Whatever Happened to the Point Guard of Tomorrow?
Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio recently has been filling up the stat sheet in a column typically full of single digits: points.
Before his recent surge of back-to-back-to-back double-digit scoring nights, Rubio had posted consecutive games of 10 or more only three times this season (including a four-game span in mid-December). His dearth of consistent scoring nights leaves him with only an average of 8.6 points per game on the season, and his recent offensive uptick has been, partially at least, a result of a thinned-out T'Wolves roster, one plagued with injuries.
Through 52 games this year, Rubio had hit the double-digit mark in scoring only 20 times. Although he would be at the bottom of the list, Rubio's lack of scoring omits him from being charted on the field goal percentage (FG%) leaders in the NBA because he is not expected to record 300 made field goals this season. (For reference's sake, he made a combined 324 field goals in his first two seasons.) There are 22 other point guards currently are on pace for 300 makes. His current FG%, 35.6%, would place him 23rd anyway (behind the chucker Brandon Jennings and the can't-shoot-yet-either Michael Carter-Williams). To see how this affects his fantasy status, check out Russell Peddle's A Dozen Dimes: Volume 15
For a starting NBA point guard who averages over 31 minutes per game, Rubio's shooting woes are magnified, and attention has been drawn to his current pace of being labeled the worst shooter in NBA history. In his most recent game, February 10th against the Houston Rockets, Rubio recorded only seven points on 2-for-10 from inside the arc and 1-for-4 beyond the arc.
So it seems that Rubio's string of scoring will saunter now that stat-sheet stuffer Kevin Love has regained his health. Why, then, does Rubio deserve any attention?
Before moving forward into the numbers, I think it's time to take a step back.
The Next Pistol Pete
Rubio, while still a teenager in Spain prohibited to grant interviews by both his parents and his team, was dubbed the next Pete Maravich for his showy passes and silky handles. Maravich, who in many ways paved the path for the modern NBA point guard, averaged 24.2 points during his NBA career while playing only 43 games with the three-point line during the 1979-80 season, Maravich's final year and the first year of the arc in the NBA.
Maravich's 83 games at Louisiana State University, though, were even more impressive. Pistol Pete averaged an astounding 44.2 points on 43.8% from the field. In 63 games in the Euroleague, Rubio averaged 5.5 point (39.7% from the field), 3.5 assists, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.0 steals.
The Spaniard, who has posted 10 or more assists in 16 of 52 games this year and who averages 8.3 assists per game (fourth-best in the NBA), still cannot shake this ill-fitting monicker. Even a 16-point, 16-assist game back in November wasn't enough for Shaquille O'Neal to recognize Rubio for Rubio, calling him the "Italian Pete Maravich."
The floppy hair, the flashy dimes, and the allure of the unknown foreign commodity became inescapable hype magnets for Rubio.
To make matters worse, Rubio was drafted by the eternally inept general manager David Kahn, who felt Rubio and fellow draftee Jonny Flynn were an equivocal pairing to Walt "Clyde" Frazier and Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, two Hall-of-Famers who were selected to the 1996 collection of the 50 Greatest NBA Players.
It's as if Rubio never stood a chance of living up to the expectations surrounding him.
Rubio as Rubio
Although Rubio has undoubtedly failed to become the next Pistol, Clyde, or Pearl within three seasons, his statistics have not dropped off and also indicate some minor improvements.
|Season||PTS||FG %||3P%||TS%||eFG%||AST||STL||TO||Usage %|
Both Rubio's true shooting percentage (TS%) and his effective field goal percentage (eFG%) have remained relatively stagnant while his usage has declined significantly because of his teammates. Love's usage has increased from 27.5% to 27.9% this season, and Nikola Pekovic's is relatively unchanged at 22.2% compared to 22.3% last season. Newcomers, though, have become statistically significant contributors to the Minnesota offense: Kevin Martin uses 24.5% of possessions, and Corey Brewer uses 15.7%.
Rubio, along with Brewer, are the last offensive options when the typical starting five is on the court. Rubio's usage rate ranks him 234th in the NBA among players who have played in 25 or more games this season. Rubio has attempted double-digit field goals only 14 times this season (or 27% of his games). Unsurprisingly, nine of his 20 double-digit point games have come during such games, and six more of those 20 have come when he attempted eight or nine field goals. When attempting shots, Rubio has shown the ability to score at an adequate rate.
So What Does It All Mean?
Before concluding, I figure I should make a note for full disclosure: I love Rubio. I have a soft spot for international players, and Rubio would make my dream starting five of current players (along with Goran Dragic, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, and Marc Gasol along with Giannis Antetokounmpo as the sixth-man). However, I don't think I'm biased when I conclude that Rubio is playing fantastic basketball, even with his shooting woes.
His 128 steals are the most in the NBA, and he's fourth in the league in assists. While playing with three of the league's top-35 scorers (Love, 24.7 PPG, 4th; Martin, 19.0 PPG, 27th; Pekovic, 18.0 PPG, T-35), Rubio is playing within his means and doling assists to his teammates. Even though the argument can be made that Rubio's inability to shoot as a point guard is unforgivable, his teammates are still producing, and his team as a whole ranks ninth in offensive efficiency.
When Minnesota found itself without those three leading scorers against the Portland Trailblazers, Rubio stepped up and managed a solid stat line: 25 points (on 42.1% shooting), nine assists, two rebounds, and a steal.
Playing with a franchise notoriously inefficient at developing young talent (like Derrick Williams and Wesley Johnson) and young point guards (Flynn, Ramon Sessions, JJ Barea, and fellow hype machine Sebastian Telfair) or trading away eventually-successful players (Brandon Roy, Ty Lawson, and Mario Chalmers), among insurmountable hype, and after suffering a devastating knee injury, Rubio has overcome his less-than-ideal situation to become a more-than-capable player with a shortcoming, albeit a glaring one, in his game.
Even though Rubio-mania has been around since SLAM Magazine featured him in way back in 2007, the Spaniard is only 23 years old, has ostensibly the best court vision in the game (sorry, Chris Paul), and is a threat to lead the league in both steals and assists for the next decade suggesting that Rubio was never the point guard of the future but rather the closest nod to basketball's past we may see for quite some time: a pure point guard.