Building the Perfect Minnesota Timberwolves Backcourt Mate for Ricky Rubio
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A few months ago I thought the Minnesota Timberwolves were set at the guard positions. We all knew who the point guard was going to be (hint: it’s Ricky Rubio), and I was really impressed with Alexey Shved’s play. So I thought, "Well, that’s that: next season Rubio plays at the one, Shved at the two. Case closed."
Unfortunately, Shved’s play has cooled off a little bit.
The Russian guard hasn't started a game since January, he just recently started shooting over 40 percent from the field and his three-point percentage has dropped from 35 percent in December to 25 percent in April.
These things are going to happen: Shved is transitioning from European basketball to the NBA, he is a natural point guard playing the 2 and the roster has been shuffled more than a deck of cards at the Bellagio.
Rubio has been there to console him—in possibly the most heartwarming way possible—but Ricky the Psychologist can only do so much. It’s up to Shved to provide Ricky the Point Guard with a suitable backcourt partner.
Then again, it doesn’t necessarily have to be Shved.
Chase Budinger fell off the radar of many Wolves fans (including me) because he arrived from the Houston Rockets over the summer, played six games and tore his meniscus. When healthy, however, Budinger is a decent passer who can shoot from the outside, finish at the basket.
Unlike Shved, who is a converted point guard, Budinger is listed as a small forward who can also play the 2. He isn’t really needed at the 3 where Derrick Williams and Andrei Kirilenko play, but he could take over as the starting shooting guard.
The Wolves could also go outside to fill the position. J.J. Redick would be quite the catch, assuming the Milwaukee Bucks don’t lock him down.
But he’s also a lot more expensive than Shved or Budinger. Shved is under contract and will make $3.15 million next year. Budinger makes a paltry $0.885 million this year and is due for a raise, likely in the $4 million range (h/t Dana Wessel, ESPN).
Redick makes $6.19 million this year.
In the end, what Rubio really needs is a backcourt mate that doesn't dominate the ball and doesn't hesitate to shoot from the perimeter.
Rubio and Shved haven’t played well lately. According to NBA.com, Shved scores less points, takes less threes and passes less frequently when Rubio is on the floor.
Part of that may be that Shved, a natural point guard, wants the ball in his hands in order to control play on the court. He’s a fluid offensive player that can create off the dribble and sees the court well, but that may not work well with Rubio.
The Spanish point guard doesn't want to drive inside and flip the ball to a teammate only to have him put it on the floor. When a player receives an inside-out Rubio pass, odds are they are wide open for a shot or have a lane to score in. By putting the ball on the floor, he only gives opponents a chance to close in on him.
Of course, it’s natural for a point guard to want to put the ball on the floor—that’s his primary duty after all—but a shooting guard by nature is asked to, well, shoot. Especially when they are playing with Rubio.
Shved might be hesitant to pull up because his three-point percentage has gone down recently. It’s kind of a chicken-or-the-egg deal where shooters fire away more frequently when they are making shots, but they can't make shots if they don’t take them.
In short, when Shved is shooting well, he compliments Rubio’s game. When he’s not, he doesn’t.
Budinger, on the other hand, does two things really well: hit threes and throw down dunks.
The two go hand-in-hand. When he’s shooting well, players guard him too close and the La Jolla, Calif. native blows by them and scores near the basket.
Budinger also shoots well off the screen. It is actually a characteristic that has suited Shved well, but the problem with those two players working off of the pick-and-roll is that they are putting the ball on the court and obviously not creating spacing—which doesn’t really compliment Rubio’s game.
It is harder to compare Rubio and Budinger because, well, per NBA.com, the two haven't played together this year.
The way this works out is that when Rubio passes to Budinger in transition, he’s got to either shoot right away or drive immediately to the basket. If Rubio dishes to him from inside the three-point line, Budinger’s got to be confident shooting right away. If he gets the ball in the backcourt, Budinger should call for a screen.
The Wolves need a better sample size here, but it definitely could work out.
Finally, J.J. Redick—or a player of the J.J. Redick mold—would be a good fit for Rubio. The former Duke standout, and former prick (his words, not mine), does two things well: shoot outside jumpers and clamp down on defense.
In truth, he’s a perfect partner for Mr. Rubio.
Lost in all the discussion about his boy-band looks and altruistic passing is the fact that Rubio is a great defensive player. With Rubio and Redick (or a Redick knock-off), suddenly the Wolves have a great defensive backcourt.
On top of that, Rubio has a player he knows will fire away as long as he's open, leaving no doubt as to when he should get the ball.
In the end, the Wolves can make do with Shved or Budinger, as long as they are willing to make adjustments to their game. A Redick type would be an ideal fit, but those are expensive and hard to come by these days.
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