The Momentum of a Single Possession

Let’s get this right out of the way: Ben Polk of A Wolf Among Wolves has written an awe-inspiring post on Ricky Rubio over at The Classical. If you only have time to read one Rubio post today (whereas I apparently make time to write and read several), go read that one.

Ben really nails it when he talks about an assist from a player like Jason Williams or Magic Johnson as “pure berserk swag” or “an expression of joy.” Because any component piece of basketball, while it will look the same on the stat sheet, means something different. I loved how people talked about Dominique Wilkins’ dunks as demoralizing—as somehow worth more than just two points. Same goes for Shawn Kemp. Although written down in cold math, basketball is played in an emotional and psychological space.

So I think Ben gets it just right when he writes that “a Ricky Rubio assist is a simple, generous act of communication: ‘this is what I saw.'” But I would go a step further: that generosity bleeds over into the player who receives the ball. When players are catching passes from Rubio, it’s like they’re filled with the knowledge that this opportunity to score came to them in a beautiful way and that they must be equal to the task of completing the job. It’s very nearly artisanal. Whereas so often the ball comes to a player when the ball’s previous owner simply ran out of options and had to get rid of it, a graceful one-handed Rubio pass almost comes withe a note that says, “I made this for you. Make me proud.”

Now, plenty of times, players still bobble the ball. At least once last night, a Rubio pass slipped through Nikola Pekovic’s hands and bounced off his shins. It seems like many of the Wolves’ players aren’t yet completely ready for the opportunities that Rubio’s passes will afford them. But as spectacular as those Rubio passes are, it’s even more exciting for long-suffering fans to see flashes of his particular aesthetic appear even when he’s not on the court, as when Luke Ridnour dishes behind the back or a series of touch passes along the perimeter gets Wayne Ellington open for a three. When possessions are not just “protected” or “used well” but instead crescendos that build into beauty, Rubio’s game is at its peak, even when he’s not on the floor.

Steve McPherson

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