Turns out Ridnour thrives alongside Rubio
MINNEAPOLIS — With his downturned gaze and slight figure, Luke Ridnour's 6-foot-2 frame is just average enough to render him normal.
He'd be hard to recognize on the street, where many NBA players draw stares for nothing more than their sheer size, and there aren't crowds of fans wearing Ridnour jerseys dotting the stands at the Target Center each night — at least not yet.
But that's the atmosphere in which the Timberwolves guard has learned to thrive this year: Beside the spotlight rather than in it. In being forced to search for a role, Ridnour has found one, to more success than he's yet seen in Minnesota.
With the arrival of two point guards — rookie Ricky Rubio and veteran J.J. Barea — before the season, it may have seemed as if there was no place for Ridnour on the 2012 Timberwolves squad. But with the addition of Rubio to the starting lineup and Barea's injury, Ridnour's played his way into a new set of responsibilities, and he's having what could become a career year.
"We think he's a solid player, and he came in, and even when we traded for J.J. he didn't get flustered," coach Rick Adelman said of Ridnour's experience this season. "I knew all along that I was going to play two point guards together, so in my mind it made a lot of sense."
Ridnour began the season as the team's starting point guard, and amid fans' chants for Rubio to enter the game, he was quietly impressive, shooting 52.3 percent from the field and averaging 8.3 points in December. Perhaps he used those cheers as motivation, or perhaps he just blocked them out. Regardless, Ridnour's been playing absent a spotlight, and at times his big games have been forgotten at the expense of a rabid need to document nearly every move his rookie counterpart makes. It takes nothing more than a simple pass for Rubio to impress, but for Ridnour to draw cheers, he needs to be nothing short of amazing.
Still, Ridnour claims not to care, not to notice and maybe that's the key. Because even as he went on to finish with a 19-point night against San Antonio and 22 points against Chicago, his role was still in transition.
The same evening Ridnour finished with those 22 points — he also made all three of his three-point shots and shot 72.7 percent from the field — Adelman began to discuss lineup changes. His team needed something, anything, to energize it, and that meant inserting Rubio as a starter. With that move, Ridnour was forced into more of a shooting guard role, and on Monday fans got to see the full effects of what the Rubio-Ridnour tandem can do.
The two combined for 34 points and 17 assists, but Ridnour stole the spotlight with his 25-point performance. He was perfect from beyond the three-point arc and shot 71.4 percent from the field, capping off what was his highest-scoring night since 2006.
"He's just taking advantage of opportunities he has," Kevin Love said. "He's knocking down open shots. He's really taken the reins of the team."
For Ridnour, his recent individual success is encouraging, but he's even happier with what he and Rubio are doing for their team. They've held their own on defense, with Ridnour successfully defending players with more size and strength, and they've run a fast-paced, pass-driven offense that's led to three straight 30-point nights for Love. The team is 2-1 since Adelman moved Rubio into the starting lineup, and for now, it seems like the most viable adjustment the new coach has made.
"It kind of just puts a little more pressure on the defense," Ridnour said of playing alongside Rubio. "There's two guys that can handle it. He passes the ball so well, you just kind of run the floor and try to make plays when you get a chance."
There's a lot to be said about Ridnour, both on and off the court. He's a seasoned veteran, Love said, the kind of guy who takes care of himself and his game. He's a great role model, according to Rubio, who's made the rookie's transition even easier. He's unflappable. He's modest. He wants nothing more than to win.
The list could go on.
But for Adelman, it's simpler than that. Although Monday's game was a standout performance, a big night for a solid player, Ridnour's provided the stability and consistency of a veteran who's played on winning teams. And as a coach who still has so many questions about his squad, that's exactly what Adelman needs.
"Luke was terrific," Adelman said.
And on Monday night, there was no need to say anything more.
Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter