Ricky Rubio Making Life Easier for Derrick Williams, Offering Timberwolves Hope for Future

Derrick WilliamsMinnesota’s state animal is the gopher and its NBA franchise is named after the wolf, but the animals most relevant to the current situation in Minneapolis are the chicken and the egg.

Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams and coach Rick Adelman have something of a passive dispute going on. Although it is not the most spirited debate, Williams and Adelman have their own subtly different views on why the player has played so much better of late. Each one, oddly enough, deflects most of the credit to the other guy.

To hear Williams tell it, he is finally getting consistent playing time after battling for minutes through the first season and a half of his career. He has scored in double figures in 12 straight games, the longest such streak of his career, and he scored a career-high 28 points in Sunday’s win over the Hornets.

In Adelman’s version, judging from his comments to the media, the increased playing time has come as a result of Williams’ improved play, not vice versa. The injury bug that has struck the Wolves — cutting down Kevin Love, Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Nikola Pekovic and others — has helped make minutes available for Williams, to be sure. But Williams hardly lit up the scoreboard last year, when Adelman had his share of trouble finding consistent production from his frontcourt when Love and Pekovic were out. What Williams is doing now is more than just a minutes-related bump in statistics.

No matter whether Williams’ play begat more minutes or more minutes begat better play, both of them should be able to agree on the main reason why Williams’ production is up. Rubio, the second-year ballhandling and passing wizard, appears to be fully healthy, and he is making many of his teammates — Williams included — much better.

Though it might be difficult to assign too much praise to a point guard who, for all his highlights, leads a team that entered the week with a record of 23-41, Rubio’s fingerprints are all over Williams’ shot breakdown, providing a microcosm of Rubio’s impact on the team as a whole. Credit first has to go to Williams, whose field goal percentage is up from almost every spot on the floor. The only exception is at the rim, where his percentage is pretty much unchanged. He is hitting nearly 42 percent of his shots from 10-15 feet, according to HoopData, a 13-point improvement from his rookie year. He is still not quite at the league average for long twos and 3-pointers, and the Wolves would ideally like their power forward to shoot better than 42 percent from the field, but as long as those numbers creep upward, they should not complain.

And Rubio is the perfect guy to keep up that upward trend. Almost 85 percent of Williams’ baskets from midrange, where Williams saw that big improvement, have been assisted this season. That is close to 35 percentage points up from last season. On long twos his percentage of assisted baskets is up to 80.6 percent from 52 percent, suggesting that while Williams is taking shots from the same places, they are better shots this year. Rather than taking contested jumpers off the dribble, Williams is knocking down open shots off the catch.

Rubio does not throw all of those passes, of course. The Wolves remain protective of their budding star, limiting him to only 29.5 minutes per game, after all. But he brings an unselfish personality to the team that permeates the roster when he plays. Williams is only the most obvious beneficiary.

When it comes to the correlation between Williams’ production and playing time, the argument might be as circular as the chicken and the egg. Maybe the premise of that disagreement might be a bit off. Williams’ improved play does stem from increased playing time, but it is Rubio’s presence on the court, rather than his own, that seems to have the greatest effect.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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