Timberwolves’ added pieces will help ease Rubio’s absencePublished 9:16am Monday, October 8, 2012
Though the Timberwolves will miss Ricky Rubio’s playmaking and leadership for at least another two months, key additions to the roster have made the team better prepared than last season to function without him.
The Wolves finished 5-20 after Rubio suffered a serious knee injury in March. There’s a strong consensus that slide will end this season while Rubio recovers.
“Last year we were kind of one-dimensional with guys handling the ball when Ricky went down,” Wolves guard Luke Ridnour said. “Now we’ve got guys who can handle it and make plays. We don’t have to run the same thing every time down court.”
Signing free agents Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved and trading for Chase Budinger has given the Wolves ballhandling options at the shooting guard and small forward positions, something the team didn’t have last season.
After Rubio’s injury, the Wolves’ offense often broke down when Ridnour or J.J. Barea passed the ball to Michael Beasley, Wes Johnson, Wayne Ellington or Martell Webster. All four had limited playmaking skills and were inconsistent with their outside shooting. The deficiencies led to each player’s departure.
The Wolves also didn’t have a healthy front line late last season to take pressure off the guards. Power forward Kevin Love missed the last seven games because of a concussion, and center Nikola Pekovic was struggling with bone spurs in his left ankle that led to surgery in May.
Love and Pekovic are healthy now, and the Wolves’ offense has much more flexibility with Roy, Kirilenko, Shved and Budinger.
Roy and Kirilenko have a combined 15 years of NBA experience. The 6-foot-6 Shved is a rookie but was impressive in training camp with his perimeter shooting and ballhandling. Budinger, a three-year veteran, played for Wolves coach Rick Adelman in Houston and knows his system.
Adelman is particularly excited about the elements Roy and Kirilenko bring to the team. Roy, a three-time all-star, gives the team a dynamic presence at shooting guard if his knees stay healthy, and he can help bring the ball upcourt when needed.
“I know I can put him in spots where he can change things for us,” Adelman said. “He has that ability. We’ll start adding things for Brandon and Andrei with the ball in their hands. We’ll have some wing players who can handle the ball. Our big people will be able to make more plays than what we had last year.”
The first test for the revamped Wolves is the exhibition opener Wednesday, Oct. 10, against the Indiana Pacers in Fargo, N.D.
Roy and Kirilenko are part of the reason Adelman hasn’t expressed much concern about how the Wolves will fare without Rubio. Along with Love, who is considered a capable ballhandler, the Wolves will have multiple players on the floor who can trigger Adelman’s corner offense.
Adelman has marveled at how Kirilenko’s instincts have remained sharp after skipping the entire 2011-12 NBA season to play in Russia. Kirilenko, a 10-year veteran, already has demonstrated that he doesn’t need the ball to be effective.
“I can’t tell you how many times he has ‘back cut’ our guys (to get open for shots),” Adelman said. “They still haven’t figured it out that he’s going to do it the next time. Andrei knows exactly who he is. He’s been doing it so long.”
With more skilled ballhandlers and Love and Pekovic expected to be a productive inside tandem, the Wolves won’t have to rely as much on Ridnour and Barea to make plays.
Rubio’s absence late last season forced the two to do more than usual because of limited help from teammates to create easier scoring options.
“We’re missing Ricky,” Barea said. “He’s a good leader, but we have a good team. Last year the point guards had to have the ball in our hands a lot. This year we can pass it, go into the corner and come off screens. We have more playmakers.”
Adelman does have some mild concerns about what will happen when Rubio returns to the lineup. The versatility in the Wolves’ offense could lead to more open shots for everyone on the floor, even Rubio, a 35.7 percent shooter last season. One of his weaknesses was his inability to make teams respect his outside shooting when he was left open.
Adelman understands that might have to change.
“That could be an adjustment for Ricky,” Adelman said. “Whoever is on the floor with Brandon will have to make shots (if Roy is trapped or double-teamed). We’ll have to have balance in our offense.”