After 47 games last season, Ricky Rubio and his team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, were 18-29, and 3 1/2 games back of the Denver Nuggets for the 8th seed in the Western Conference.
After 47 games this season, Ricky Rubio and his team, the Utah Jazz, were 19-28, and 5 games back of the Denver Nuggets for the 8th seed in the Western Conference.
As Yogi Berra would say, deja vu all over again...but will it end that way too?
At the end of last season, the Timberwolves finished 31-51, 10 games back of the Portland Trail Blazers for the eighth seed in the playoffs.
This season's ending will be different already for Rubio, for a lot of reasons, how do I love V(ivint), let me count the ways:
- The Utah Jazz generally play team defense very well (especially when the Stifle Tower, Rudy Gobert, is in the paint); the Minnesota Timberwolves' defense last season was underwhelming, to say the least (and with a physical specimen like Karl-Anthony Towns, that's inexplicable).
- Quin Snyder, despite the worries of many Jazz fans (including a sometimes despondent fan of Rubio like me!) kept working with Rubio to improve his shot, and demanded that he take more shots, and kept him in the lineup when many were wondering why (especially with Derrick Favors and Gobert, the "lineup of death").
- The Jazz have a couple of very hungry and desirous of so much win! players - we all know Donovan "Spida-Man" Mitchell, but then, there's Royce O'Neale...both far more coachable, and both far more capable, than Timberwolves' guards Kris Dunn and Zach Lavine.
- Quin Snyder uses his bench (strangely, sometimes, ask Rodney Hood and Alec Burks!), and Tom Thibodeau didn't, and still doesn't (much) - Rubio's minutes per game is about 2 minutes less this season than last, in part because Raul Neto has very often performed capably.
- And Rubio has availed himself of an old friend (from Barcelona days, one Joe Ingles), and a compatriot from his native Spain (one Raul Lopez, who worked out with Rubio recently).
The Jazz, this season, after game 47, are merely on a 6 game (and counting) winning streak, so far, and Rubio's been playing better, and doing so earlier...and has a team fully committed to defense, Quin Snyder's Jazz, far more so than the supposed master-of-defense Thibodeau and his Timberwolves.
Has Rubio got more to learn about playoff basketball? If one ignores his Olympic experience with the Spanish national team, one might say he had no experience. But, in Snyder, Rubio has a coach that wants him to succeed while he's here, rather than the "whatever, I'm lusting after Jeff Teague, or a zombie, or an emaciated Minion, rather than that useless crud from Spain that I have to use, because Kris Dunn is worse" Thibodeau...and when matching up playoff experience, Snyder actually coached in the playoffs last season, and won a playoff series in the Western Conference (something Thibodeau hasn't done yet, winning series only in the Least East).
Is it reasonable to believe that Rubio learned a lot from the disastrous season he endured in Minnesota last season, that will help the Jazz make the playoffs? His role in the current winning streak says "Si!" His current teammates are much better than the ones he had last year, his current coach is better, his current GM is better, his current owner is better...
...and not only is Rubio better, he's getting betterer still...
...although how he can get better than this, I have no idea... :)