MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio will miss the game on Sunday against the Denver Nuggets, but it has nothing to do with the trade rumors that have surrounded him of late.
Rubio left the team on Friday for personal reasons and will not rejoin the Wolves until late Sunday or Monday, coach Tom Thibodeau said Saturday after practice. Rubio had to return home to Spain, and his brother posted on Instagram that their grandmother had passed away.
Rubio did not play in the second half against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday because of tightness in his left hip, but Thibodeau said Saturday that was not a concern going forward. Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones filled in admirably, helping the Wolves defeat the Clippers, 104-101. Rubio said after the game he was not concerned about the injury, though it did interrupt an impressive run for the pass-first point guard.
In his previous five full games, Rubio was averaging 13.2 points and 14.0 assists, looking more like the playmaker he was earlier in his career.
“I’m playing better, feeling better and the results are there,” Rubio said last week after a win over Oklahoma City. “But I don’t want it to be just a four-game stand. I want to be all season long like that. It’s hard. We have a lot of games, but my expectations are high and I keep them high because I work hard to do it.”
It has taken time for Rubio to acclimate to a new system in Thibodeau’s first year as coach, leading many across the league to believe that the sixth-year pro could be traded to make room for Dunn, the fifth overall pick in last summer’s draft. Thibodeau has historically preferred a point guard who is more of a scorer than Rubio, a career 37 percent shooter and a 31 percent shooter from 3-point range. But shooting has never been Rubio’s strong suit. He excels at getting others involved, playing good defense and controlling the tempo of the game.
With the trade deadline less than a month away, and Rubio on a hot streak, trade chatter has expectedly picked up. The Wolves are just 15-28, though they are 9-10 since a 6-18 start. Still, it’s clear that they have a lot of improving to do to become a factor in the Western Conference, and Rubio appears to be one of the few assets they are willing to part with that could fetch a decent player in return.
ESPN reported that the Wolves and Detroit Pistons had discussions about a Rubio-for-Reggie Jackson trade, but Pistons coach and team president Stan Van Gundy shot that down on Saturday.
Van Gundy told reporters in Detroit that he texted Jackson to tell him “this is the crazy season. We’re not trading you for Ricky Rubio.”
Dunn hasn’t been any better as a shooter in his rookie season, making 37.6 percent from the field and shooting a ghastly 27 percent from 3-point range. But he had played more than 20 minutes in a game just three times in the previous two months before Rubio’s injury on Thursday night.
“When you have shorter minutes, you have to try to be more ready,” Dunn said Saturday. “Try to go out there and impact the game right away. You can get the feel when you have more minutes, but I understand. Ricky’s a great player. I’m just trying to learn off him.”
Dunn likely will start against the Nuggets, with Jones serving as the backup point guard. Dunn said he has been getting more and more comfortable in his first season and will be ready when Thibodeau calls on him.
“I’m starting to understand who I am as a player (and) what’s my role on the team,” Dunn said. “Just figuring out guys, what’s their tendencies and trying to understand coach’s philosophy.”
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