Ridnour quietly off to impressive start for Wolves
The crowd is roaring at Target Center this season for the first time in recent memory.
A new generation of Timberwolves fan serenades Ricky Rubio with chants of ''Ole! Ole! Ole! Ole!'' every time he threads a lob pass to a teammate at the rim. Kevin Love hears ''MVP! MVP!'' whenever he steps to the free throw line.
Luke Ridnour's work, meanwhile, goes largely unnoticed in the shadows. Creating a turnover here while helping in the post, knocking down a jump shot there as the shot clock winds down.
And that's just the way Ridnour likes it.
''The best thing about me is I don't read anything or know anything that's going on,'' Ridnour said after scoring 25 points and dishing nine assists in a victory over Sacramento on Monday. ''So I just come out and play.''
Ridnour prefers to be out of the spotlight, and he is quietly putting together the best start of his career to give the Timberwolves the steady, veteran presence they've sorely lacked.
Ridnour is averaging career highs in scoring (12.9 points per game) and shooting percentage (52 percent) through the first 13 games. He switched from point guard to shooting guard to make room for Rubio in the starting lineup, and he hasn't missed a beat.
The ninth-year pro appeared to have an uncertain future in Minnesota after the Wolves signed veteran J.J. Barea away from the Mavericks in the offseason. With Rubio coming over from Spain, there figured to be precious little playing time for Ridnour.
But Barea has been hampered by hamstring and ankle injuries, and all Ridnour has done is make himself indispensable with his ability to knock down open shots and play gritty defense against much bigger guards.
''I knew all along I was going to play two point guards together,'' said Wolves coach Rick Adelman, who used a similar strategy at previous stops in Houston, Sacramento and Portland. ''In my mind, it made a lot of sense and I don't think Luke's ever bought into that.''
Ridnour's sharp play at the beginning of this hectic, lockout-shortened season is all the more impressive considering he didn't have much time to devote to basketball in the offseason. Luke's wife gave birth to twin boys in May, and one of them, Kyson, has struggled with health problems that kept him in the hospital for four straight months.
Intensely private, Ridnour has been reluctant to talk about the situation, but he nearly broke down on the team's media day before the season began when he talked of the strength that his wife and son have shown.
''Just to see what we've been through, my wife and how strong she's been, it's been more about family than anything this offseason,'' Ridnour said then. ''Actually this break, this long offseason has been much needed for my family.''
There have been ups and downs for Ridnour's little guy since he left the hospital in September, but you'd never know it with how his dad has been playing this season.
Against the Kings, Ridnour scored 10 points in the first quarter while the rest of the Timberwolves struggled to find their shots. He even blocked a shot and harassed the much bigger Marcus Thornton into 4-for-12 shooting and just 12 points on the other end.
''Luke's tough,'' Adelman said. ''He's going to take the challenge up and guard people bigger than him. And that's the whole key. If he can guard people bigger than him, they have a hard time guarding him.''
Playing with another point guard in the same backcourt is nothing new to Ridnour. He did it with Brandon Jennings in Milwaukee, helping the Bucks make the playoffs two years ago. He signed a four-year, $16 million deal to come to Minnesota last year, and suffered perhaps as much as any player on the roster during a 17-win season.
''It was tough, really tough, especially when you come from making the playoffs to that,'' Ridnour said. ''But it's a new era and it's a new everything here. I think the way it's going is definitely the right direction.''
Rubio credits Ridnour with helping him make the transition from Spain to the NBA, and the chemistry has been quick to form between two distinctly different personalities.
''He's a kind of point guard that doesn't get crazy,'' Rubio said. ''He's smart. He's doing things in the right way. So he helps me a lot.''
And while there have been many ooohs and ahhhs at Rubio's handiwork with the basketball this season, Ridnour hasn't exactly been the vanilla alter ego. He'll sprinkle in a behind-the-back bounce pass here and there and picked up a nifty assist against the Kings when he bounced a pass to Love off the backboard in traffic for a layup.
''I think he likes it,'' Adelman said of Ridnour playing with Rubio. ''He did it in Milwaukee with Jennings. I've found when you have a point guard like that and you slide him there ... all of a sudden they're faster than the other guards, and they're hard to guard.''
On most game nights, Ridnour is showered, dressed and out of the locker room before the media even gets in to talk to the players. He's perfectly content with Love and Rubio getting all the attention.
His wife and boys are waiting for him, and that's all the attention he needs.
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