Ricky Rubio is struggling at EuroBasket. Time to worry?

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This was the guy the Minnesota Timberwolves have been banking on since they drafted him three years ago. Ricky Rubio, the Spanish sensation who has been playing at the highest level of European ball since he was 16. The guy with the rare gift of natural court vision.

He has been a mess through three games of EuroBasket.

Jose Calderon starts for Spain, Rubio comes off the bench. Against Poland Rubio had a line of 0-0-0, and has been just slightly better since. As noted at The Sporting News, through three games now (all Spanish wins against weak opponents) he is averaging 3 points on shooting 28.6 percent and 2 assists per game.

Still feeling good, Wolves fans?

There are reasons for concern, but it is too early to really worry.

That’s because it’s too early to rule on Rubio (maybe we should let him play in the NBA before deciding he’s a bust).

The problems he faces all start with his unsteady jumper — something we saw last season in EuroLeague when he shot 30 percent. You don’t play tight on a guy you don’t fear shooting, and that can impact Rubio’s drives and passing angles. Because Spain likes to run its offense through the Gasol brothers in the post (as they should) it becomes hard to make a good entry pass when your defender lays off you. After that, Rubio is basically non-existent in the half court.

But his shot likely can be fixed (he doesn’t really set his feet well, for one) and if his jumper just gets to respectable he is dangerous because of his speed and passing skills. Also, Minnesota wants to run and as Zach Lowe at Sports Illustrated points out Rubio has looked good in that setting.

The good news is this: When Spain has gotten out in transition, Rubio’s passing has been as advertised. He can toss pinpoint 75-foot outlet passes and run an effective 3-on-2. And when the half-court sets described above don’t produce a good look at first, the ball often ends up back in Rubio’s hands, and it is in those situations where you can see Rubio’s vision and skill. He’ll toss a skip pass a beat before the average point guard would be ready to throw it, and he’s already quite good at driving into the lane, drawing defenders and finding guys at unpredictable angles. If a simple drop-off pass to a guy near the rim isn’t available, Rubio is really good at hitting targets directly behind him on the perimeter or at diagonal angles that aren’t obvious, even to viewers watching on TV.

Which is to say that part of how Rubio does depends on the situation the Wolves put him in — get out in transition, let him create, don’t box him in. The other part is on Rubio, if he can develop a steady jumper his becomes very dangerous.

Rubio is still a risk, there are questions about his game and how it will develop. But he still is just 20, he still has gifts and he’s about to be challenged in a way he has not before. It’s going to take him a couple years to adjust. But it is way too early to give up on the guy, especially before he steps on an NBA court.

Bucks to retire jersey Marcus Johnson’s number

via NBA.com
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Marcus Johnson is a Milwaukee legend. He averaged 21 points a game in his seven seasons with the Bucks and is sixth on the all-time franchise list in points (10,980), is its all-time leader in offensive rebounds (1,468), is third in total rebounds (3,923), and made 4,546 during his time in Milwaukee. He is now a color commenter for the team.

Now, the team is going to retire his No. 8.

The ceremony will be March 24, a story broken by the Journal-Sentinel.

Johnson will be the ninth Bucks player to have his number retired and the first since the team’s move to its new home Fiserv Forum.

Current Bucks legend Giannis Antetokounmpo told the Journal-Sentinel he was happy. Antetokounmpo turned to Johnson at points for help with footwork, post moves, and more.

“I’m really happy for him, I think he deserves to have his jersey retired,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s amazing. He’s just sitting down there like a normal person, but this guy was one of the best players in the league when he was playing. … He’s a legend.”

Johnson won an NCAA national championship at UCLA under the legendary John Wooden before going on to an NBA career that included five All-Star appearances and three All-NBA teams.

Paul George hits game winner, lifts Thunder past 76ers 117-115

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Paul George converted a four-point play with 5.1 seconds left, sending Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder to a wild 117-115 victory over Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday.

George’s clutch shot capped a wild finish that included another memorable exchange with Westbrook and Embiid. Westbrook hit the floor out of bounds under the basket after a foul by Embiid late in the game, and Westbrook fouled out with 14.9 seconds remaining after he got Embiid while shooting a 3-pointer.

Embiid made all three foul shots, tying it at 113, and Jimmy Butler‘s driving layup put Philadelphia in front with 6.9 seconds to go. But George drained a 3 while being fouled by Butler and made the foul shot.

Philadelphia had one last chance, but Butler missed a 3-point attempt in the final seconds. The 76ers have lost 19 in a row to the Thunder.

George finished with 31 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Westbrook had 21 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for Oklahoma City, and reserve Dennis Schroder also scored 21 points.

The Thunder had dropped five of six, including a 138-128 overtime loss against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.

Embiid, who was a game-time decision because of back tightness, had 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists. JJ Redick scored 22 points for Philadelphia, and Ben Simmons finished with 20 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists.

Oklahoma City led by as many as 16 points in the first quarter, but Philadelphia rallied in the second and trailed 59-56 at the break.

 

Rumor: Suns, Magic have inquired about Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina

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Where do the Knicks stand on Frank Ntilikina, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft (taken ahead of Dennis Smith Jr. Zach Collins, and Donovan Mitchell)?

This should tell you all you need to know: The Denver Nuggets decided to cast Emmanuel Mudiay aside and the Knicks traded for him and instantly Mudiay jumped Ntilikina on the depth chart.

Ntilikina has played good defense but unimpressive offense for the Knicks this season and there is a thought from other teams around the league they may try to trade the young European.

A few teams are interested, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, but — shocker! — there may be a split in the front office about what to do between president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry.

Despite the Knicks’ clear lack of confidence in Ntilikina, teams have inquired about the 20-year-old, with the Magic and Suns expressing interest, according to a source. And this is where it gets interesting. There seems to be a debate within the Knicks on whether to deal Ntilikina. He was drafted by Mills and has supporters in the front office. But, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Perry, who took the job after Ntilikina was drafted, recently approached the Atlanta Hawks to gauge whether the team was interested in dealing for the guard (Hawks have Trae Young and weren’t interested).

The Suns and Magic both desperately need point guards. However, neither are offering much in trades knowing that come free agency next July there will be better, more established targets — D'Angelo Russell, Terry Rozier, among others.

Ntilikina is a good perimeter defender whose skills could be developed in the right situation into a rotation point guard. Probably. But because the offers will be lowball, the Knicks would essentially just be dumping the No. 8 pick of a season ago, a guy who is only 20 years old. That would be a mistake — if the Knicks can’t get decent value back, keep Ntilikina and try to develop him themselves. Point guards take longer to come around in the NBA, maybe Ntilikina will develop into a player the Knicks want to keep.

But the rumors are out there and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Markelle Fultz returns to Philadelphia to do shoulder rehab with team

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Markelle Fultz is back with the 76ers.

Not in uniform for games, but he is back from Los Angeles and in Philadelphia working out with the team to recover from thoracic outlet syndrome, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story, then Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia confirmed it.

Fultz was in the arena for the Sixers game Saturday against the Thunder on national television (though not suited up to play).

There is no timetable for Fultz’s return, although his agent has said he expects Fultz to be back on the court this season. Whether that would be with the Sixers is another question, teams have called about the availability of the No. 1 pick from the 2017 NBA Draft, but the offers have been so lowball that none of them have been seriously considered by Philadelphia.

After consulting with a number of specialists just a few weeks into the season (and just after the Jimmy Butler trade), the 20-year-old Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a pinching of the nerve through the collarbone area. Since December he has been in Los Angeles is doing physical therapy to relieve the issue.

Fultz has returned to Philadelphia and is continuing that therapy.