Rick Adelman To Ricky Rubio: Just Be Yourself

Is there anything better than playing for a coach that doesn’t just ask – no, he demands – that you be yourself on the court? It’s the ultimate for a player, whether it’s high school jayvee, college basketball, overseas or even at the very top in the NBA. This carefree attitude is especially important with young players (specifically point guards), many of whom don’t know how to run an offense, and don’t have the belief or confidence in themselves to command the ball and put people in the right positions. Rick Adelman knows this, and says he’ll allow his Spanish import, Ricky Rubio, to have all the freedom in the world this year.

Terry Porter. Jason Williams. Mike Bibby. Aaron Brooks. Kyle Lowry. And now Rubio. Adelman was never blessed with the most talented point guards, and yet somehow became renowned as an offensive guru. As he told it to ESPN, there’s one main reason why:

“I’m different from some other coaches,” Adelman said. “They believe you have to be harder on them and demand certain things. I feel the opposite. I think you have to give them rope and let them find their way a little bit. They’re all different and they all have different strengths. I don’t think you can say, ‘This is how you have to play.’ I usually give them a lot of freedom and I see this situation as being the same thing.”

Terry Porter, a 17-year NBA veteran and former head coach of the Phoenix Suns, can vouch for all that. He also interviewed for the Timberwolves’ head-coaching job but knew he had no chance once Adelman became interested in the job. Most of what Porter learned about working with a young point guard, he learned from Adelman by way of getting his start in the NBA under Adelman with the Portland Trail Blazers in 1985.

Porter played in two All-Star games and had a six-year run when Adelman coached him where he was consistently putting up 18 & seven every season. Take a look at the names I mentioned above. All of them had perhaps their best years in the league under Adelman. In one way or another, he helped mold them, put them in positions to succeed, told them things like “Hey, I know you shoot well coming off the screen-and-roll, so we’re going to run those 15 times a night. You don’t do well running the flex so don’t even worry about it. We won’t run it.”

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Imagine having a coach who knew you inside and out, and didn’t care if you couldn’t do something. It was all about what you could do. If only all coaches were like that. Make the best with what you have. That’s what Adelman excels at. At least with Minnesota, he has something to work with. Rubio has skills with a basketball. Kevin Love is one of the best young power forwards in the game, and Michael Beasley has talent.

Think about it. In Sacramento, Adelman gave J-Will the opportunity to do whatever he wanted. If that meant 27-foot pull-ups or behind-the-back passes, so be it. As long as his lead guard was going to play confident and free, it was worth it. Once Bibby arrived, he changed the offense to suit the new guy.

Then in Houston, Adelman did the same thing with Brooks, a wildly explosive guard who was prone to turnovers and inefficient nights because of his size. So Adelman leaned back, geared Brooks up and watched him spin. At one point, Brooks was shooting more than six threes a night on his way to the Most Improved Player award. Hearing all of this, it’s no surprise that once Lowry won the job as the Rocket starter, he immediately became one of the league’s biggest surprises (remember, this is a guy who backed up Mike Conley, back when Conley was average at best).

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The last thing any rookie point guard needs is a coach breathing down his neck about plays or running a set all the way through or memorizing 10 different options from one corner of the offense. It’ll never work, especially when that point guard is a foreign kid who’s being hyped to no end and who’s coming to a Minnesota team that lacks a definitive veteran leader or even one specific style of play. The kid could easily get lost, lose his confidence and fall off a cliff.

But as long as Adelman is around to coach him – or more specifically, roll the ball out and tell him to go hoop – Rubio will at least stand a fighting chance.

What can we expect from Rubio this season?

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