Ricky Rubio

Ricky Rubio’s game translates to NBA just fine thank you

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For the first three quarters Friday night, the Ricky Rubio doubters out there — those that said his game would never translate to the NBA —  had their chance to crow. “He can’t shoot” and he was 0-10 from the floor. “He can’t defend” and Mo Williams was tearing him apart (along with everyone else on the Wolves).

But he won Minnesota the game, beating the Clippers 101-98. He won it before Kevin Love got free for a game-winning three on a play Rick Adelman has been running since Brad Miller was the guy popping out. He won it before he knocked down his one shot from the field all game, a three from the right corner that tied the game with 20 seconds to go.

Before the dramatic finish, Ricky Rubio earned the Timberwolves a key road win by controlling the game in the fourth quarter, changing the pace and getting his guys the ball in position where they could do damage. He led the Timberwolves back from a double-digit deficit in the final 10 minutes to win. And in doing so showed a kind of veteran savvy and confidence that could take the Timberwolves a long way in a few years.

His game translates just fine. Thank you very much.

“He’s got a real gift,” according to Minnesota coach Rick Adelman. “He’s a great passer in the open court and he’s just a smart player. You’ve got to give him rope and let him go because he’s got that ability. And because of him, we’ve really kind of changed and simplified things we’ve done just to put the ball in his hands. He’s been better than I thought he was going to be.”

“He’s clever with the basketball,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “He was getting in the lane on us, turning the corner on the elbow pick-and-roll….

“His penetration hurt us more than anything, even though he was missing shots. He was getting in the lane, then at the end with about 20 seconds to go he hits the three from the right corner.”

For most the way Friday night at Staples Center the Clippers were in control. And Rubio seemed out of it, unable to knock down shots or find the passing lanes he likes in the half court. After the game he admitted that the number of games he plays now — dramatically more than the two or so a week he did in Europe — has his legs tired and that was impacting his shot (he was shooting 42.5 percent on the season before this game and 40 percent from three). He talked about the need to get stronger so this is not a problem in the future.

But then came the fourth quarter, and it was different.

“(The fourth quarter) is when you have to control more of the game, it’s when I feel much better…” Rubio said. “We feel comfortable in the last quarter.”

The young Clippers had the chance to put the Timberwolves away for three quarters but never did. Rather than keep doing what had gotten them the lead in the first place, they went for the home run. There were some calls the Clippers didn’t like (Williams got ejected in the fourth) and that seemed to be their focus and not the game.

Rubio never lost focus. Minnesota came back when Rubio pushed the pace in the fourth quarter and finding ways to create. That was one of the questions about him coming into the NBA — will he really be able to make those passes in the NBA against better athletes?

“Over (in Spain) he would pretty much initiate the offense without creating as much,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “We found out right away he can create and we are better off when he does that.”

He did that in the fourth. He wasn’t hitting shots but he was getting in the lane and drawing contact, getting to the free throw line eight times in the quarter. The other thing he does beautifully is drive at and occupy a help defender, all the while waiting for that defender’s man to cut to the basket so Rubio can pick up the assist. Rubio had three assists in the fourth quarter that were started by his penetration. He had a steal and a block, too.

Then there was the game-tying three. He was 0-10 yet he shot it with confidence. Something one expects of veterans.

The next play he defended Chauncey Billups well on the Clippers second to last possession, getting left on an island without help but staying in front and contesting a shot Billups missed. Rubio is not the most athletic guard on the planet, but he’s pretty long and uses his anticipation well.

Some people struggle with Rubio’s game because it is hard to define — it’s not like anyone else’s game. He is not the next Steve Nash or anyone else. Adelman is good with that — and thinks it translates to the NBA just fine.

“I think we get in trouble all the time in this league trying to manufacture players into who you want them to be and not let them be themselves,” Adelman said. “He’s been playing in the pros for so long, and when I watched him he has such great instincts….

“People ask me all the time if he is like Pete Maravich. No, no. Not even close. He’s a good young player who has a chance to have a very good future but sometimes people try to mark him as something he’s not right now. Let him develop. So far he’s doing great.”

Really? Online petition started to change name of Durant, Oklahoma, to Westbrook.

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder stands on the court in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Durant, Oklahoma, is a city of just more than 15,000 people in the southern part of the state. It is the capital of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and it was named after its Choctaw founder, Dixon Durant.

But some people in Oklahoma are not high on the name Durant, lately. Kevin Durant decided to bolt the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors this summer, and some Thunder fans feel betrayed. Understandably. Durant was well within his rights, but if you’re a Thunder fan and you’re not hurt by this it would be strange.

Still, you have to hope what follows is satire. It reads like it.

