To start this off-season’s player profiles, I feel it’s essential to review and amend my attempt at this same project from last October.
Most of The Ricky Rubio Files largely remains applicable. That article speaks for itself. Unfortunately, what is no longer applicable, isn’t exactly any more positive than before. This year, I’ll toss in some additional comments with reference to last year’s article and conclude with my own subjective evaluation of Rubio’s value to the Twolves organization.
I have broken down this year’s Rubio files into a few major headings, stating first, with the obvious.
First and foremost, Ricky Rubio is a passing wizard. That’s like saying that Geico can save you fifteen percent or more on car insurance (everybody knows!) but still there is some debate on how valuable Rubio’s greatest skill is on an NBA court. While just about everybody loves saving money, not everyone values a pass first point guard.
Somewhat unrelated, but “Rocky Rubio, state-farm travel insurance agent” should really happen.
Last years files on Rubio focused almost entirely on some of the factors that limit him as a scorer. And since a certain significant portion of the Twolves fan base has become less enthralled with Ricky being the Twolves starting point guard, I find it essential to highlight his greatest traits.
Rubio’s distributing ability is a blending of his high level of skill in three basketball skills: accurate passing, court vision, and ball handling. This gives him an uncanny ability to gift teammates with easy scoring opportunities. By doing this he makes everyone better, and offenses more efficient. Rubio’s passes are like a great cross in soccer, or a perfect feed for a one-timer on a hockey rink. His passes are consistently shootable (essential to mention: “shootable” auto corrected to adorable when I was drafting this on my Android, which is… adorable). He also has a knack for getting the ball to a player for a bunny (also adorable) at the rim.
This quality clearly valuable, but it is also very difficult to quantify. Players like Dante Cunningham and Greg Stiemsma benefited greatly from Ricky’s diming ways. If Ricky can turn Greg Stiemsma into a functional offensive center, how much better did Rubio make Kevin Love’s offensive production? And how many easy buckets could he gift to any of the highly skilled players on the wolves current roster?
More on that last note. Wouldn’t it be a great luxury for young players to have a PG who can serve them up some easy confidence-building buckets? It would certainly be super fun to get the young pups flying down the court on the fast break for easy dunks.
It’s also evident to me, that when point guards pass first, the rest of the team becomes more willing to dish rock. I mean generally if a person receives a lot of gifts, they will be more inclined to give gifts as well. I am confident that Rubio’s passing breeds better ball movement. It’s contagious.
This all being said, most other great NBA passers had/have other great offensive skill sets. Magic could post up, blow by and finish and had ridiculous size to pair with his great skill sets. LeBron is, well … LeBron. And guys like Steve Nash, John Stockton, Chris Paul and Steph Curry had/have the dead eye/clutch shooting ability to demand players stick to them on defense.
Rubio doesn’t have another go to offensive trait. This to me actually accentuates just how good Ricky is at seeing the floor and passing the rock. His passing ability completely carries him. He uses his dribble and no look passing to keep defenders guessing when and where he’s going to pass the ball, and then still delivers a nicely timed and placed pass. There have been pass first point guards. There have been offense running back up point guards who don’t consistently look for their shot. But has there ever been, in all practical purposes, a highly successful pass only point guard?
Now Rubio’s career hasn’t been a great success by any means (especially in the win column), but I’m hard pressed to come up with a point guard who is as effective on offense, without possessing at least one above average scoring trait.
That leads me to the next portion of this year’s Ricky Rubio files.
# 2. Becoming a Scoring Threat
At the beginning of last season, I thought Rubio looked like he’d improved on the scoring front. He looked stronger and more confident than ever. He looked poised to take on a leadership role. He had moments were he shot the ball without hesitation. At times, he showed some significant improvement in the shot mechanics that PSSS (video linked) referred to as, essentially, the perfect storm of crappy. With one more year under his belt recovering from knee his knee injury, Ricky showed greater confidence in driving the lane and taking contact. Suggesting, that even if he didn’t drastically improve his shooting, he could still improve his scoring ability by taking and making a higher percentage of lay ups, and free throw attempts.
