There are three things that Minnesota Timberwolves fans have been able to count on these past few years: death, taxes, and Ricky Rubio trade talks. On Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski of the The Vertical reported that Minnesota was shopping the sixth-year point guard along with fourth-year forward Shabazz Muhammad to teams before the trade deadline approaches in February.
While the Timberwolves, who are currently sitting on a 14-28 record, have had a year that hasn’t met the large majority of pre-season hype and could use a boost. However, trading the veteran that provides an energy to a team that has lacked enthusiasm is the wrong choice.
“He can’t shoot!” is the common go-to gripe when it comes to Rubio and the argument as to why he needs to go. The one spot has evolved into a position that requires much more than just running the floor and the desire for a more consistent shot from him is a valid one, but it’s important to keep in mind that his shot percentage has steadily improved over his six years. His highest-percentage year was followed by his lowest-percentage year, but the latter was also an injury-plagued year of which he only played in 22 games.
Even with his poor shot, it is unfair to pin the problem of Minnesota on his shot alone. The Timberwolves have a ‘Big-Three’ of sorts in Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins. The inconsistencies in their offensive games and young-gun mistakes on defense are just as pivotal to the final score as Rubio’s shooting. Head coach Tom Thibodeau’s insistence on putting the ball in Andrew Wiggins’ hands at the end of games, and Wiggins proceeding to come up short on several occasions has directly caused losses more times than anything else for Minnesota this year. However, that is a different article for a different time.
Going beyond the shot, it is no easy task to replace the stat-line that Ricky can provide, especially in the assist department. Rubio leads Minnesota this year with eight per game, LaVine is next closest with three. In Monday’s game at San Antonio, Rubio finished with 14 assists while the next closest were three others that had three each.
To put his passing ability into perspective, Rubio’s double-digit assist game against the Spurs was his fifth in-a-row. Only two other players have had double-digit assists five games in a row this season, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. The play-making and vision of Rubio cannot be understated. When Ricky Rubio is on the court, the Minnesota Timberwolves are better.
What should be a much bigger concern for Minnesota is the state of the heir apparent to Rubio in Kris Dunn. Dunn was the first draftee of the Thibodeau era and was grabbed with the fifth pick of the 2016 draft. The pick was made with Dunn being crowned the eventual replacement of Rubio before anyone even saw how he would play in an NBA setting. Mid-way through the season, it hasn’t been pretty.
Dunn has averaged only four points, two assists, and two rebounds in 16 minutes per game this year. There is nothing in his stat line or play that has remotely shown that Dunn will be ready to take over the leading role of an already young Timberwolves team anytime soon. It’s also interesting to note that in his rookie year, Dunn has been held to zero points in 10 games. Rubio was never held to zero points in his rookie year.
The Ricky Rubio rumor mill is nothing new and Ricky Rubio detractors are nothing new. The frustration from Wolves fans in the lack of progression from the Wolves is understandable, and Rubio is a left over from the Flip Saunders-era that has never seemed to fit in. As people look for a reason as to why this season is the way it is, he’s an easy scapegoat, but not the right one.