NBA fans know three things about Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio. Two are good, one is bad. The good ones are that he has amazing court vision and strong skills as a defender. The bad is that he can't shoot at all. In his three seasons with the Wolves, Rubio has shot only 36.8 percent from the field (topping out at 38.1 percent last year) and 32.3 percent from beyond the arc (with a high of 34 percent as a rookie). Defenses don't really have to respect his jumper, and that makes him a tough player to build around despite his considerable gifts as a facilitator.
With Kevin Love now in Cleveland, Minnesota is counting on Rubio to serve as the team's leader. To help him become more of a scoring threat, they have hired one-time NBA guard Mike Penberthy to help as a shooting coach. Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune has more information:
The Timberwolves today made it official, with training camp now just five days away: They have hired L.A.-based Mike Penberthy as a shooting coach to work with [the] team, particularly Ricky Rubio, who has struggled in that area in recent years.
A former Laker who played 56 NBA games more than a decade [ago], Penberthy worked with Rubio, Chase Budinger and others over the summer. He will move back and forth from his Los Angeles-area home to work with players.
"I don't even want to pigeon-hole him as a shooting coach because i think there are other things he'll be able to help us with," Wolves coach/president Flip Saunders said. "That will be his main emphasis. Ricky enjoyed working with him, even though it was only for a week. I think if Ricky had a chance to spend a month with him or six weeks, I believe we could have seen some good changes. We'll let his role evolve. It's important for him to see how we want to play and where guys are going to get shots and how he can incorporate that into our shooting."
The team's press release presents Penberthy as a coach in player development, so it's not as if he's expected to work solely with Rubio. However, it would be a little naive to think Rubio won't be his primary pupil. The young Spaniard is a fine player, but his poor shooting is severely limiting his chances of becoming the star the Wolves want him to become. Aside from occasional outliers like Rajon Rondo, it's nearly impossible for a player to become a top-level NBA guard without a serviceable jumper. Plus, those who do usually function within a system that compensates their deficiencies with three or four active scorers. The Wolves are depending on fringe stars like Thaddeus Young and unproven commodities like Andrew Wiggins to play those roles.
The good news is that it is possible for a player to improve his shooting. San Antonio Spurs star Tony Parker famously developed a jumper to function in the mid-range and on corner threes, although it helped that he had elite finishing ability, another skills Rubio lacks, to keep defenses honest. Regardless, Parker's success proves that a player can expand his offensive possibilities simply by turning himself into a decent shooter from particular spots on the floor. A quick glance at Rubio's shot chart shows a few areas where that might be possible.
We won't know if Penberthy's work with Rubio leads to positive results for a few months. However, it seems apparent that Rubio's shooting is the most pressing issue for the Wolves as they enter a rebuilding year. He turns 24 on October 21 and can become a restricted free agent next July, so there's not much time left to decide if he can become a star. The Wolves understandably want to do everything they can to maximize his potential, and hiring Penberthy is the next step in making that effort.
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