The NBA playoffs have been electric this year, featuring multiple series going down to seven games, tight finishes, historic plays and numerous upsets.
Ricky Rubio has long been the Minnesota Timberwolves’ scapegoat.
His long-anticipated move to the NBA in the 2011-12 season was met with excitement among Wolves fans, but as each year passed he became the source of frustration.
But since this season’s all-star break, Rubio has looked much better on the offensive end of the court, averaging 14.9 points and 11.7 assists per game. This is a big improvement on his season averages of 9.6 points and 8.8 assists.
Rubio has always been a great playmaker, averaging over eight assists in his NBA career, but his historically bad shooting (he shot threes at 25 per cent two seasons ago) have taken away from his overall game.
Teams have been able to play him to pass every time he touches the ball, and when he drives to the rim the effect is neutralised because of his poor percentage from inside the arc (career 39%).
But improvements in his overall scoring and shooting numbers have enabled the rest of his game to thrive, and his confidence has grown with each game.
Rubio set a Minnesota franchise record with 19 assists against Washington on Tuesday, notching double digits in the first quarter. He was able to spread the floor with his mid-range jump shot and occasional three-point shot, allowing his forwards to run the court and create open looks.
Rubio is also shooting a career high free-throw percentage this season, but it is not just the numbers that are standing out.
His confidence on the court is obvious, and it is clear that his teammates trust him to shoot the basketball. His defence is solid as always, averaging just fewer than two steals per game, and he rarely gets beat off the dribble.
It is no surprise that the improvement in his game has led to more wins for his team. He has more confidence in pushing the tempo, and forces the other team to guard their young line-up in transition.
The Wolves clearly struggle offensively when he is on the bench, with Tyus Jones and Kris Dunn not nearly the playmakers Rubio is. This is seeing him play the most minutes of his career since his rookie season, and he is being relied upon in late game situations.
Rubio was never expected to be a Steve Nash or even Chris Paul shooter and scorer. But the lack of scoring he was giving his team was becoming a liability, was the reason his name was mentioned in trade rumours over the past few seasons, and was probably the reason no team pulled the trigger on a deal.
If he is able to maintain this level for the rest of his career, he may realise the potential that NBA experts thought he had when he was drafted.
And it may help to lead the Timberwolves to an unlikely playoff appearance in 2017. Maybe.