New Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders believes that Ricky Rubio needs to be a bigger scoring threat in order to take the “next step in the evolution of the point guard position.” At least, that’s what he told Fox Sports North’s Phil Ervin. Here are three players that need to score more than Rubio does next season for their teams to thrive.
The Timberwolves signed Nikola Pekovic to a new contract, and they’ve got perennial All-Star candidate Kevin Love coming back from an injury-plagued 2012-13 season. The ‘Wolves also signed Corey Brewer and acquired Kevin Martin in a sign-and-trade that unloaded Luke Ridnour. Minnesota is already pretty well set in the scoring department. Rubio just needs to do Rubio and dish his way into playmaking history; Steve Nash should be jealous of all the dime’s he’s throwing to a finally healthy Timberwolves team (knock on wood).
One thing Rubio does need to work on is his shooting, but that’s different then asking him to score more, which isn’t what Saunders said, but Ervin inferred. True, Saunders might have just uttered a throwaway August quote that’s more fluff than substance, but Rubio shouldn’t turn into a gunner, he just needs to improve his accuracy from beyond the three-point line while also making a higher percentage of his attempts at the rim.
His three-point shooting has always been an issue. After coming back from his ACL tear last season, he managed to shoot a dreadful 29 percent from behind the arc. But his long-range shooting is just the beginning.
Among point guards who averaged over 15 minutes a game last season and appeared in at least 30 games, Rubio’s 44 percent conversion rate at the rim ranked dead last in the league, per hoopdata. For a guy that averaged under 30 minutes a game last season, and still handed out 7.3 assists on average (good for 10th in the league), think of how many more dimes he would have gotten if defenses respected his shooting ability? The key is to get better at finishing on his drives (maybe some fake passes would help) and improve his three-point accuracy, not shoot the ball more, overall.
But there are multiple guys who actually need to score more next season in order for their teams to do well. Here are three examples that fit Saunders’ quote better than Rubio does.
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3. Dwight Howard
This is primarily tied to his effort level. A huge knock against him last season — one that could have been the result of his off-season back surgery — was how aloof Dwight appeared on defense. He wasn’t jumping as quickly to meet offensive players at the rim, and his defensive rotations weren’t as fast. He lacked that special oomph on defense that made him a three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Dwight’s decision to head to Houston was peculiar to some observers since they run the same kind of pick-and-roll transition offense that LA tried to implement under Mike D’Antoni last season. Dwight claimed to not enjoy running pick-and-rolls in LA last year, but he’ll be asked to do a lot of that with James Harden in Houston. If he’s rolling to the basket on that p&r, or sprinting down the court in transition as the lead big man running right towards the rim, his overall hustle and engagement with the game will be tied to his number of offensive touches.
So he needs to be involved. As playground ball-handlers have known since time immemorial, you gotta “feed the big fella” if you want all the other things they provide too: rebounding, defense, screens — basically everything Omer Asik did last year without needing offensive touches to make him happy. If Asik starts at center with Dwight as a power forward in a sequel to Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, look out for a disgruntled Dwight if he’s not getting the touches he feels he deserves. He lived off of iso post touches during Stan Van Gundy’s reign in Orlando where team made the Finals one year by spreading the floor with three-point shooters who played off of Dwight drawing the double team in the post.
Dwight averaged 10.7 shots a game last season with the Lakers. That’s his lowest number of shot attempts since his second year in the league. It’s also almost three shot attempts less than he averaged during his last season in Orlando. If Dwight gets a chance to make a significant impact on the offense in Houston, look for his overall game to improve as a result. “Feed the big fella,” or you could have another mopey Dwight season.