Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 1/16/12

Entering his first season as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Rick Adelman figured he would have a former point guard shooting the ball extremely well for him from the shooting guard position.

Why wouldn’t he think that? The Timberwolves gave former Dallas Maverick undersized combo guard J.J. Barea a 4-year deal worth more than 19-million dollars during the condensed 2011 off-season.

The Timberwolves also acquired UCLA combo guard Malcom Lee in a draft night trade with the Chicago Bulls. Lee was expected to see significant playing time in his rookie season.

But much to the surprise of many in the Twin Cities, neither Barea nor the rookie Lee have been that undersized shooting guard putting up steady numbers alongside rookie point guard Ricky Rubio. Shockingly, Luke Ridnour has occupied the role Barea was expected to fill.

First off, I’m not going to assert that Barea has been a bust with the Timberwolves. Simply put, he’s just tapping into his inner Joe Mauer by playing in only five of the team’s first 12 games. And when he’s played, Barea has been everything Adelman and company could’ve expected.

Injuries to Barea and forward Michael Beasley forced Adelman’s hand. He had ten healthy players, and decided to have Ridnour and Rubio spend considerable time playing alongside each other.

While Rubio has been one of the biggest surprises league wide, Ridnour as sprinted passed perceived expectations this season.

To start the season, Ridnour spent minimal time playing alongside Rubio; for the first seven games they typically split time sharing the point guard duties. Games eight through ten saw Ridnour starting, but as the game went on Rubio and Ridnour played simultaneously. Then, starting in game 11, Ridnour slid over and started at shooting guard, while Rubio jumped into the starting lineup at the point.

I’ll be the first to admit that I had hoped Ridnour would be on the first plane out of Minneapolis. I thought he did nothing but provide a roadblock to the development of Rubio. Offensively, I viewed Ridnour as a point guard who forced long two-point shots early in the shot clock. I wrote that the Wolves should use their amnesty clause on Ridnour instead of saving it for next season.

I’m writing now that Ridnour is having a career year as he shines playing an undersized shooting guard role alongside Ricky Rubio. I am pleased to admit that I was wrong a month ago.

While he’s still playing some time at the point (17 minutes total in the past two games), Ridnour’s shooting numbers are near the top league wide.

Ridnour’s effective shooting percentage of 56.8 puts him 12th in the league. His true shooting percentage of 59.7 puts him 23rd in the league. His free-throw percentage of 81.8 is actually down from his career average of 86.5. Thus, pulling down an already career high in true shooting percentage.

While Luke has shot the ball extremely well, it should be no shock that the 30-year old is having his best shooting season of his career. Ridnour’s true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage have gone up considerably every season he’s been in the league (minus a hiccup in 2007-08). Here are his career shooting numbers per basketball-reference:

True Shooting % — Effective Field-Goal %

2003-04:          49.6 — 45.3

2004-05:          50.4 — 45.0

2005-06:          50.6 — 44.5

2006-07:          50.9 — 46.8

2007-08:         48.2 — 42.8

2008-09:         50.0 — 44.7

2009-10:          57.0 — 52.8

2010-11:           56.7 — 52.8

2011-12:           59.7 — 56.8 (Through January 15th)

Ridnour has played for three different franchises over his career. His growth in shooting could be attributed to him moving into systems that better fit his game. I for one believe Luke’s shooting growht represent that he’s the epitome of a professional; he realized that his time as a true point guard appears to be numbered, and he’s reinvented himself as a shoot-first point guard, or, as is the case now, an undersized shooting guard.

It’d be easy to say that Rubio has been a big factor into Luke’s career-high shooting performance this season. In looking at the season splits over Ridnour’s career, it is apparent that the praise needs to fall directly on the shoulders of Mr. Ridnour.

While Ridnour’s assists per 36 minutes are career low (3.5). He doesn’t need to get other players involved; that is the job Rubio has done so well for the 4-8 Timberwolves.

While the Timberwolves are on the outside looking in on a potential 2012 playoff birth, Ridnour’s effectiveness is contributing to the newfound hope around Minneapolis’ professional basketball team.

When Adelman finally gets Barea back– the undersized shooting guard that we all thought would be amongst the league leaders in shooting– the Timberwolves will have a formidable backcourt that will be tough to defend as the season draws on.

Will they make the playoffs? Only time will tell. But if Ridnour continues to shoot the way he has this season, the hopes of a playoff appearance will amplify.

-Brett Cloutier

Brett is a contributor to The Sports Bank. He covers all things Minnesota sports. You can follow him on Twitter @brettcloutier

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