Prince is without a doubt Minnesota’s favorite son. But Ricky Rubio is fast becoming Minnesota’s favorite adopted son.
Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love – now in his fourth year in the NBA – says there is an electric atmosphere around the Target Center this season. Minnesota, which had been in the dark ages the past four years after Kevin Garnett left for Beantown, now has something to get excited about with the arrival of Ricky Rubio. Wolves fans are going absolutely crazy for the Spanish sensation, much like the way the world was going gaga over Prince when he unleashed “Purple Rain.”
The Timberwolves selected Rubio with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft, and basketball pundits thought general manager David Kahn and the Wolves front office were crazy for drafting a guy who wanted to play two more years in Europe. Well, two years later, it was definitely worth the wait. Who’s going crazy now?
The 21-year-old Rubio has injected a ton of energy into the listless franchise with his brilliant play-making ability, even though the T-Wolves have managed just one win in their first four games. But all three losses were by four points or less and they could easily be 4-0.
In his NBA debut, Rubio had six points, five rebounds and six assists in 26 minutes off the bench. The stats were pedestrian but it was the way he delivered the passes that drew “ooohs!” and “aaahs!” from the Target Center crowd. And it wasn’t just T-Wolves fans who were brought out of their seats by Rubio’s no-look bounce passes. Miami Heat star LeBron James posted on Twitter: “Rubio can pass that rock!”
LeBron and Co. got a firsthand look at Rubio’s passing skills on Dec. 30 when the Heat visited the Target Center. Rubio was on target that night, finishing with 12 assists and 12 points. Miami is a proud defensive team, and Rubio was able to dissect Erik Spoelstra’s well-constructed scheme like a seasoned pro. After the game Heat star Dwyane Wade said the future looks bright for Minnesota with Rubio and Love at the helm, and the Heat were lucky to come out with a 103-101 win.
Whenever Rubio enters the game, he sparks his team and ignites the crowd. That was evident on New Year’s Day against defending champion Dallas when Rubio helped engineer a Tebow-esque second-half surge that led to Minnesota’s first win of the 66-game season.
“I’ve played a lot of games at Target Center, but this is the most electric it has been. We have a pretty electric group that’s playing together, whether it’s Ricky [Rubio] or Derrick [Williams] or the new guys,” said Love, who was equally spectacular against the Mavericks with 25 points, 17 rebounds and 5-of-6 from behind the 3-point line.
As good as Love was the Wolves couldn’t have pulled out the win over Dallas if not for the steady hand of Rubio, who scored 12 of Minnesota’s 15 points during a critical five-minute stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters. The scouting report on Rubio is that he can’t shoot a lick, but he dismissed that by draining two 3-pointers. He also scored on a pair of dribble drives, the last one giving the T-Wolves an 82-72 lead at the nine-minute mark that essential put the game away.
“He has meant a lot,” Love said about Rubio. “Obviously he comes here with a lot of notoriety coming from Spain. He brings a big following. He’s fun to watch, fun to play with and a pleasure to be around because he enjoys the game so much. Even in practice he brings it.”
Even though Rubio is classified as an NBA rookie he’s technically a seven-year veteran, having signed his first pro basketball contract in Europe when he was 14 years old. He has played in the Olympics, European finals and FIBA world championships so he’s not afraid of the big stage. Minnesota coach Rick Adelman has been using Rubio off the bench, but if the Timberwolves are going to move forward Adelman needs to scrap the Luke Ridnour timeshare, start The Kid and let him go crazy.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastbreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.