Scott Fowler

Ridnour is helping Bobcats keep their guard up

Luke Ridnour is not going to break two defenders down with a herky-jerky dribble and then find a sixth gear to drive for a layup.

At 33, in his 11th NBA season, Ridnour only has four gears. He is the Charlotte Bobcats point guard who is counted on for reliability, not speed. But with starter Kemba Walker out for the past two games with a sore right groin and possibly limited or out once again Monday for a road game against Atlanta, Ridnour’s role has suddenly increased. It may continue to do so during this critical week for the franchise.

Instead of his usual 8-10 minutes spelling Walker, Ridnour started and played 30 minutes in each of the Bobcats’ past two games. The team went 1-1 and Ridnour ended up in the two games with a combined 21 points, 13 assists and a single turnover. Although none of it was dazzling, a lot of it was effective.

“The thing about Luke is we’re organized,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “You can see it as subtle, but he gets guys in their spots. There is great purpose when he’s out there on the floor... He’s got a high IQ, he knows the NBA game and obviously he can deliver the ball. He’s a terrific passer.”

Ridnour calls himself a “pass-first” point guard, but he will shoot if teams are playing off of him. He had 12 points Saturday night in Charlotte’s win against Philadelphia to go along with eight assists. Both were season highs in Charlotte for Ridnour, who was traded from Milwaukee in late February. Ridnour also made a behind-the-back save of a ball on the sideline that elicited “oooohs” from the crowd.

But Ridnour’s most notable reaction on the court came when he missed two consecutive free throws near the game’s end. He was obviously disgusted with himself.

“I was ticked,” said Ridnour, a career 86 percent free-throw shooter. “That’s not what I do. But as long as we win the game, it’s good.”

When I asked Ridnour how he felt Saturday night after playing big minutes in back-to-back games, he said, “I feel good.”

Then he paused. “Well, good enough,” he said. “I’m 11 years in and 33 years old. But this is an exciting time for this team, this city, to be able to be going to the playoffs. This is going to be fun.”

Ridnour is not un-athletic by any normal standard. He was picked No. 14 overall out of Oregon in the starry 2003 draft that featured LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony.

But by NBA standards, at 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds and often wearing a T-shirt, off the court he looks more like a surfer than a world-class basketball player. Jannero Pargo, the Bobcats’ third-string point guard, is a flashier shooter and can create his own shot more easily.

But it is Ridnour whom Clifford trusts to give the keys to most of the time when Walker is out of action. It is also Ridnour who makes no secret of the fact that the Bobcats must have Walker back for the playoffs (which start this coming weekend) to have any chance of making noise.

“We need Kemba out there obviously,” Ridnour said.

In the meantime, though, Ridnour will keep doing the same thing he always does. The son of a basketball coach and now a starter in nearly 500 NBA games, his routine rarely varies.

“Personally, I just approach it the same whether I’m starting or playing 8-10 minutes,” Ridnour said. “I’m just trying to run the team and make stuff happen.”