By Drew Mahowald
It's the final seconds in the fourth quarter. The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Oklahoma City Thunder are tied at 96 apiece, and the Timberwolves have possession out of a timeout. Minnesota head coach Sam Mitchell draws up a pick-and-roll design for Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, while Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad and Ricky Rubio surround the perimeter waiting for a kickout pass.
As Wiggins attacks, he is met by a wall of white Thunder jerseys. Miraculously, Wiggins is able to find Rubio spotting up at the left wing out of the corner of his eye, and he delivers a pinpoint pass to Ricky.
Yes, that Ricky Rubio. The guy whose only real criticism is an inability to shoot. The guy who Minnesota drafted instead of Stephen Curry. The guy who has quarterbacked the 3rd-best offense in the NBA since January 22nd. The guy who only received 70 percent of the vote in a poll held by Paul Allen asking fans which player they would rather have between he and Jeremy Lin. (Seriously, people? 30 percent of you would prefer Jeremy Lin over Rubio? I can't even find a word to describe how absurd that is.)
Rubio catches Wiggins' pass, and smoothly transitions into his shooting motion, which has never looked prettier and has never had the arc it did at this moment.
As the ball falls through the net, Rubio turns toward his teammates and gives them the blankest of all blank stares. It's a stare that tells his teammates "I got you" while ripping into the souls of Wolves fans who doubt him.
It was a great moment for Rubio and for the Timberwolves. Not only did they get the dramatic win, but they did so against the third-best team in the Western Conference at their building, which just so happens to be one of the toughest places to play in the NBA.
While there were a number of great performances in this game from the guys in the blue jerseys, Rubio's performance was the most impactful. Obviously his game-winning shot was huge, but he did so many other things throughout the game that deserve more credit. He played tough defense, getting three steals and altering a number of other passes from Russell Westbrook who finished with five turnovers and shot just 8-for-19 from the field. He assisted on 12 baskets, including many crucial shots down the stretch from great pick-and-roll execution. He turned the ball over exactly zero times. Oh, and he defied the critics of his perimeter shooting by making three of six attempts from downtown.
If this performance doesn't convince the naysayers of Rubio's value to this team, frankly, I'm not sure what will. If you're a fan who demands 25 points on 50 percent shooting from your point guard, you can go cheer for another team because Rubio won't provide that on a consistent basis. But, if you're a fan who enjoys a point guard that possesses excellent court vision, tremendous passing skills, and a menacing defensive attitude, look no further than Rubio.
Tonight's win over Oklahoma City gave Wolves fans everywhere a glimpse into the future. Fantastic performances from Wiggins, Towns and Gorgui Dieng were all crucial in a road win against a strong opponent. More importantly, though, is that Rubio's performance was significant in that glimpse into the future. As Minnesota's young roster gains experience and starts to learn how to win over the next couple of years, Rubio's style of play and leadership and the point guard position will be valuable.
If you're still an advocate of a Rubio trade after reading this far, well, I'm sorry. I'm not sure what more I can do. I guess you'll just have to live with a point guard that not only possesses elite-level passing and defense, but will also knock down a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.