Another season, another disappointing turnout. Another conversation about what needs to change.
For the 10th consecutive season, the Minnesota Timberwolves will be absent from the NBA playoffs. Even as Rick Adelman's crew fights to finish above .500, the postseason is no longer within the realm of possibility.
With this failure established, the upcoming offseason will be the most important of point guard Ricky Rubio's career.
The Timberwolves have their issues, but this star-driven league has developed a significant dependence upon high-quality point guard play. Gone are the days of rosters flooded with traditional point guards and upon us are times in which a floor general must be able to do a little bit of everything.
Rubio does just about everything he could possibly do, but his one flaw is a disastrous one. I'll get to that in a second.
Rubio has his pros and his cons, just as any player does. He's posting very strong averages of 9.2 points, 8.6 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 steals, but those numbers take a hit when weighing the other factors involved.
Truthfully, Rubio has yet to emerge as anything more than another stat-sheet stuffer. He has the upside to be an elite point guard, but he's wildly inefficient and has become something of a liability when he's forced to shoot.
If the Timberwolves hope to get over the hump and make the playoffs, Rubio needs to cure his woes and become the star that Minnesota needs in the backcourt.
Developing a Jumper
The word atrocious doesn't do Rubio's shooting ability—or inability, for that matter—justice.
Rubio has spent a majority of his career receiving rave reviews for his ball-handling, ball-hawking and facilitating. There's no reason to halt that praise, as Rubio truly is one of the most tremendous young point guards in the association.
Unfortunately, Rubio's scoring ability is so bad that it manages to turn otherwise elite production into meaningless numbers.
On the surface, Rubio is averaging 9.2 points on a shockingly poor slash line of .379/.339/.808. He's hit a career-best 42 three-point field goals, but that's come in 76 games played.
Most concerning of all: That 37.9 field-goal percentage is the best of his three-year career.
Rubio's shot chart features a total of 14 highlighted areas. Eleven of those areas are in the red, two are in the yellow, and only one is in the green.
The one spot that Rubio shoots well from is the right side above the break from three-point range. Unfortunately, he's only converted 32 attempts in 76 appearances from that zone.
It doesn't take a statistician to know that Rubio's shot chart is downright ugly.
Rubio may be improving, but his improvement has done nothing but take him from miserable to bad. As a starting point guard on a team competing for a playoff berth, that's unacceptable.
If Minnesota is to move forward with Rubio as the franchise point guard, he needs to become a better jump shooter. Otherwise, teams will continue to play off him and force him to shoot.
According to NBA.com, Rubio is only converting 29.8 percent of his pull-up field goals. Something needs to change.
Wooing Kevin Love
Let's all say what we're thinking: Kevin Love has zero reason to remain with the Timberwolves besides loyalty alone. Even in the midst of its most successful season since 2004-05, Minnesota is nowhere near the playoffs.
If the Timberwolves are going to convince Love to re-sign once he becomes a free agent during the summer of 2015, Rubio needs to emerge as a true star point guard.
Kevin Martin is an star-caliber scorer and Nikola Pekovic is a highly productive offensive player at center, but this is on Rubio. The relationship between a superstar big man and his lead facilitator is almost as important as that between he and the head coach.
Rubio has no trouble getting Love the ball, but he needs to be capable of doing more than passing. His inability to convert shots often leads to unnecessary dribbles which allow a defense to reset.
This creates harder baskets for Rubio, but it also enables an opposing team to lock in on Love. He excels in moving off the ball, but without a pair of guards who can space the floor, that approach can be countered.
Martin can shoot, but Rubio does nothing but pound the rock until he finds another place to go. The man can't even shoot in the green in the restricted area, per the previously provided shot chart.
Despite these flaws, Zach Lowe of Grantland reports that Rubio's agent, Dan Fegan, will be seeking a major salary for his client.
Rubio is among the most divisive players in the league now, in part because of the sense that his agent, Dan Fegan, is going to demand an eight-figure extension that Rubio does not yet deserve.
Rubio may have strong production, but he hasn't yet earned that type of money. That's more important to Love staying in Minnesota than one would assume.
If the Timberwolves were in possession of a point guard who actually commanded a $10 million salary, Love would have reason to say. Per Spotrac.com, only 10 point guards are making more than $10 million in 2013-14, and that includes 2010 Rookie of the Year and combo guard Tyreke Evans of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Of the nine full-time point guards, only Ty Lawson of the Denver Nuggets has yet to make the All-Star Game. Lawson, however, has made multiple postseason appearances with impressive performances on that stage.
Rubio doesn't have an All-Star Game selection, a playoff appearance or a history of stepping up in big outings.
The Timberwolves already invested $12 million per season in a center, Pekovic, who offers very little on defense. According to NBA.com, Pek is allowing opponents to shoot 55.2 percent when he meets them at the rim.
With Love offering minimal resistance on defense, Minnesota appears prepared to move forward as an offensive-minded team. That makes a star point guard who can run the show critical to the future.
Most importantly, that makes a star point guard critical to Love choosing Minnesota over any number of potential suitors with their own selling points.
In terms of Love's realistic potential landing spots, the Chicago Bulls have former MVP Derrick Rose and the Los Angeles Lakers have enough cap space to add just about anyone. There's risk in any situation, but that includes Minnesota's.
The Timberwolves, far from being a major-market team, need to pitch what they have. Right now, what Minnesota has is a work-in-progress to offer a 25-year-old star who's six years into his career.
If Love is going to have any reason to stay, he needs a No. 2 star to create faith that a championship is attainable. Rubio is the closest thing to becoming that player.
Honeymoon is Over
Entering year four of his NBA career, the time for Rubio's weaknesses to be ignored and strengths praised has passed. He's no longer a fresh face in the NBA or a young player whose upside is more important than his inconsistency.
The Timberwolves are approaching what could be their last season with Love, and that means Rubio has two options: Prove that he's a franchise point guard or accept that he can be replaced.
There's no way around how great Rubio is as a facilitator, rebounder and ball hawk for a player at his position. Unfortunately, Rubio is nothing short of a liability when an opposing team forces him to shoot, and that's happened quite often in 2013-14.
If Rubio is able to develop his scoring ability, he will emerge as one of the very best point guards in the NBA. If he doesn't, then the Timberwolves will need to look elsewhere in hopes of finding a player who is not a liability when handling the ball.
This may seem to be extreme for a team that's watched great players walk away in the past. The reality is, the Timberwolves aren't as young as they used to be, and missing the playoffs in 10 straight seasons is downright dismal.
The pressure for a turnaround is on Rubio. It's time for him to embrace it.
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