Ricky Rubio is emerging as the leader of the Minnesota Timberwolves in the absence of Kevin Love. The second-year point guard has improved his game on both sides of the ball and brings energy to the floor every night.
We all know about Rubio’s elite passing ability and incredible handle, but the Spaniard is also an elite defensive player when healthy. This part of his game took longer to return at the beginning of the season when Rubio was coming off the bench and still recovering from injury. However, now that he has completely recovered, he is making more shots (over 40 percent in three of his last four games), getting other players the ball and racking up the steals.
“It’s good to see him back. I think he’s 100 percent now, that’s the Ricky we’re all used to, and he’s playing great,” says fellow sophomore Derrick Williams. “He’s passing the ball, he’s making his shots and in the beginning, if you’re coming off an injury like that, you’re going to struggle a little bit, the first month or so, just to have confidence in your leg and in your shot.”
He recorded his first career triple-double against the San Antonio Spurs on March 12 with a 21-12-13 line, and his teammates believe his ability to steal the ball will actually put him in position to record a nearly unheard of quadruple-double.
“The other day we were talking about how he might get a quadruple-double,” says Williams. “He’s on pace to get one, he’s a few steals, a few rebounds away. The way he plays into the guards like that, he could get 10 steals.”
If Rubio is going to get a quadruple-double, he will most likely do it grabbing defensive rebounds. Against the Spurs on the 12th, 12 of Rubio’s 13 boards came on this end of the court. Only four players in NBA history have recorded a quadruple-double. Ironically, the last person to do so was David Robinson, a member of the San Antonio Spurs.
It is not only the tangibles, like Rubio’s ability to distribute and steal the ball, but also the effort that he brings to the court every night that has made him a team leader.
“He plays with such energy and we talked to the team about that, we need that energy from everybody,” says head coach Rick Adelman. “He’s playing extremely hard and sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s not so great, but that energy just feeds the rest of the guys.”
“Our point guard is supposed to be our leader,” says Williams. “Last year it was Kevin, we had a few other guys as well, but he really took that role this year and ran with it.”
That is not to say that there are not multiple leaders on the team. As the elder statesmen of the team, Luke Ridnour and Andrei Kirilenko presumably have some clout in the locker room and to be fair to Love, he has been injured most of the season and it is difficult to lead when you are on the sideline.
It will be interesting to see how the dynamics change once Love returns. Will he be the face of the Wolves or will the media now turn to Rubio for the "state of the team" address? Right now, Rubio has become vocal both in the huddle and with individual players. Will that continue?
My guess is that Rubio continues to be the primary leader on the court, but Love will be seen as the No. 1 guy in the eyes of the media. The former appears to bring unbridled energy and excitement to the huddle, where the latter is the longest tenured player and can bring that perspective to his interviews.
In the end, the most telling words are those of Adelman, who said he wants the ball to be in Rubio’s hands at the end of the game. “He knows what to do, how to get certain people the ball, where they should get it,” he says. “He’s going to get his quicker baskets when he’s down like that: He’s going to push the pace and get to the middle.”
That is what separates Rubio from other players in today’s game: He works really hard to steal the ball from his opponents and demands it late in the game, but he is also just as willing to give it away.
All quotes were obtained first-hand.
Tom Schreier covers the Timberwolves for Bleacher Report and writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.