In Dubai, Ricky Rubio anticipating ‘pick-and-pop’ partnership with Towns and TWolves play-offs

NBA point guard Ricky Rubio, in Dubai running clinics at the BasicBall Academy, tells Jonathan Raymond his ambitions for the coming season with the young, exciting Minnesota Timberwolves.

NBA player Ricky Rubio shown on Tuesday at Dubai Sports World, where he is conducting clinics for youth players at the BasicBall Academy. Antonie Robertson / The National / August 25, 2015
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For a point guard in basketball, the foremost responsibility on court is traditionally in playmaking and facilitating. Talented and multifaceted scorers are the shades of paint at the position’s artistic disposal.

These days Ricky Rubio, the Spanish point guard well-known for his passing creativity and ambition, suddenly has one of the richest palettes in the NBA on hand. And he can't wait to start experimenting with it.

Rubio is in Dubai this week, along with former pro Peja Stojakovic, teaching kids his craft at the BasicBall Academy at Dubai Sports World. It’s a moment of relative downtime and relaxation ahead of training camp in September and the early October beginning of pre-season.

Then he has serious work to get down to with the Timberwolves.

PHOTO GALLERY: NBA's Ricky Rubio and Peja Stojakovic conduct clinics at Dubai Sports World

It’s an exciting time in Minnesota, with the arrival of the top 2015 draft pick, Karl-Anthony Towns, and the continued development of Andrew Wiggins. Complementing young talents like Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, Anthony Bennett and Shabazz Muhammad give the team the sort of potential it hasn’t had in years. And it will be Rubio’s job, as the on-floor visionary, to put it all together in some meaningful way.

“I’m so excited for this upcoming season,” the 24-year-old fifth pick of the 2009 draft said on Tuesday at Dubai Sports World. “We have a lot of talent, we have a lot of future, but we have to start showing it now.”

The 2015/16 season won’t necessarily be pivotal for the Timberwolves – Towns is only 19, Wiggins 20, LaVine 20 – but it can be the start of something big for a club that hasn’t been to the play-offs in over a decade. And Rubio, naturally, would like to see the growth sooner than later.

“It’s early to talk about how the season’s gonna go,” he said, “but I like to dream big, like to set high expectations. And I think it’s time we make the play-offs.”

His job now might be one of the most envious in all of basketball. Wiggins, the top overall pick last season, is as explosive a talent as any to come around in the last few years. A leaper, an audacious attacker and a wing who just scratched the surface of his talent last season winning the rookie of the year award while scoring 17.1 points per game. Towns is a fleet-footed 6ft 11in game-changer, sure around the basket in a traditional big-man’s role with the additional skill to play the game from the outside in, shooting and driving with the strength of his 250-pound frame with the touch and speed of someone five inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter.

“I met him during the summer, I was in Minnesota and I saw him working out. He has a lot of talent, not just as a big guy,” Rubio said of Towns. “He can shoot the ball very well, I think we can play the pick-and-pop very well. Nowadays in the NBA that’s one of the keys to being a good team.”

He called Wiggins a “special player” as well.

“He especially is an awesome person, a special player, he has a lot of talent and can score in a lot of ways so it’s great for me to play with them.”

Rubio has always prided himself on his passing and his vision – “those are my strengths” he said – and after an injury-hit 2014/15, he said he’s healthy and “can start feeling like a player again” with a Timberwolves team that has coalesced around him into maybe the most tantalisingly projectable in the league.

“We just have to build our chemistry and rapport in training camp,” he said. “The team is built around a lot of talent, but with a point guard who can pass the ball and set up my teammates. I feel pretty well in that scenario.

“No doubt they have a lot of talent, but now they have to show it. So it’s something I’m there to help them with. I have my experience, I’ve been in the league for four years, this is my fifth, and I can share with them and try to get them better.”

Getting Minnesota not just better, but into real contention, will be an uphill climb at best in the stacked Western Conference, with realistically probably only one play-off spot up for grabs. They finished 16-66, the worst record in the league. They were nearly 30 wins away from eighth-seeded New Orleans.

The post-season within that context is still, most likely, a fair reach. But with Towns and Wiggins – and a healthy Rubio – it’s also not blatantly impossible anymore.

Every summer, on every team, just about every player will talk about play-offs. For the first time in his career though, Ricky Rubio can speak about high expectations and dreaming big with realistic tailwinds inflecting genuine self-assuredness in his talk of play-offs.

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