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Court Vision: Rubio's game a marriage of function and aesthetics

Ricky Rubio Ricky Rubio is expected to return to the Timberwolves' lineup in the next few days. (David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Rob Mahoney

• With Ricky Rubio's return to the court just around the corner, Britt Robson reflects on the game of Minnesota's effervescent point guard to particularly wonderful effect:

You want fundamentals, watch Rubio defend the perimeter on the balls of his feet, his arms and legs wide, his peripheral vision on high alert, his mastery as a floor general in service to his defense as he reads the mind of the man he is guarding, cataloging his opponent's options and calculating the odds of him being able to execute it, thus enhancing his anticipation of how to counter it.

Watch him take the no-look pass to another level. A mere mortal must deploy this maneuver in a perfunctory fashion, looking away from the real intended target of the eventual pass for just a split-second, hopefully long enough to fool the defense but short enough for the mortal to retain his own bearings. Rubio holds that diversionary gaze a crucial split-second longer and aims it more specifically at another teammate, as if he is waiting an extra instant for that teammate, who is in fact the decoy, to break free. Consequently, when he finally does interrupt his dribble and snaps off the pass in another direction — the place he intended all along -- the element of surprise is magnified, generating more delight for his teammates, embarrassment for his opponents and “aahhs” from the crowd. The aesthetics are magnificent. But so are the fundamentals.

• Using data from NCAA basketball, quant superstar Ken Pomeroy disputes the notion that opponent three-point percentage is a good indicator of three-point defense, particularly when it comes to early season performance. The most suitable analytical replacement, Pomeroy argues, may be opponent three-point attempts -- a measure that indeed speaks more effectively to how well a team is contesting shots on the perimeter. Adjust your basketball worldview accordingly. (via Tom Haberstroh)

• I can't help but come away from reading Flip Saunders' comments on Andre Iguodala's position feeling that he's just a bit old-fashioned. Skill sets very much matter in piecing together lineups and deciding how certain players are used, but the line between shooting guard and small forward is pretty much non-existent in NBA circles. (via PBT)

• John Hollinger's final 'PER Diem' column at ESPN.com takes a look at just how far basketball analytics have come over the last eight years, but Hollinger majorly undersells his own influence in the NBA's stat geek revolution. His smart numbers work and even smarter writing were fundamental to the spread of more nuanced thinking when it comes to quantitative analysis in basketball. His day-to-day commentary will be sorely missed by basketball fans and scribes (myself very much included), but it's always nice to see bright, hard-working people rewarded for approaching their craft (and in this case, the game as a whole) in all the right ways.

• On a related note: Tom Ziller waxes on Hollinger's unique rise to NBA executive, specifically as it relates to how many of Hollinger's player evaluations and preferences are publicly known.

• At Hardwood Paroxysm, Derek James reflects on Jonny Flynn, underdog stories, and the meaning of success:

I’d love to see Jonny [Flynn] back in the NBA and successful. But is the definition of success being played behind Chris Duhon or Darius Morris while the Lakers wait for Steve Nash’s return, and Jonny hoping he’s done enough to keep his job? Defensively, Flynn is at a physical disadvantage, and defense is a big concern for the Lakers. The view of Jonny as an underdog would have us think, “Wow, he made it back to being the 15th man on an NBA team. That’s so great he’s back in the league,” but that’s not necessarily successful. He’s averaging 16.2 ppg, 6.2 apg, and 3.4 rpg in the NBL, but with the same mediocre shooting and alarming propensity for turnovers.  While he may not be turning any sort of metaphorical corner as a player, I’d rather see Jonny able to still play professional basketball somewhere, instead of being buried on an NBA bench. Jonny does have an NBA-out clause, and if [ESPN.com's Marc] Stein’s hunch is correct, his return could soon be a reality.

• Trey Kerby of The Basketball Jones: "Be right back -- I have to go wash my brain out with soap from thinking about Don Nelson coaching Tim Duncan."

• Good reviews for Magic rookie Andrew Nicholson.

• Grantland's Zach Lowe brings all kinds of data-driven clarity to one of the league's more fascinating questions these days: Do the Knicks shoot too many three-pointers?

• Ian Levy and Kris Fenrich penned a thoughtful back-and-forth on Hickory High about the Spurs -- one of the most wildly successful and curiously regarded basketball teams in NBA history. One particularly interesting note came from Levy:

I’m with you that the Spurs get recognition, but it’s the nature of that recognition that confuses me. They get credit for their organizational structure. They get credit for the way they doggedly pursue the best course of action for their team, regardless of mainstream thought. They get credit for player development and precise execution. They get credit for creative management techniques and for abandoning flair and individual accolades in the pursuit of team success. But they don’t seem to get nearly enough credit for being a dominant basketball team. Recognizing the greatness of the Spurs seems like an elitist badge of honor, along the lines of appreciating an unheralded independent director or band, unknown to most people (It’s a mark of my own lack of cultural cache' that I can’t name an actual band or director to complete that analogy). There seems to be something immensely self-satisfying in recognizing the beauty of something that others find utterly drab. I feel like lots and lots of the credit the Spurs’ get comes from this angle, reflecting the self-celebration of the writer for recognizing the Spurs, as opposed to just celebrating the Spurs.
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