills have been missed on the court.
Rubio tore his ACL on March 9, in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers, and has not played since. At the time of the injury, he was averaging 10.6 points, 8.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game. Sure enough, Minnesota crumbled in his absence.
Today, he is inches away from stepping back on the court and dazzling the fans once again. Of course, it has been a while since everyone has seen him play, so a refresher course might be necessary as to why his fan base is so large.
One of Rubio's greatest skills is his defense. He has good size for a point guard at 6'4", and despite being on the skinny side at 180 pounds, the man moves quickly and sticks to his man like glue.
Considering how Rubio is just 22 years old, his commitment to being a good defender is admirable. He isn't afraid to get hit and is great at coming away with steals.
Minnesota will be glad to have this facet of his game back in the lineup, having used a tandem of Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea while Rubio has been in recovery. Nothing against either man, but both are more scoring point guards and shooters than they are pests.
Rubio can do it all as a point man, and his defense will add a pesky nature to the Timberwolves that can only lead to them improving as a whole down the stretch.
Rubio only shot 36 percent from the field as a rookie, as he struggled to score in front of the three-point line. He shot just 41 percent under the basket, with his best work coming from the corners, on the elbow of the three-point line and occasional lucky spots from mid-range.
This can be attributed to him coming to the NBA after years of playing in Europe, where offense tends to come first and three-point shooting plays a key role. On top of that, the FIBA three-point line is closer to the basket at 22 feet, one inch away, as opposed to the NBA distance of 23 feet and nine inches.
Just the same, Rubio never gives up on his inside scoring, even if it is one of the weakest parts of his game. He uses his quickness to drive the lane hard and draw fouls, and his commitment to putting his body on the line in such a way is commendable.
Considering how Rubio averaged just under four trips to the charity stripe last season and made 80 percent of his free throws, his low field-goal percentage is a borderline afterthought.
He must improve it this season and down the stretch if he wants to make it in the NBA, but his refusal to simply give up on his inside scoring because it is a weak part of his game is a testament to how selfless he really is. Once he returns, his physical style of play will be a welcome addition to the Timberwolves' attack.
Distribution is Rubio's greatest strength, and he demonstrated during his rookie season that he is a master at finding the open man. Be it a no-look pass to the side, a behind-the-back dish or simply getting the ball to someone for a wide open shot, Rubio electrified Minnesota's offense in a much-needed fashion.
He is only 22 but is already a lot like veteran point guard and current New York Knick Jason Kidd in that he makes his team better on top of already having some fine skills of his own. He plays absolutely selflessly, always more than willing to get the ball to an open teammate rather than keep it and take a risky shot.
This is exactly the type of point guard that Minnesota needs, one that can take care of himself on offense and also make the rest of the team better. Once Rubio is back, expect Andrei Kirilenko, Nikola Pekovic and everyone else to start playing some even better basketball than they have thus far.
Rubio needs to improve his scoring as a whole, but was sometimes devastating from three-point land last season. He shot 34 percent from beyond the arc and will definitely improve that figure this season.
His most notable three-point shot came against the Los Angeles Clippers on January 20, a game that Minnesota won 101-98. Entering the final seconds of the fourth quarter, with Minnesota trailing 98-95, Rubio was shooting 0-for-10 from the field and found himself open in the corner with time winding down. He took the shot and made it, to the roars of his teammates.
Kevin Love later made the game-winning three at the final buzzer, but Rubio set the stage for it all with his selfless and fearless shot.
Yes, shooting and scoring are the weakest parts of his game on the NBA level, but he is a team player who knew that he had the opportunity to get Minnesota back in the game. He thus attempted, and made, the three, a testament to how he approaches every one of his shots.
Rubio may not be a strong offensive player, but that doesn't mean he quivers and hesitates whenever he has a chance to score points. If he's the only man who can take the shot, he will do it without fear.
This type of confidence is rare, and Minnesota will certainly need it and Rubio's leadership if it wants to get back to the postseason in 2013.
Rubio is not the best player in the league, but he is clearly one of the most fun to watch. He moves up the court with almost cat-like grace and never stops at trying to improve every aspect of his game.
We all may love the guy for a different reason. Some may like his focus on defense, others his fearlessness on offense and some people surely like his ability to pass the ball in the prettiest of ways. Regardless of why, the man has a growing fanbase that has yet to reach its plateau.
Thus, once Ricky Rubio steps back on the court, fans are going to be ecstatic and give him a thunderous round of applause. Not just Minnesota Timberwolves fans, but fans worldwide.
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