Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin a good match in Wolves’ backcourt

MINNEAPOLIS — If it had gone Kevin Martin’s way, this union

would’ve been established four years ago.

But Sacramento went with Tyreke Evans with the 2009 NBA

Draft’s fourth overall pick — one spot ahead of the Timberwolves, which took

international sensation Ricky Rubio at No. 5. Then a senior member of a Kings

franchise trying to get its house in order, Martin implored front-office

general Geoff Petrie that summer to snag Rubio and his zany setup abilities.

“I thought it was gonna be the backcourt of the future

for the Sacramento Kings, me and Ricky, but they decided to go in a different

direction,” Martin said. “Here we are today.”

Here is Minnesota. And today, for the most part, has been

worth the wait.

For the first time in his young career, Rubio shares the

backcourt with a bona fide, proven scoring threat. Martin, in turn, benefits

from an expanded starter’s role after spending last year as Oklahoma City’s

sixth man.

If there’s such a thing as a shooting guard’s dream, it’s

Rubio — unselfish, pass-first and happy to reward a wing player’s efforts to

get open.

“I don’t like playing with Ricky,” Martin cracked

through a mouthful of sarcasm recently. “No, he’s great. … Fun guy to play

with.”

Entering Monday night’s game at Boston, Martin is scoring

20.6 points per game, making 40.8 percent of his 3-point attempts and shooting

92.8 percent from the foul stripe — even after struggling mightily and nursing

what has appeared to be a sore knee the past three games. Rubio, meanwhile,

ranks fourth among NBA players with 8.2 assists per game and has opened up the

scoring part of his offensive game, notching 12.6 points a night during his

last eight outings.

Those metrics are a product of several factors. But one big

reason is how well the two guards complement each other.

“They’re working well together,” coach Rick

Adelman said.

A 17.9-points-per-game scorer for his career, Martin has

worked with good point guards before, including Mike Bibby, Goran Dragic and

Russell Westbrook. But there’s a certain element of enjoyment and effectiveness

that comes with playing alongside Rubio, whose assists generate 19.3 points per

game.

That’s good for fourth in the NBA, according to league

player-tracking technology.

Martin mentioned after being signed as an unrestricted free

agent this offseason he was looking forward to finishing the back end of

between-the-leg and behind-the-back passes from Rubio. It’s been as fun as

expected, he said.

“I always thought that,” Martin said. “I

thought that when (the Kings) had a chance to draft him back whenever he got

drafted.”

Martin is currently mired in a slump that’s three games long

and counting. He went scoreless and asked to be taken out in the second half of

Sunday’s win at Memphis and had mentioned a sore knee affecting him last

Tuesday at Detroit.

In contests against the 76ers, Spurs and Grizzlies, Martin

went 5-for-24 from the floor and scored 19 points combined. Before the

Philadelphia game, he ranked ninth in the NBA in scoring.

The dropoff hasn’t sullied Rubio’s view of his new two-guard

partner. Since entering the league, he has had Kevin Love to find inside or for

the occasional 3.

But with Martin around now, the third-year pro has twice as

many premier scoring options.

“He’s been great for us so far,” Rubio said of

Martin. “In moments like tough games where we can’t find an easy shot, he

can take that chance.”

Martin’s threat to score from distance or creates space for

Rubio — and contributes heavily to his assists tally — and Kevin Love. Inside

and out, Love does the same for his backcourt teammates and has scored 26 or

more points in Minnesota’s past four games.

It’s all a product of Adelman’s corner-offense system that

emphasizes ball movement and works best with a distribution-minded point guard

and wing players with a knack for producing points.

Check. And check.

“He is a true point guard,” Sixers and former

Australian National Team coach Brett Brown said of Rubio, a staple of Spain’s

international success in recent years. “He is a pass-first, creative,

elusive type of point guard, and Kevin’s a scorer, a stone-cold scorer.

“I think Coach Adelman’s offensive system is extremely

hard to guard, so the combination of (Rubio’s) skill package plus their

partnership in a pretty lethal offensive system is dangerous.”

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