The Minnesota Timberwolves “Spanish Sensation” Ricky Rubio is representing his country in FIBA’s EuroBasket, hunting with a completely different pack of wolves. The style of basketball being played in Europe right now features many NBA players, but isn’t comparable to that of the American league.
- There are 40 minutes in FIBA competitions, four 10-minute quarters — the NBA quarter length is 12 minutes.
- The 3-point line in the NBA stretches 23 feet, 9 inches around the arc while narrowing to 22 feet in the corner areas — FIBA’s arc runs just a just a few millimeters more than 21 inches the entire way around the basket.
There are other minor differences between the styles of play that make FIBA’s international competition a faster, smoother game, similar to soccer, while the NBA showcases more isolation situations and one-on-one battles. Though EuroBasket has brought those thirsty and parched for high-level basketball a few squirts of Gatorade, it pales in comparison to the National Basketball Association.
The Wolves need Rubio in a different way than Spain does. Jose Calderon of the Dallas Mavericks and Sergio Rodriguez (who played three seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers from 2006-09) occupy most of the minutes at point guard. Both players have averaged more points per game in the tournament than Rubio and also have a higher points per game average. Rubio’s game has been focused more on facilitating for his teammates and so far he’s collected 24 assists. Calderon has also. Rodriguez’s 19 assists, along with five other Spanish players totaling double-digit helpers, are a testimonial to Spain’s philosophy offensively — unselfish team basketball.
Rubio is Minnesota’s only true point guard. Though the Wolves Russian-born second-year guard Alexey Shved made most of the plays as a PG for his homeland prior the the team’s elimination, his game has yet to translate into solid production at the NBA level.
It will be Rubio’s job this season to get the ball into his playmakers’ hands as he’ll have weapons like Kevin Love, Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger playing in Rick Adelman‘s variation of the Princeton offense.
Adelman’s offense requires players to have a ranging skill set to take advantage of mismatches on the floor and focuses on three things: motion, screens and cuts toward the basket. Rubio’s ability to penetrate forces defenders to help prevent a would-be layup, leaving their mark open, where Rubio will find him.
Having forced the defense to rotate to try and close out a shooter, the offense must now either hit the open look or make the extra pass for a better chance at converting a basket.
Rubio needs to be the point of an arrow for the Wolves this season, but in Spain, he’s only a bullet in a loaded clip.
Despite the differences with the NBA, EuroBasket is a competitive World Cup qualifier and teams and players aren’t holding back anything trying to win. It’s an opportunity to see Rubio on the court for the first time since mid-April.
In a column earlier this month; Michael Dunlap wrote that the Timberwolves are worried about Rubio’s jump shot.
In Dunlap’s article, he alerts us to the alarming places where Rubio struggles around the rim and the mid-range area.
Here are Rubio’s numbers going into today’s game against Serbia.
Rubio is shooting above the team’s average (36.9 percent) from behind the arc at 42.9 percent. He’s hit on 3-of-7 attempts. It’s been established this isn’t his strong suit, but Rubio will seize the opportunity for a chance at 3 points if it’s given, which it will be. There are a few positives when going over his shot selection, along with a few negatives, but determining strengths, weaknesses and Rubio’s tendencies shooting the ball will help us to track his progress now and in the future.
Notice that Rubio is taking 3-point shots either in the corner or steps away from the top of the key. This signifies he has found where he is most comfortable shooting from the outside and it’s just a matter of repetition before they start to fall. As referenced in Dunlap’s article he’s shot 31.7 percent through two seasons which is serviceable but there’s a definite amount of room to improve.
The shot charts also show where I think Rubio is successful in the mid-range area; the middle of the lane extending past the free-throw line and before the 3-point stripe. He looks comfortable pulling up off the dribble into a jump shot near the foul line. He’s 5-of-12 thus far in the tournament in this area, which is a little over 41 percent. This is higher than Rubio’s 37 percent average from the field through two years in Minnesota.
Of the 12 attempts inside the lane, Rubio has made four of them. We’ve established that he struggles around the rim. It’s as worrisome as it is curious, but from watching Rubio compete the attempts within the lane are contested and some of them have been late in the shot clock. Shooting 33 percent inside the lane isn’t going produce in any league.
Shooting the ball from spots near the top of the key between the 3-point line and the free-throw line are where Rubio is comfortable. But just being comfortable in these areas won’t be enough if he wants to remain in the circle with the elite class of NBA point guards. Rubio needs to improve upon his strengths, but must also work to eliminate the current weaknesses to an adequate level if he hopes to improve as a scorer, and in turn, a better player overall.
Spain faces Serbia Wednesday at 11:20 a.m. Eastern Time in the opening game of EuroBasket’s quarterfinal round.