I hesitate to riff on what could have been a throwaway quote, but Flip Saunders told sports talk listeners in the Great White North this week that he wants Ricky Rubio to score more.
"That's his next step in the evolution of the point guard position," recently hired Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders told KFAN 100.3. "Being a bigger scoring threat, being able to knock down shots, which will make the game much more easier for him."
No doubt that's true. For all of the passing brilliance of Steve Nash and Chris Paul, both are excellent shooters. Because they require full attention, things open up for the rest of the club and allows Nash and CP3 to hit teammates in open space. As a result, the assists rack up.
You may question whether Ricky actually needs this added weapon because Rajon Rondo certainly hasn't needed it. And that's the most persistent comparison for Rubio: he's the Spanish Rondo, a pass-first, pass-second guard with a bag of tricks, a solid physical profile and some of the worst shooting mechanics in the league.
Here's the thing about the strokeless Rondo, though, a player I adore watching: he's always had superb targets (namely Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett) and, despite Boston's incredible success since 2007, the Celtics' offense has always lagged behind. Boston had two top-10 finishes on offense in the six-year Rondo-Garnett-Pierce era, peaking at No. 6 in 2008-09. From 2009-10 on, it was No. 15 or worse, plummeting to No. 27 in 2011-12. There is evidence -- visual and statistical -- that Rondo has been a passer par excellence, but that hasn't translated to rampant offensive success for the C's. With a worse supporting cast, that might become more obvious.
Winning or losing a game depends on how well the team handles all of the things that add up to a positive point differential: shooting, shooting defense, rebounding, turnovers, fouls and every component that goes into those (setting a good screen, delivering passes on target in space, rotating well). Rondo and Ricky provide the passes, but not the scoring. It's hard to believe that the passing is so much more effective than it is for other point guards that it makes up for the scoring deficit the idiosyncratically-pure point guards provide. The team has to score at a decent clip to win most nights, even with a stellar defense, something Rubio is unlikely to have the luxury of with Andrei Kirilenko gone. How many spectacular, no-one-else-could-do-it assists make up for the lack of scoring you're likely to get with Rondo or Rubio? Too many, I'd guess.
So, Flip is right. Minnesota will likely be better if Ricky can score more and shoot more efficiently. It's a no-brainer when you say it like that, but given how we fetishize the pass, it's worth remembering.
Don't leave us, Turner
For NBA fans of a certain age, there has never been a TNT without basketball. The network launched on Oct. 3, 1988; its first NBA broadcast was 27 days later. It's been by far the longest television partner in league history, and Turner Sports has developed its coverage to be the best in memory. TNT offers the best pre-game show, the best post-game show, excellent All-Star coverage and great announce teams (Reggie Miller notwithstanding). It's also shepherded NBA TV and NBA.com well in the last couple of years since taking off: NBA TV has so much basketball, including international play, and NBA.com is replete with excellent writers like David Aldridge, Steve Aschburner, Sekou Smith, Lang Whitaker, John Schuhmann and a couple others I'm sure forgetting.
That makes Jason McIntyre's report on Fox's intention to gobble up some NBA games a little alarming:
The real bidding war will take place between Turner and Fox Sports, multiple industry sources tell The Big Lead. [...] Fox Sports 1 has TV rights for college football and the NFL, but adding the NBA is an absolute must for the nascent channel to expand its live sports portfolio. FS1 does have college basketball and soccer, but a partnership with the NBA would provide steady programming from November-May. With no other major sports TV rights on the immediate horizon, the big winner, of course, will be the NBA.
McIntyre offers three reasonable scenarios for how this could play out and two of them end in TNT being left out of the picture. That'd be really sad. The NBA needs to get the money -- the time has never been better for grossly expanding the league's revenues -- but I hope Turner stands up to Fox and protects its NBA legacy for the sake of its viewers. We need Chuck and the Jet and Ernie, in that arrangement, forever.
That said, there is an opening in which Fox Sports 1 could add to existing NBA coverage. ABC has always seemed a little non-plussed about the Sunday double-header -- it takes the fewest allowable under the ABC/ESPN-NBA rights deal. Would Fox Sports offer a competitive deal for that slice, leaving Wednesday and Friday coverage to ESPN? Would Fox Sports compete for just those Sundays and the NBA Finals? What about Tuesday nights, where the only regular season nationally televised action is on NBA TV? That's another spot where Fox Sports 1 could improve on the existing regime by offering it to a wider audience. (NBA TV reaches 45 million homes. Fox Sports 1 already reaches 90 million.) It'd be awful to lose Matt Winer and crew on Tuesdays, but the alternative is reaching many more fans. (One more Fox Sports 1 plus: Gary Payton! Re-unite Payton and Webber, please and thank you.)
There's a reason to believe something like this could happen. From McIntyre:
But the NBA is already spreading word to likely bidders that it loves how the NFL is everywhere - ESPN, CBS, NBC, Fox [...]
Let it be so. "NBA everywhere" sounds fantastic to me.
"I think he's got some photographers from Men's Fitness on there doctoring them up or something because he looks pretty big in those pictures, doesn't he? Naw, I'm just kidding."
In my dramatization, he follows with "please don't hurt me Roy."