Through the first 89 games of Ricky Rubio‘s NBA career, he launched 158 3-point attempts and made only 47. That’s a dreary 29.7 percent. And by the numbers this season (15 of 64, 23.4 percent), the Minnesota Timberwolves’ effervescent point guard seemed to be getting worse.
In Rubio’s 90th game Wednesday night at Milwaukee, though, he shot five times from behind the arc in the first half. Made all five of ’em. Rubio finally missed one in the fourth quarter but it didn’t matter – the Wolves were in control en route to a road victory over the playoff-bound Bucks.
Rubio’s single-game high in 3-point field goals, prior to Wednesday, was two. He’d done that 13 times previously, but only three times so far in 2012-13. In his first 31 games back from knee surgery this season, the mop-haired playmaker shot 4-of-28 on deep balls.
So where did that come from in Milwaukee?
“He’s in better condition,” Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. “He feels better about his knee, he’s more confident. He is playing more like he was last year before the injury. … He’s not a great shooter but a lot of guys aren’t in this league. He is a kid that is going to work hard at it and eventually he will be more than good enough shooting the ball. But right now he is doing everything on the fly.”
Even though it took Rubio some time to get his legs and gain confidence in his repaired knee, he was able to work on his shot some in the late stages of his layoff. He knew the second-biggest rap on him coming into the league in 2011 was his shooting. He had dispelled most of the concerns about his defensive skills before he got hurt in March 2012 and he wanted to do the same with some consistent accuracy.
“Since I’m a professional, I haven’t been a good shooter,” he said Wednesday. “I’m trying to work as hard as I can.”
Over his six most recent games, Rubio is hitting 44.1 percent overall (30 of 68) and 64.3 percent on 3-pointers (9 of 14). He’s seeing some results from work prior to games and on off-days with Wolves assistant Terry Porter.
“I just try to point out some of the things that are important when it comes to getting a consistent shot: Arc, legs, getting the ball in the right shooting spot,” said Porter, the former NBA point guard who played 17 seasons and shot 41.6 percent from 3-point range over the final five of them. “Once he got clearance to get back on the floor, we started doing a lot of just ‘form’ shooting, to get comfortable with where the ball sits, to use his legs and stepping in. He’s been great.”
Rubio finally logged enough appearances this season to move into the official league leaders in assists (7.5 per game, eighth) and steals (2.4, second). The Wolves are better off when Rubio has healthy teammates to make shots after he has delivered the ball. Still, he can benefit from keeping defenders honest, opening up more space for cutters and lanes for himself and those marvelous Rubio passes. If he can reliably boost his marksmanship.
“It’s not that hard,” Porter said. “There are a lot of guys who come in this league and don’t shoot good – I didn’t shoot that good coming in. I’m aging myself but we didn’t have 3-point shots in college [NAIA University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, ’85]. So I had to learn how to get that.”