Niesen: Rubio's worth to Wolves is quite clear

Niesen: Rubio's worth to Wolves is quite clear

Published Jan. 18, 2012 10:12 p.m. ET

MINNEAPOLIS — Almost a month into the season, I finally get it.

I was sucked in. I succumbed.

A Wednesday night game against a 3-11 Detroit team warrants a change of pace, so I found myself in the upper deck of the Target Center, looking for a new vantage point on a team, a game, a stadium. But during Wednesday night's 93-85 Timberwolves win, I almost forgot about the game. Instead, I focused on a player.

I've always liked watching games from the far reaches of the stands. From so far away, it's more big-picture, less real. In a way, it's more of an actual game. People become numbers, miniature pieces in a bigger scheme. You can see the strategy and the motion. You can better predict where the ball might go, where it should go, even if you can't make out the names on the backs of jerseys.

Blurry names aside, I found myself following one number up and down the court, in circles, as it twitched and reacted on defense. Number Nine. Ricky Rubio. From up above, you can truly see why fans scream for him to come into the game, why they clamored for him to start until he finally did. From up there, his movements seem more fluid, if that's possible. It never looks like he's running that fast — until you blink and realize he's at the other end of the court. Your eyes get tired from following him.

"We want the ball in his hands," coach Rick Adelman said. "He makes good decisions."

Rubio wasn't the star on Wednesday night. He finished with nine points and six rebounds, a solid night. But with six steals — the most of Timberwolves player since Kevin Garnett had seven in 2007 — and eight assists, Rubio may have been the most complete player on the floor.

He's the kind of player who makes you notice the little things, the skills that separate that upper echelon of players. Look at his reaction time after a missed layup; he flinches almost instantaneously to get the rebound or guard his man. He runs with his arms stretched out in front of his body, always ready for a pass at the most improbable of moments.

If he can make those unexpected passes, he's going to be able to receive them, too.

"You just have to always be ready," Wolves center Anthony Tolliver said of Rubio. "When the ball is in his hands, you have to just be ready to catch it, even in a position that you don't think he can get you the ball, you just have to have your hands ready and always be prepared for the ball."

There are also the moments when he seems to be a non-factor in the play, when you see Tolliver hustling for a rebound. He can't get there in time, but suddenly there's Rubio, deeper on the court with the ball in his hands.

"He's just got special talent," Adelman said. "His ballhandling skills and the way he sees the floor is unique. He sees what the defense is doing and how they react, and he takes the easy play. You can't coach that."

You also can't coach the behind-the-back flip he executed mid-layup in the third quarter, a move that incited the Target Center crowd to its loudest volume yet on Wednesday night. For the crowd, it was a further validation of their crazed devotion to the rookie, but for Rubio it was simply what he needed to do, a way to keep the ball from getting knocked loose.

"It's is what it is," Rubio said. "Sometimes it's the play that have to work, not because it's good-looking. It's just because you need that."

That move is at the core of the mania that is Rubio. He does the things that normal people can't do, that they can't even imagine doing. Plenty of people can remember 3-pointers and free throws they made in their high school careers, but moves like Rubio's are a far cry from normal. He may not be perfect, but Adelman has it right: he's special.

So that's how I came to lean on the railing in the Target Center upper deck, watching Rubio even as he sat on the bench. Take your towel off your head, I found myself thinking. Adelman, stand up and put him back in the game. I gave in to the hype.

From up close, Rubio is fun to watch. But from a distance, somehow, it's even less possible to tear your eyes away.

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