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Should Minnesota Timberwolves Consider Trading Ricky Rubio?

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Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIIJanuary 17, 2014

The Minnesota Timberwolves are floundering with an 18-20 record in the Western Conference and searching for answers. One key question the T-Wolves should ask themselves in the meantime is whether or not they should consider trading point guard Ricky Rubio.

Prior to the 2013-14 season, many pundits projected Minnesota as a playoff team. Midway through January, the opposite narrative has played out.

Rick Adelman has voiced his displeasure with players on multiple occasions, Kevin Love called out teammates for moping on the bench and the NBA’s second-highest-scoring offense at 107.1 points per game sits four games out of the No. 8 spot in the West.

In the middle of all the negatives, Rubio has said that he’s uncomfortable on the basketball court and is losing his passion for the game, per Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press via Twitter:

That’s a terrible thing to hear if you’re a Timberwolves fan.

The Spaniard was supposed to be poised for a breakout season with a healthy supporting cast, and while it’s unfair to say his game has regressed, it certainly hasn’t improved.

Ricky Rubio's stats by season:
2011-1235.7% shooting10.6 PPG8.2 APG4.2 RPG
2012-1336% shooting10.7 PPG7.3 APG4.0 RPG
2013-1434.6% shooting8.6 PPG8.1 APG4.6 RPG
ESPN.com

As you can see, Rubio’s field-goal percentage and, consequently, his scoring numbers are hovering at career lows. His inability to score is frequently exploited by opponents, who double-team other threats because they don’t have to worry about Rubio beating them.

This becomes a major issue in crunch time because defenses simply take away Rubio’s playmaking prowess.

For example, in the 104-103 home loss against the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 8, Rubio didn’t turn the ball over once through three quarters of play. In the fourth quarter, however, Phoenix suffocated Minnesota’s point guard and forced him to make numerous mistakes.

The Timberwolves were up by seven with four minutes to play before Goran Dragic picked off a bad pass from Rubio and earned a layup on the other end to cut the score to five.

With 24.9 seconds left in the game, Rubio coughed up the ball again with the shot clock winding down, which set up Gerald Green’s game-winner following a Phoenix timeout.

The Spaniard does a lot of things well, but he can’t shoot and he becomes too predictable in half-court sets because he’s always looking to set up teammates.

Great point guards, like Stephen Curry and Ty Lawson, keep defenses on their toes because they can set up teammates and score in bunches.

Why are those two guys used in the example specifically? Well, because the Timberwolves could have had either one in the 2009 NBA draft.

In 2009, Minnesota drafted three point guards with its three first-round picks: Rubio at No. 5, Jonny Flynn at No. 6 and Lawson at No. 18.

Jan 5, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Ty Lawson (3) drives the ball defended by Los Angeles Lakers guard Kendall Marshall (12) during the first period at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

As it turns out, they may have traded the most talented guy out of the three.

Lawson, now the Denver Nuggets floor general, has blossomed in his fifth season as a pro. He’s averaging 18 points, 8.7 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals to go with a player efficiency rating of 20.24.

Ironically, trading Lawson wasn’t the most egregious decision the Timberwolves made on June 25, 2009. The worst choice by far was passing on Curry not once, but twice in the top six picks (and taking two lesser point guards in the process).

It’s pretty obvious that Curry’s career has taken off as the Golden State Warriors floor general.

Rubio, meanwhile, has gone from a consolation prize to a reminder of what could have been.

How many points would the Timberwolves score per game if they had drafted Curry and DeMar DeRozan while keeping Lawson? Maybe 120? Perhaps 125?

Management screwed up big time in 2009, and even though the 2013-14 Timberwolves have talented players, they’re still paying for those past mistakes from higher-ups.

President of basketball operations Flip Saunders said last summer that he will not trade K-Love, but time to put complementary pieces around him is running out.

The star out of UCLA can become a free agent after the 2014-15 season, and an Eastern Conference executive has said, “No one thinks he’s staying. Everyone knows he wants to go to the Lakers,” according to Ken Berger of CBS Sports.

If Saunders doesn’t intend to trade Love, it’s time to shake up the roster by taking a calculated risk.

Rubio’s stock isn’t exactly at an all-time high (putting it lightly), but he’s a 23-year-old point guard with potential. He’ll have value on the trade market, but the Timberwolves have to make the right deal to complement Love and make him happy.

At this juncture, moving Rubio for a more established NBA point guard is a solid plan of action. The T-Wolves have been in "win now" mode since Love acquired alpha-dog status, so adding a guy like Kyle Lowry from the Toronto Raptors or Jameer Nelson from the Orlando Magic makes sense in that regard.

Love's patience has been running thin for a while, so Saunders needs to exhaust all options in the trade market.

The current product isn’t panning out, so it’s time for Minnesota to steer the ship in a different direction.

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