Oklahoma’s Ryan Nazari created a Change.org petition asking the city of Durant be renamed the city of Westbrook. As in Russell Westbrook. The guy who signed a contract extension to stay in Oklahoma (for just one extra year, but still). Read the petition below and tell me it doesn’t sound like satire.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the great state of Oklahoma has been betrayed. As many of you know, Kevin Durant has left our state, torn out our hearts, and left our beloved Oklahoma City Thunder in depleted shape. All of this after even being offered a cabinet position for the State of Oklahoma. It is because of this heinous action that I believe the State of Oklahoma has a responsibility to change the name of the City of Durant to Westbrook, the man who is loyal, whom we believe in, and who will lead our team to glory. Yes, it is understood that the city Durant was not named after the evil Kevin Durant, but it is just another hideous reminder of what happened to our community.”

As of this writing, he had reached his goal of having more than 1,000 people sign on.

Maybe it’s satire, but it’s more creative than burning a jersey.

Obviously, the name of the city is not changing. If people want to live in Westbrook, they should move to Maine.

Way too early look: Who could make up USA’s 2020 Tokyo Olympic basketball team?

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan and Kyle Lowry #7 of United States stand on the podium after defeating Serbia in the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Let’s start with the obvious: This is an exercise in futility. There is no way to predict accurately what the 2020 USA men’s basketball team headed to the Tokyo Olympics will look like. There will be injuries that sideline guys. There will be contract situations where key guys decide it’s in their best interest to sit out. Plus, there could be a guy just now entering his junior year of high school who we don’t know well yet but in four years will be a clear choice for the team.

Now that we’ve gotten through the tedious disclaimer, let’s have fun:

What will the 2020 USA Basketball team look like?

First, it will have a bit of a business attitude — Gregg Popovich is coaching now. Not that Mike Krzyzewski ran a college party Team USA, far from it, but with Popovich’s demeanor and the scare put into the 2016 team (and some improving world powers, such as Canada), expect the USA to be a little more focused next time around.

For the roster, who from the 2016 gold medal team in Rio returns for more gold? At the top of the list: A 31-year-old Kevin Durant will be back for one more run (and to climb on top of the USA Olympic scoring list). He will be the unquestioned team leader. The alpha. It will be his team.

After that? Young stars who want one more go at it such as Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, and Klay Thompson will seriously consider a return. Maybe Jimmy Butler. Those guys will have a leg up having Olympic experience and a commitment to the program.

After that, some big names that passed on Rio are going to suit up in Japan. There will be far less defection of top talent this time around — the fears around Brazil will be gone, and NBA players wanting to sell more shoes in Asia will be eager to sign up. I expect you will see Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, and maybe James Harden decide they are in for the next round. LeBron James said he felt left out and may consider a return, but he will be 35 years old with 17 NBA seasons on his body by that point, does he want to put his body through an international curtain call? Probably not.

Rounding out the roster, expect a few guys from this year’s USA Select Team — the team the Olympic squad practiced against in Las Vegas at the start of camp — to make the leap up (as Kyrie Irving and others did this year).

Who? That’s the hardest thing to predict, it depends on development. Guys to watch include Victor Olidipo, Justise Winslow, Devin Booker, Brandon Ingram, and Jabari Parker — some of them will be ready to make the leap.

One clue to the 2020 roster: Players that you see in China for the 2019 FIBA World Cup will be more likely to make the 2020 team. (Yes, the World Championships are now the year before the Olympics, welcome to more of FIBA’s wisdom, as is the fact the Cup qualifiers fall during the NBA/Euroleague seasons.) Guys from the select team now that head to China in three years and perform well in that setting will likely have the USA across their chest in Japan.

Whatever team we send will have the most talent in those games. The question is will that be enough?

Check out the Cleveland Cavaliers Top 10 plays from last season

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With athletes such as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on the team, you know the Cleveland Cavaliers Top 10 plays of last season were going to have some special moments.

Yes, the block by LeBron and the stepback three by Irving that sealed the first Cleveland title in 52 years are on top of the list.

But there are some other ridiculous Irving handles and even a Timofey Mozgov dunk in there (a $64 million dunk, apparently).

Watch Spurs’ Dejounte Murray throw off-the-backboard alley-oop to himself in pickup game

Washington guard Dejounte Murray, center, dribbles the ball past Mount St. Mary's center Taylor Danaher (50) as Washington forward Marquese Chriss, right, watches duirng the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Just a suggestion for rookie Dejounte Murray: Don’t do this in front of Gregg Popovich. You may not like his reaction.

That said, the Spurs needed to get more athletic this off-season — landing Pau Gasol certainly didn’t help that cause — so enter first-round pick Murray, who pulled this off in a recent pickup game.

Murray is going to be brought along slowly in a backcourt where Tony Parker and Patty Mills will be splitting time at the point. Murray is more of a combo guard and is going to have to shoot a lot better than he did in college (28.8 percent from three) to get some run. But this is a situation where the Spurs can groom him, bring him along slowly, and see if they have another draft steal.

He’s certainly got the athleticism.