Unfortunately, his ankle injury set him back once again. In last years article I referenced the effect of injuries on most athletes. It takes time to get that confidence back. Look at former Twolf Chase Budinger. It’s still yet to be determined if he can come back to “Air Bud” form this year from the Pacers.
In last years article I explain how Ricky’s allergy to contact due to his injury, effected the quality of his shots around the rim. I fear that his ankle injury may pose an even greater psychological threat, because of how it happened. It could be that Ricky will be objective, saying, “when I hurt my ankle, I went down without contact: it was a freak accident. No big deal. Be happy. It’s basketball.”
But subconsciously the paint could feel like an even more daunting place. If I draw contact I’m screwed. If don’t, I still could be screwed. Now, please know, that I’m not suggesting that Rubio will come back terrified of the paint. I’m just highlighting the way that the subconscious can effect players. It’s simply one more barrier between him and his potential.
When it comes to Rubio’s game, his value on defense may actually be more disputed than his offense. Some say he’s great. Others say he’s to aggressive and reaches too much. For me, Ricky’s value on defense comes down to something else: Effort.
If he had the option, I think Rubio would defend the opposing point guard full court the whole game. He loves to pester opposing guards. This aggressive play always has the potential to throw of the oppositions whole offense. His defense in the back court defense can effectively leave them with less shot clock to work with.
Not only that, when the point guard defends aggressively right off the bat, similar to when a PG shares the ball, it becomes contagious. His effort leads by example. It triggers defensive intensity.
While I don’t think Rubio can be considered a great individual defender at point guard, his disruptiveness places him solidly in the good category. Statistically his steals category is off the charts. He has the quick feet, long arms, timing and court awareness to come up with on ball steals and pick off passes, which is clearly valuable or they wouldn’t have a stat for it. However …
Defense in the game of basketball is about stopping the opposing team from scoring. It’s definitively about defending the basket.
So in that regard is Rubio’s skills of pick pocketing ball handlers and jumping passing lanes really all that defensive at all? By definition Rubio’s pesky defense is very aggressive, so does that make it also then …offensive?
In some ways this is only semantics, but in others it makes a lot of sense. Steals lead to easy buckets, but at the same time, so do failed steal attempts for the opposition.
This was one of the factors that doomed the 2013-14 Twolves team. Ricky, Kevin Martin & Corey Brewer were far to quick to abandon actually defending in search of steals and easy run outs. When this worked well, it helped propel their offense and put them in place to get a “w”. But when it failed it placed an already less than great defense in terrible position. Nobody should rely on Kevin Love to rotate over onto shooters, or defend layups and dunks at the rim. That was just a recipe for losing.
4. The Effect of a Contract
After Rubio signed his new deal with the Wolves there were questions
if it was worth it. Rubio has been an effective Twolves player, in fact one of the most effective Twolves players of the last decade when it comes to being on the court when the team wins. That of course is not saying much, but it would have been difficult for the Wolves to NOT pay Rubio. In most circumstances, small market teams are pigeonholed into over paying to retain players, or pick them up in free agency. Rubio is unique case however.
At a time in the franchise when Rubio signed, he was coming off a season where he started every game and the team had just jettisoned their face of the franchise in Kevin Love. Rubio’s bearded baby face became the defacto face of the franchise. Not only that, but the players amassed for last years squad were undeniably chosen to run with Ricky. He, especially after signing his new contact, became a franchise cornerstone. Questions still loom on the value of that contract. Will Rubio develop his scoring ability? Will he remain healthy? Will he become a veteran leader on a young, up and coming team?
I have spent a large portion of two long sessions of the Ricky Rubio Files describing all of the things that have gotten in the way of Ricky’s development.
The reality is, Rubio’s contract could have a number of effects.
