The Ricky Rubio Consolation Prize

With the exception of the Jazz front office, no one in Salt Lake cares the least bit about Ricky Rubio. They are hard in on Gordon Hayward angst. It’s not that we haven’t seen this before in Oklahoma City and Cleveland. It’s the same old thing. If you can’t convince a star to stay when you’ve had seven years, then it is all going to come crashing down. But everyone in Salt Lake thought Hayward was different, loyal, interested.

The wounds are still fresh, no scabs yet, no below the surface healing. Hayward is either a traitor, a loser, or a malcontent who no one wants to care about but they do. That is the paradox, all this love and hate.

That Ricky Rubio, a 2009 lottery pick, is hardly talked about given the Gordon Hayward drama, is good for Rubio. He is coming in way under the radar. In fact, so far, Rubio is the best thing the Jazz have picked up.  They may get something in a sign-and-trade with the Celtics but count Rubio as the Jazz prize of 2017.

Rubio is a love him- hate him figure. He is a great passer, racking up assist after assist. But he cannot shoot and that hasn’t changed since he was drafted in 2009.

Rubio was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves who were coming off another disastrous season in 2008-09. Garnett was gone. Kevin Love was a rookie. 24 games were won and for their fifth straight year the Timberwolves were shut out of the playoffs. They had two lottery picks in 2009 that everyone expected their G.M. David Khan to screw the hell up. Of course, he did.

Players the Timberwolves didn’t choose in 2009: Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, DeMarre Carroll.

In 2017: Steph Curry was handed a $200 milion payday. Jrue Holiday inked a $126 million deal. Jeff Teague replaced Rubio, $57 million. Ricky Rubio was traded.

When  Rubio was drafted, he had a lot of hype coming in as a Pete Maravich point guard wannabe that was going to set the NBA on fire. It was true Rubio had great handles, an arrogance uncommon for a European player, confidence in his ability. The Wolves kept him in Europe for two years and then in 2011 he was met at the airport by ecstatic fans who were all in on the Rubio hype.

The showman didn’t disappoint early on. He had 6 assists in his NBA debut but only 6 points which would haunt his entire career, an inability to shoot.

Rubio was Western Conference Rookie of the Month his first month. But in March, he collided with Kobe Bryant and tore his ACL and his LCL. He ended the year on a good note, voted second in Rookie of the Year, trailing Kyrie Irving.

Three years later, he signed a four year $56 million dollar extension, a head scratcher. Yes, Rubio hovered around the 8 assist per game mark but his inability to put the ball in the hole was a black mark against his game and put the Wolves at a distinct disadvantage in close games. Defenses didn’t guard him, didn’t have to.  His 39% two-point shooting, 47% at the rim, 32% from mid-range, 31% on threes was grotesque any way you sliced it. Rubio was a crowd magnet, selling out arenas, but his offensive sickness- no meat, just fatty food- cost the Wolves possessions and games. Worse, he was not getting any better. He was what he was, a specialist at the point, a highly paid one.

But the NBA was changing and all of a sudden Ricky Rubio didn’t fit.

So it was Ricky Rubio for sale. His deficiencies and his contract made him a get for a team that could absorb the cost of a one-dimensional player, particularly since the Utah Jazz were losing their point guard George Hill. Because the Jazz have trouble attracting free agents, Rubio intrigued. They didn’t have to give up much to get him which says everything you need to know about Rubio’s stock. Still, he is a veteran player who can replace George Hill and he doesn’t have to worry about someone behind him taking his job. Dante Exum isn’t ready yet.

Rubio’s chemistry with Gobert will make or break the Jazz. He may hit 10+ assists in 2017-18. Without Hayward, Rubio is the Jazz’s second most important player. He can deliver Gobert to the All-Star game in L.A.

To his detriment, Rubio doesn’t have the pure scorers like he had in Minnesota with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins but the Jazz will now feature Rudy Gobert exclusively and Rubio will be on the front end of those assists.

Realistically, Rubio can’t be the point on a championship team because his scoring will always put his team in a danger zone.  The Jazz didn’t address their point guard scoring issue in the off season.  Last year, Jazz point guards were good for 20.0 points. It’ s hard to see Rubio improving that considering his history. The Timberwolves, with Rubio as the starting point, were the second worst scoring point guard collection; only the 76ers were worse.

The Jazz were near the bottom of the league in assists in 2016-17 and Rubio will change that. They will be a high efficiency passing/assist team with Rubio running things. Just don’t ask him to score.

And don’t expect the Jazz to suddenly vault upwards from 28th in points. With Rubio, they may be worse.

 

 

photo via llananba