Is Ricky Rubio Really a Max Player?
Now that Kevin Love is out of Minnesota, the Wolves still have a lot of decisions left to be made this upcoming season. The biggest one is with Ricky Rubio, who is reportedly set to become a restricted free agent after the upcoming season.
According to a report by Darren Wolfson of ESPN, Rubio turned down a four-year, $43 million deal last week. His agent claims he will accept nothing less than a five-year max deal, but is Rubio really worth a max contract?
Rubio in Comparison
Depending on how you look at it, and how long you project his improvement, Rubio is either a definite max player, or he's just outside of the conversation. The knock is his offense, and the argument against him is always his lack of offensive production outside of assists. He's never even gotten close to 40% shooting from the floor in his three-year NBA career, and he just broke 41% this past year in effective field goal percentage (eFG%). However, so far through three seasons, his offensive numbers are improving, and he favorably compares to some other great NBA players in their first three seasons in the league.
Rubio and Jason Kidd have virtually the exact same shooting percentages through their first three years in the Association. Rubio has been compared to Kidd at times in his young career, but will he eventually become a dangerous shooter like Kidd? They were both one of the first few picks in their respective drafts, and they both have elite passing skills. Kidd was a much better scorer overall than Rubio is at this point in their careers, but in today’s NBA, Rubio’s lack of offense is much more noticeable and picked on than it was in the late 1990s.
If you look deeper into the Kidd and Rubio comparison, you’ll notice that not only do the shooting numbers match up, but their similarities go even further. The two point guards both shot 32% from three-point range during their first three seasons, and although Kidd’s had slightly better assist and steal percentages, Rubio’s numbers compare quite favorably. Kidd eventually went on to be a career 35% three-point shooter and he had an eFG% of over 50% four times. He also earned over $187 million in his career.
If Rubio can continue to improve like Kidd, and if he continues to stay healthy, he may be worth a max deal like Kidd eventually was in his career. Rubio's played over 30 fewer games than Kidd in his first three years due to an ACL injury and lockout, but the young point guard played in all 82 games a season ago. It seems like he has been in the league longer than three years, but remember he spent two seasons in Spain after he was drafted before coming to the NBA in 2011-2012.
Rubio Bets on Himself
Turning down over $10 million per season is a questionable move for young Rubio. He and his agent are betting big on his performance this season in order to force the Wolves’ hand next summer, or even this February at the trade deadline.
An interesting comparison to Rubio is also the contract of Deandre Jordan. Jordan signed his four-year, $43 million contract back in the summer of 2011, and he's currently entering the final year of that deal. His deal was through restricted free agency, and it was the Warriors trying to pilfer Jordan away from an in-state rival. But his numbers led to questions about the size of the contract.
Jordan only averaged 7.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in his third NBA season but his win shares (WS) shot up in his third season to over five, and his defensive win shares (DWS) more than doubled in his third season. This was enough for the Warriors to offer him a deal. Eventually Jordan became the elite defender, finisher and shot blocker that he is today, but it took him until the third year of his deal to really outperform his pay stub.
While Rubio has yet to have a true standout season, the Wolves thought it wise to try and lock him up for a little less than $11 million per season. This could be the most telling reason why Rubio is worth a max deal, because the team knows that one more year of improvement might be enough for some team to offer him that max contract in restricted free agency. Rubio doubled his WS this past season, and he has improved his TS% and WS every year he has been in the league. Also, over the last two seasons, he's led the league in STL% among eligible players, and has been in the top 12 in those two seasons in AST%.
The Wolves are in a tough spot next summer when it comes to contracts. Thaddeus Young has a nine-million dollar player option, and Chase Budinger has one for five million. Plus, Anthony Bennett, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng all will probably have their team options exercised. That would total more than $56 million, and leave the Wolves without enough cap space to offer Rubio the max.
Rubio’s upcoming performance in the FIBA World Cup and this season will make or break his chances at a max deal, but it appears as if the Wolves and he are far enough apart to where it might not happen in Minnesota. John Wall's new max deal will kick in this season, and he will average a little more than $15 million over the next five seasons. If Rubio wants a contract like that, he'll have to set career numbers this year, and continue to improve his shooting percentage.
Rubio may end up signing for somewhere between Wall’s contract and what he was offered by the Wolves, but if he can continue improving over the next year or two, it will be close to a steal if he signs for much less than the max. If Rubio can improve his three point shot enough to where his eFG% is more respectable, the argument against his offense will be almost void. It seems as if the only thing that will put Rubio over the hump when it comes to a max contract is a team willing to bet on his continued health and improvement. In the end, he might end up settling for a contract similar to what Ty Lawson and Kyle Lowry make, which is an average annual value of around $12 million per season.