Since today marks the day that Ricky Rubio will have surgery to repair his left ACL, I figured it would interesting to see how the Wolves have done since he went down a little less than two weeks ago. The Wolves have played six games since and have gone an unpleasant 2-4 playing five of those six games on a current West Coast road trip. The Wolves were playing good basketball before Rubio’s injury. The word “playoffs” was even being thrown around when talking about the Wolves. The eyes of Wolves fans were becoming more fixated on the day-to-day standings than on latest mock draft. The Timberwolves were gaining serious steam too, going 8-4 in their past 12 prior to Rubio going down. The chart below shows that Rubio was essentially the Wolves second best player in terms of the amount of wins he helped produce. Kevin Love was playing at a MVP-level, Nikola Pekovic was fast becoming the Jeremy Lin west of the Mississippi, Rubio was solid and consistent and brought the Wolves toughness and leadership at the point, Luke Ridnour was playing at a slightly above-average level, and Derek Williams was starting to really come on. Martell Webster was slowly coming back from his back surgery and was experiencing his ups and downs. Michael Beasley, Wes Johnson, J.J. Barea, and Darko Milicic were all underperforming or just plain bad before Rubio’s injury.
What’s Happened Since
Since the injury, coach Rick Adelman has had no choice but to do his best damage control act to pick up the pieces and try to keep the team in playoff contention. To make things tougher on Adelman the team was just about to embark on the team’s longest road trip in franchise history (seven games in 12 days). It has only been six games, so a very small sample size to work with here, but lets see how the Wolves have fared in Rubio’s absence.
Ridnour has shifted over to the point, playing almost exclusively (90% of minutes at PG opposed to 20% before) now with Rubio out and has actually been playing a little better than he had before. He has not played at a Rubio-level, but more appropriately at a band-aid-level. Which is certainly fine for this team when the alternative would be “bleeding” out at the point guard position. Ridnour has kept the point guard position afloat and respectable at the moment however it is his point guard counterpart who has not held up his end as of late.
J.J. Barea has been…well… bad. How bad? Pretty bad. He continues to play with the reckless abandon that got him into the league and could at a moments instance (i.e. Andrew Bynum) take him out of the league. In fairness Barea has dealt with a myriad of injuries and has not had the time on the court as others. However, Barea continues to play like a maniac now that he knows point guard minutes are guaranteed to him. So he tries to get away with doing things like this:
It’s plays like this that have led Barea to shoot a career-worst 38% this season. The saddest part about this is that is may never stop. It is built into the generously listed 6’0″ Puerto Rican’s DNA. Now that he got his fat new contract this offseason and the team’s star point guard goes down Barea thinks in his mind – “Here is my opportunity to show my true worth”. What he should do is realize: (A) The guy that went down was a pass-first point guard (B) The team was doing well when that pass-first point guard was in there (C) I now have to take some of the minutes left by that pass-first point guard (D) I am a shoot first point guard (E) Maybe I should consider passing rather than shooting for the betterment of the team before reverting to ball hogging ways. (Side Note: An interesting article on “Ball Hogs and Long Meetings“)
Since Rubio has gone down here is the point guard breakdown between Ridnour and Barea. As the table shows, Barea continues his shot-chucking ways. He is shooting more often the Ridnour, but shooting a worse percentage. Turning over the ball more than Rindour and in addition producing a worse assist-turnover ratio. Most importantly is that Rindour is scoring more points than Barea, but is taking 3.3 shots less than him. The Wolves were contemplating trading for veteran chucking swingman Jamal Crawford at the trade deadline by giving up a much younger similar shot-chucker in Michael Beasley. Makes sense, right? One inefficient scorer for another inefficient scorer. In the end, the Wolves never pulled off the deal, but if they wanted a shot-chucking guard a simple solution would be to just tell Barea “our starting point guard went down be ready to play more minutes” which translates in Barea’s mind to “more minutes equal more shots”.
What to Expect
So what should the team expect in their last 19 games. Well on their current pace they are only expected to win about six of seven more games winning about one-third of their remaining games. Which means a final record of something like 30-36. Whereas had Rubio, who was worth about 4.5 wins, finished the season the team would have been more likely to finish something like 34-32 contending for a final playoff spot. The Wolves are really going to need something short of a miracle to make the playoffs this season and will need someone not names Kevin Love to step up their game. Derrick Williams has produced better as of late, particularly because he shooting numbers have greatly improved. Shooting efficiency has also improved for the likes of Martell Webster, Michael Beasley, and yes even Wes Johnson in the seasons second-half.
The toughest part of their season is almost over with and a softer schedule is coming up in the season’s final month of April. It has been a bumpy ride for the Wolves since Rubio has gone down and it may stay that way for the foreseeable future. Fans may soon be reverting to their old Wolves fandom ways of looking at the lastest mock draft instead of the playoff standings, but wait they do not have a draft. Well that is unless the Utah Jazz make the playoffs in which case the Wolves would receive the Jazz’s draft pick for the upcoming June draft. So let’s go Jazz?