The first one would be positive. Rubio finds this contract as an opportunity to prove his worth. He chooses to put in extra time on his craft and develops a shot above and beyond our expectations and becomes the All Star PG that everybody thought he was destined to become. Of course he could have that same attitude and still not meet our once lofty expectations of him becoming a magical-spanish-unicorn-fusion-of-Steve-Nash-and-Pete-Marovich.
I’d like to argue that when healthy, Rubio’s impact, with his effort on defense, under rated ability as a rebounder, and ability to create easy baskets for teammates, would enough to merit his new contract. If by chance, Rubio is able to upgrade his scoring ability by finding a few spaces on the floor he can hit from consistently, and taking advantage of free throw attempts, he may even become a steal at that pay grade. This is especially the case with the new CBA that has been put through. If Rubio can maintain his defensive production, and his assist totals, while raising his points per game to the 14+ area, he would definitely be well worth this contact.
However, complacency can be a reaction to stability. Baseball players have been known to have their best statistical seasons when they are not under contract for the next year, only to have there stats fall off once a new contract is signed. If a player thinks that they are set monetarily, improving there game may not be quite a much of a priority.
My feeling is that Rubio wants to prove himself. He’s been quoted expressing how much he wants to win in Minnesota. I am wary and less than thrilled by what I’ve seen, our not seen, from Rubio this off season. Of course privacy is fine and it wouldn’t technically say that much more if I saw one recorded basketball related work out. But still, last off-season, Rubio was loading up Instagram with shooting videos. I assume he’s still resting up his foot and will ramp up the work outs as we get closer to October.
Rubio’s value is difficult to assess because, he does so much more for others than he does himself. I cannot stress enough how much different the team has looked over the last few years when Ricky was on the court. Now My assessment of value is subjective.
I believe that of Rubio’s confidence attacking the basket, and taking the occasional open jump shot continues to improve, his production would be right around all-star caliber. I believe if he could lift his points per game even to just around the 14+ mark he’d be at this level.
Of course, being “all-star caliber” doesn’t mean he’d be sure shot all-star. There are many all-star caliber guards in the west, three of them were in the running for MVP of the league, and others are highly productive leaders on their team, like Eric Bledsoe, Damien Lillard, Ty Lawson, and Mike Connelly.
Present Reality: B+
Due to injury it’s certainly not a given that Rubio can improve good scoring at all. If the with isn’t put in and confidence shaken there is even the possibly for some regression. While I do believe he will be better, if he can remain on the court, this season, even at the end of 2014’s season, Rubio was nightly approaching triple double territory.
Even at 10+ points, 8+ assists, 5+ rebs and 2+ stls per game, I’d argue that, surrounded by players who can score and shoot a little bit, Rubio becomes very valuable. It is undeniable that Rubio will play a big role on this team. As long as his ankle has healed up and he doesn’t get injured again, he should play big minutes in a huge role. What it comes down to is, if Ricky plays his role, other players need to play theirs. Players have to be quick to use Ricky’s passes to their advantage and put the ball in the bucket.
The Twolves have some solid catch and shoot players now that Ricky can work with. They are, of course, to be reviewed individually in the up coming weeks, so they will not be mentioned now.
But I want to leave y’all with this. I think it’s easy to forget that Rubio did have a very nice triple double this last year.
Please watch the video linked above. Ricky, having just come back from his ankle injury, shows his value in this video. While he didn’t exactly win the match up with Chris Paul on this night (Paul score 26 with 14 assists), he does show what kind of problems he can create for opposing defenses. His drop offs to KG, his dimes to Gorgui, his rebounding, and his confident shot, were causing problems for a team that many thought to be favorites to make the finals in the west.
One of the most telling points of this video comes when Jim Petersen, Twolves FSN broad cast guy, talks about how Ricky has generally been winning the teams pregame shooting games. This has been the case for much of his career. In practice, Ricky is a knock down shooter. In game, there has simply appeared to be a mental block. In this video against the L.A. Clippers, he does not show the typical hesitancy.
If Ricky can play like this with more consistency, with the growth of the players around him. Look out Western Conference, the pack is on the hunt.