PG Ricky Rubioâ€™s passing has him alongside elite company historically.
By JOAN NIESENFS North
MINNEAPOLIS – Ricky Rubio said at Wednesday's Timberwolves shootaround that he no longer feels pain in his left knee and that his fear of driving to the basket has all but disappeared. This after the point guard has strung together a nine-game stretch during which he's averaged 12.6 points on 44.3 percent shooting and 8.4 assists.
Rubio's play has been the bright spot in an otherwise dismal period in which the team has sputtered to a 2-7 record. On Wednesday night against Utah, there will be a chance for another Rubio milestone: He's just 12 assists shy of the 500th in his NBA career.
Las season, Rubio became the youngest player in league history to average 8.2 assists (playing a minimum of 30 games) in a season. Sure, his injury may have in a way helped him, as he played in only 41 games and had no chance to tire at the end of the season, but still. What he did was impressive.
Now, 65 games into his NBA career, Rubio is in elite company. The sample size may be positively tiny, but he's currently one of just three players in NBA history to average 7.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game over his career. The other two? John Stockton and Chris Paul, who are among the best point guards of the past two decades. Rubio is averaging exactly 7.5 steals and 2.0 assists, whereas Paul's numbers are slightly better: 9.8 assists and 2.4 steals. On his career, Stockton averaged 10.5 assists and 2.2 steals. (Steals were first recorded in the 1973-74 season.)
No Kirilenko, still: His former team's trip to the Target Center Wednesday wasn't enough to heal Minnesota's Andrei Kirilenko, who has missed the past four games with a strained right quad. The forward said he's mentally ready to get back, but it's no surprise that the team decided to simply extend his rest through the six-day All-Star break
"I need to start playing," Kirilenko said. "I'm tired of having to rest. It's very tough watching your team to play on TV, being on the sideline."
He also said that his kids keep telling him he needs to get back on the court, which you'd imagine would be extra motivation.
Barea is good to go, sort of: After two games in which his status was questionable just minutes before tipoff (he played in Cleveland but not Memphis), guard J.J. Barea said he will play Wednesday despite his left mid-foot sprain. It's still sore, he said, but he's looking at it as a situation in which he plays through this one game and then gets time off to fully heal.
"Just got to get through this one tonight and go to Puerto Rico, put it in some hot water, hot sand, and then I'll be back ready to go," he said.
He did admit that his mobility has been limited these past days.
"It really wasn't good. It was stop and go, was tough, a little slow," he said. "So it was a little tough to be out there."
Pek's All-Star plans: Unlike many NBA players, who use the All-Star break to jet to tropical locales, Nikola Pekovic is heading out ice fishing with a friend. The 6-foot-11, 290-pound center said he's been ice fishing two or three times before and has caught northern pike and walleye. When asked about the logistics of the ice being thick enough to hold his hulking frame, Pekovic laughed.
"If the cabin can be there," he said, "then I can be there probably."
When asked whether his newfound love of ice fishing is a sign that he wants to remain in Minnesota, Pekovic, a free agent this summer, was noncommittal. "For now, it's just ice fishing," he said, and he didn't seem as if he's putting too much time into thinking about his situation.
In regard to next week's trade deadline, though, Pekovic had a clear stance: He's not thinking about it. No one has assured him he won't be traded, but at this point, there's not too much chatter that he will.
"I don't even think about it," he said. "Nobody's telling me nothing about that. I don't know what the answer to that question is. I don't know nothing about that. It's not in my power that I can choose or not choose. I'd like to stay here."