Rubio, once on the trading block, may have found a home with Timberwolves
ST. PAUL — Ricky Rubio reportedly was shopped from draft day last year straight through this year's trade deadline.
The 26-year-old Spanish point guard did not appear to be a part of Tom Thibodeau's long-term plans for the Timberwolves.
But the past few months might have changed the mind of the Wolves' coach and president of basketball operations, or at least given him something to think about.
Heading into an offseason where, aside from the team's young core, major turnover is expected in the Timberwolves' roster, Thibodeau said he expects Rubio to still be Minnesota's starting point guard come training camp this fall.
"As of today, yeah," Thibodeau said.
No, that's not a ringing endorsement, but it probably means Rubio has better odds of returning for a seventh season in Minnesota than anyone would have given him before this campaign.
Rubio earned as much with his play down the stretch. He averaged career highs in points (11.1), assists (9.1), field-goal percentage (44 percent) and free-throw percentage (89 percent) in Thibodeau's first season on the bench.
That all came after a rocky start to the season. Rubio missed five games with a sprained elbow early in the year and struggled with his initial offensive role under Thibodeau, which included a lot of catch-and-shoot situations. That's never been Rubio's strength.
Eventually, Rubio got healthy and Thibodeau put the ball back in his point guard's hands, which resulted in some of the best basketball of Rubio's career.
In 24 games after the All-Star break, Rubio averaged 16 points, 10.5 assists and 4.6 rebounds, while shooting 42 percent from the field, 35 percent from three and 92 percent from the free-throw line.
"I thought he got better and better as the season went along," Thibodeau said. "He's shooting the ball with a lot more confidence, so those are good signs."
Keeping Rubio seems to make sense for now. Yes, Thibodeau and Co. drafted Kris Dunn fifth overall last year, but although the rookie demonstrated an ability to defend this year, he has a way to go offensively.
Dunn was impressive in the regular-season finale, recording 16 assists, but he must improve his shot and comfort running the pick and roll. Thibodeau often played Dunn at shooting guard late in the season, giving the rookie ample minutes next to Rubio or Tyus Jones, which made sense to alleviate offensive pressure on Dunn while his game grows.
Another year of a similar setup could be best for Dunn's long-term development, and Rubio is one of the best at making teammates feel comfortable on offense.
Thibodeau said the three-point shot will be the next thing to come in Rubio's game. The inability to hit the outside shot has been the major knock on him throughout his career. If Rubio shoots it the way he did down the stretch, or even a little better, his stock will only continue to rise.
The Wolves were 10th in offensive efficiency this season and ninth in assists per game (23.7), and Thibodeau knows Rubio was a big reason why. He credited the movement Rubio helped create for Minnesota's success on the offensive glass and noted Karl-Anthony Towns was one of the top scorers in the paint this season because of opportunities generated by the Wolves' floor general.
"There were a lot of good things he did," Thibodeau said. "The way he can push the ball ... I was very pleased with that."