During the early part of the previous decade, one team seemed to steer away from the individually-oriented, star-dominant direction that the NBA and its offensive tendencies were beginning to lean on.
The Sacramento Kings, led by Rick Adelman, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Vlade Divac and Mike Bibby redefined the way that offense was played in the NBA. Before the revolutionary seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns orchestrated by Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni, the ball movement, unselfishness and floor chemistry that grazed Arco Arena between 2000 and 2004 was something that was beautiful to watch for true fans of basketball.
Sadly, career-derailing injuries to Webber (knee) and Stojakovic (back) shortened what likely would’ve lead to another half decade of the Kings being a part of championship title conversations.
This upcoming season, lead by Adelman, the last remaining piece of that Kings era, the Minnesota Timberwolves and their young, talented core of players are hoping to to recreate that Kings magic. For that to happen, one player must be front and center in order of the Timberwolves to have any chance of being the factor that the Kings were during their time of prominence.
Although the talents of Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic among others will be essential to any success the Wolves hope to achieve, it is the maestro that runs the show, Ricky Rubio, that will dictate how much success the Timberwolves attain this season.
In Rubio, the Wolves possess one of the most creative floor generals that the league has seen in some time. While the high-flying dunks dominate highlights reels, the flashy pass is something that is just as pleasing to the eye if only for the fact that it is the basketball equivalent of magic.
Although a dunk usually signifies a momentum shift and an energy boost to your teammates and the crowd, there’s something that’s equally satisfying about that momentary disbelief that travels through the crowd that comes with throwing a nifty behind-the-back pass or threading the needle through a befuddled defender’s legs on a fast break.
We might watch players like Dwight Howard and Zach Randolph dominate opponents through sheer brute force, but players like Rubio remind us that all athletics at the end of the day are a physical representation of art and poetry in motion.
Through two seasons, the career averages of 10.7 points, 7.7 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals are solid but nothing that jumps off the page. Furthermore, it is one figure, the 35.9 percent field goal percentage, that actually stands to alarm anyone aiming to build a team around the 23-year-old.
The NBA is saturated to the brim with great point guards such as Chris Paul and Tony Parker. It is a position that needs to be filled with someone who commands enough respect with their jump shot so as to keep defenses honest, something which Rubio simply does not do at the moment.
However, once we look past that flaw, the rest of the picture is a pretty rosy one. He possesses great hands and feet on defense and is one of the better man defenders at his position in the league. He crashes the boards and brings all the intangibles onto the floor that win you a game at the end of the day.
Simply put, there isn’t a lot not to like once we get past the gaping hole in his game.
The optimism surrounding the Timberwolves potentially playing into May is such that hasn’t existed since the departure of Kevin Garnett. For that to occur, not only will the team have to remain healthy, but it will require that leap from Rubio from simply a good, flashy player into one of the better point guards in the NBA.
It might be a bold claim, but I truly believe that Rubio could challenge for the NBA MVP award if this team establishes its identity quickly and gives him the keys to make it all go. It might be a stretch to suggest such a thing but with a balance of post talent and shooters on the floor alongside him for the first time in his career, we could be on the cusp of witnessing the birth of the NBA’s most entertaining offense, and of the star who makes it all possible.