In the wake of the Kevin Love trade, the Minnesota Timberwolves made point guard Ricky Rubio the centrepiece of their franchise by giving him a four-year, $US56 million contract extension.
Rubio’s first three seasons in the NBA were slightly underwhelming. He’s one of the NBA’s best passers and a solid defender, but his inability to shoot has hindered his effectiveness. For his career, he’s shot just 37% from the field while averaging 10 points per game.
To improve Rubio’s biggest weakness, the Wolves sent Rubio to work with former NBA player and “shooting guru” Mike Penberthy in July. The summer sessions went so well that the Wolves then hired Penberthy at the start of the season.
Two weeks into the season, Rubio sprained his ankle, sidelining him for three months. In the time off, Rubio worked heavily with Penberthy to restructure his shot.
When they first began working together,
Penberthy said that Rubio’s biggest weakness was the mental side of shooting:
“Ricky’s hindrance has been his mind. When you read all the time that you’re not a good shooter, you start to believe it, no matter how strong you are as a player. You start to doubt yourself. It’s fear of failure, more psychological. That totally translates into your body language and how you shoot. Changing his mentality is a combination of his body language, his mind and his repetitions being correct.”
Now, the work and the results are better than anyone anticipated. When Rubio returned to the court last week, Wolves coach and president Flip Saunders said:
“His shot has almost been remade. We might look back in a year and say maybe the best thing that ever happened was having those three months off where he was able to really break down his shot and work on his shot and become a consistent shooter.”
Along with more confidence, Penberthy also worked on giving Rubio’s jumper more “lift,” according to Phil Ervin of Fox Sports North.
The results have been positive, though the sample size is small. Rubio’s shot looked good at the beginning of the season — in his first five games before spraining his ankle, he averaged 9 points per game on 43% shooting.
Since returning from injury, in three games Rubio has averaged 11.6 points per game on 42.5% shooting, including 3-5 of shooting from three-point range.
In the Wolves’ Friday night win over the Grizzlies, Rubio knocked down a clutch three-pointer, demonstrating a form smoother than almost anything he’s ever shown in his career:
Though the sample size is limited to just eight games, Rubio’s field goal percentages this season blow away his previous averages.
According to NBA.com, Rubio is shooting 42.5% and 48% on catch-and-shoot and pull-up opportunities, respectively. Last season, those numbers were 34% and 28%, respectively.
If Rubio can stay healthy, it will be interesting to see if his shooting can keep up. Zachary Bennett of Wolves blog Canis Hoopus suggested before the season that Rubio’s shooting may just come down hand-placement — an easy fix if he works on it over time.
Shooting has easily been the biggest flaw in Rubio’s game through his career. If he can turn into a league-average shooter, he’d become of the best point guards in the NBA.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.