Ricky Rubio looks to pass. Like always. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBA/Getty Images)
HOUSTON — After spending nine months working his way back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, it wasn't exactly an ideal situation for Ricky Rubio to come back to have to carry a major load (albeit in minor minutes, at first) for a Minnesota Timberwolves team missing leading scorer and rebounder Kevin Love and expected rotation wings Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger. But that's the hand he and his team were dealt, and so the 22-year-old Spaniard has played it, with less-than-stellar results; he's shooting just 34.3 percent from the floor and 13 percent from 3-point range, and the Wolves have played about 4 1/2 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor than with him off it, according to NBA.com's stat tool.
And yet, despite his and the team's struggles, he and the Wolves remain worth watching and keeping track of, simply because of Rubio's preternatural ability to not only set his teammates up, but to do so in about as entertaining a way as possible; at least once a game, he does something that forces you to rewind your DVR and figure out how he saw what he did, how he threaded that needle, and how he keeps doing it when opponents know they basically don't have to defend him from outside. It's a neat magic trick the sophomore's pulling; now, coach Rick Adelman and Wolves fans have to hope that the next rabbit out of his hat will be learning how to lead an ailing Minnesota squad to results that are greater than the sum of the team's damaged parts.
Rubio spoke with BDL for a few moments at an Adidas promotional event on Saturday morning about his knack for the remarkable, the increased responsibility that comes with being a franchise cornerstone playing without his inside-out partner, the tough road ahead for the Wolves and more.
[laughs] I mean, when I throw it through somebody else's legs, they're not ready for that. Sometimes you take a risk. But it's more fancy, and I like it.
I was going to say: It can't just be that they're not ready for it.
[laughs] I mean, it's just, like, something that I see. It can happen, and when it happens, it looks good. [laughs]
Your teammate, Alexey Shved, had a couple of nice moments on Friday night [in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge]. The numbers haven't been great when you two share the backcourt — the Wolves have scored about two more points per 100 possessions than normal with Rubio and Shved together, but give up almost 10 more, according to NBA.com's stat tool — but it seems like the more you two get a chance a play together, you're developing some chemistry. What's it been like to get more time alongside a player who seems like he's got a very similar mindset and style to yours?
I like how he plays. We haven't had a lot of chances to play together, too, because with all the injuries and all the stuff with my minute limitations, we were, like, dealing with that. But now that we are reaching a point that I don't have a minute limitation, then we can play more together [and] our chemistry's going to come. I think he's a great player — he can shoot the ball very well, and he has some skills that I like.
Last year, you went through the experience of All-Star Weekend as a rookie; this was Alexey's first time with it. Was there any advice that you gave him going into this weekend?
I mean, I think everybody gives the same advice — just enjoy every single second because it's amazing being a part of All-Star Weekend, where, not a long time ago, I was watching it through the TV and I was like, "Oh, that's amazing," you know? And being a part is just a dream come true.
Oh, and just take pictures of everything, just to remember it.
This is a little bit more of a downer question, but: March 10 will mark one year since your injury, the torn left ACL. Where are you physically today compared to where you were this time last year?
Uh ... I'm pretty close. I mean, I like where I'm at. It was hard when I came back from the injury, because you can do a lot of things in the gym, you can do whatever you want, but then when you hit the court, it's a different shape, you know? So you have to get back into shape. I think I'm pretty close to where I was last year.
This was your first time going through such a long rehabilitation process. What have you learned from the experience of having to go through that injury and come back from it?
A lot. First of all, be patient. Because you have to be a lot of patient [laughs] when you think you are ready and the doctor's saying, like, "You still have two more weeks before you can run." And you are at home sitting on the couch, thinking on a basketball court and trying, like, not to think, because [puts hand to heart] it hurts inside. It's something. You have to be patient.
And you learn a lot of basketball, because, you know, in the beginning, all you can do is watch the basketball. [laughs] So, you know, you learn a lot.
In that part when you were just watching, what did you see that seemed different to you as opposed to when you're out there playing?
Well, first, you realize how lucky you are when you're playing and being healthy. But then you're trying to get more concepts about basketball. Try to see the plays, try to see what works in offense, what works in defense. Try to add some things you like, or some things you see on the game, to your own game.
About a month ago, right after you'd learned that Kevin was going to be out for another two or three months, you said that the difficulty that the team was having was that you weren't having fun, and that you wanted to change that. It's been a tough few weeks since — you've gone 3-11 since you said that. How can you get back to that — to having fun as a team — when you're finding wins difficult to come by and you have so many pieces still out?
Yeah, it's hard. It's hard when you're missing a lot of players. I mean, the chemistry is there, but when you see that people get hurt and then, you have to play more minutes — and it's good [to get more minutes], but then, if you're playing 40 minutes four games in a row, you're getting tired, you know? So you need bodies in the bench, and when you see that that can't happen ... it's hard.
But, I mean, I always try to enjoy the game. I always try to have fun, because that's why I like playing basketball; I love it. And sometimes it's hard when you lose. I mean, you want to have fun, but you want to win, too. And sometimes that's hard when you only have eight, nine bodies.
You're 12th in the West right now, facing a steep climb to get back toward the playoff picture, and you're still short of some important bodies. Individually, what can you do in the second half to help the team get on a good run?
Try to run the team as a point guard, as a man. Like, we did last game against Utah ... we were there, but it seems like we didn't want to win until the last few minutes. And maybe that's too late, you know. So something I want to bring to the team is to try to be focused, 48 minutes. It's hard when you don't have as many bodies as you're supposed to, but I'm going to try to do it. I'm going to make an effort at it, and make an emphasis.