Veteran Kidd likes Rubio’s unselfishness

MINNEAPOLIS — Jason Kidd fastened the top button of his pressed pink dress shirt on Friday

night, smoothing the non-existent creases and addressing the media with an ease

few players ever achieve.

The 38-year-old point guard returned to the Mavericks lineup on Friday after

missing six games with a strained right calf, but many of the questions

directed at him postgame had little to do with his improving health. Instead,

Kidd was asked about similarities to Ricky Rubio, the 21-year-old Timberwolves

point guard who, at first glance, would seem to have little, if anything, in

common with him.

Sure, both might look little like professional basketball players if you saw

them on the street. Rubio, rumpled and disheveled, could pass for any other

lanky 21 year old, and Kidd, with his shaven head and grey dress pants, might

look like a well-dressed businessman on his way home from work. But where Kidd

is effortless, Rubio can be awkward. The ease of joking and conversation still

eludes him at times, whereas Kidd is as disarming as a player can be.

Kidd’s return was an occasion for self-mockery, as he laughed about his

sometimes wild ball handling. His sideline conditioning became a “bike

ride to St. Paul,” a pun that Rubio isn’t yet capable of or comfortable

with making.

The two couldn’t be at more opposite points in their careers. Both are

negotiating their roles – Kidd is working to maintain minutes as he ages, while

Rubio is building the resume of a career starter – but for all Kidd’s comfort

in the locker room, Rubio has found a similar niche on the court. That’s not to

say Kidd doesn’t have his place in the Mavs’ game plan. He does, and it’s an

integral one. But unlike Rubio, he may just be more fluid in his off-the-court

role.

But despite the generation gap — Rubio was just 4 years old when Kidd made his

debut in Dallas in 1994 — there are some striking similarities between the two.

In the season before Kidd joined the Mavericks, the team went 13-69, a similar

record to the Timberwolves’ 17-65 record in 2010-11. In Kidd’s first season,

though, Dallas finished 36-46, and the point guard won Rookie of the Year on a

resume of statistics not unlike Rubio’s. This year’s Timberwolves may finish

just a bit better — they’re on pace for a 32-34 record — and Rubio winning Rookie

of the Year isn’t out of the question.

“He’s going to be good,” Kidd said. “He understands the game.

He’s very unselfish.”

Kidd had only positive things to say about the rookie’s performance so far, and

he added that he thinks Rubio has a bright future. Kidd said that with Rubio,

the Timberwolves can do some of the things the Mavericks have been able to do

with him over the years. The offense can run the floor with the knowledge that

someone can get them the ball, and the passing game can be a key factor.

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle agreed. After admitting that he’d like to forget his

team’s first game against Minnesota, a 99-82 loss in which Rubio finished with

14 points and seven assists off the bench, he added that Rubio was a huge part

of the Mavericks’ most recent loss to Minnesota, 105-90 in Dallas on Jan. 25.

That night, Rubio started, playing 46 minutes and finishing with 17 points, 12

assists and seven rebounds.

“The one in Dallas, they diced us up with pick-and-rolls,” Carlisle

said. “Rubio was great. We didn’t play well, and they played really well,

and you’ve got to give them credit. The pick-and-rolls are a major, major problem.”

But on Friday in Dallas’ 104-97 win in Minneapolis, the show belonged to Kidd.

He finished the night with eight points and 10 assists, but most noticeably, he

had a plus/minus of +23. Rubio had 10 points and eight assists, an improvement

from his four points and one assist against Memphis two nights earlier, but it

was far from his best game.

In fact, the recent lull in Rubio’s performance may be an indicator of the one

warning Kidd has for the rookie point guard. Where rest is simply accepted as a

component of any 38-year-old player’s season, Rubio is expected to be energetic

to an almost impossible extent. Kidd spoke of Rubio — and all rookies, for that

matter — being affected by the grind of their first season. With this season’s

schedule, that exhaustion will be even harder for Rubio to avoid.

So the near future may be difficult for Rubio, Kidd said. There will be

obstacles in this rookie season, challenges to maintain energy, both mental and

physical. But in the long run, the outlook is bright.

“Him and (Kevin) Love have a great future here, and so in due time they’re

going to be very good,” Kidd said.

Rubio should take that as the highest compliment. If there’s anyone who’s

qualified to identify a future star point guard, it’s Kidd.

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