Ricky Rubio checks enough boxes to stabilize Suns’ PG position
Ladies and gentlemen, they got him. The Phoenix Suns have a point guard. Ricky Rubio will sign a 3-year, $51 million deal with the Suns, 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s John Gambadoro confirmed.
The first area to always address with that hypothetical Suns point guard was how they fit with 22-year-old franchise star Devin Booker, and with Rubio, well, it’s complicated and doesn’t have to fully do with Booker.
Rubio is one of the best passers the league has had this decade. It’s odd to give him credit and label him as a playmaker because he’s not creating space that often but Rubio sees the floor so well and has the size to make difficult reads a simply dime.
Watching him dish it around screams a guy who has figured out how to play the position in the NBA.
He times this pass perfectly as Derrick Favors’ defender slides two steps over to help on Rudy Gobert’s roll and Rubio’s hop and overhead pass get it over Steven Adams.
That’s three different things an inexperienced point guard will take years to pick up and will not age a second if Rubio’s decline comes sooner than imagined.
Rubio was one of the NBA’s best at assist-to-usage ratio in Minnesota from 2013-17, turning a usage rate of somewhere around low 20s into 8-9 assists a night like it was nothing. Hardly anyone else was doing that.
In his past two years for the Jazz, sharing the ball with Donovan Mitchell presented its challenges. His assist to usage ratio of 1.70 in his peak Timberwolves years dropped to 1.12 and 1.23, average numbers.
But while his assist percentage among point guards still dropped from its elite status, he’s remained very good in that department, ranking in a high 81st percentile among point guards last season, per Cleaning the Glass.
Oddly enough, that came with Rubio’s usage rate rising in Utah to the mid 20s. With Booker and Deandre Ayton, expect that number to go back toward where it was with the Timberwolves.
Rubio, quite simply, has to be that good of a playmaker because of his severe limitations as a scorer.
His shooting percentages at the rim over his career are awful and he can’t make up for it with his shooting. He shot 38% from the mid-range last season and 31% from 3-point range.
Rubio has always been one of the more higher-volume mid-range shooters among point guards, which is concerning because the best percentage from there he’s had in his career is 43%, his first season in Utah.
But don’t step too far into that darkness because Rubio knows how to run an offense and it’s going to help out the big fella a whole lot.
Rubio does all this crafty stuff to find his big man you’ll mistake as weird as funky but that’s really just to be innovative in order to find the right angles.
Look at this dumb floater-type release on a pass while he jumps and swings his hips in order to get it in the air while Gobert’s man is still recovering.
That’s also covering the mastery level of timing and placement he has for those tosses. There is no one like Gobert but Ayton is the type of athlete who can go get these.
And we know Ayton likes to run the court. Look at Ricky turning on the afterburners!
What Rubio can do for Ayton in pick-and-roll like he did for Gobert certainly had to be a large factor in the Suns’ decision to pay the Spaniard.
And that ultimately makes him a plus in the offense because of how important Ayton is. Remember, for all the negatives Rubio had on that end in a down year he still managed a 110.4 offensive rating for the Jazz, one of the better marks on that team.
Rubio’s skillset is less about how it meshes with Booker and more about how it bounces off him. It’s a completely different look for another ball-handler to have and it’s one the team could use that will take some of the load off Booker.
The off-ball fit with the shooting sucks and so does Rubio’s ability to create his own shot and score, so this is still going to put a whole lot of the offensive burden on Booker.
The good news is that he’s more than ready for that, and the Suns have Tyler Johnson and Ty Jerome to help with that. They also emphasized shooting in acquiring Dario Saric, Jerome and Cam Johnson, which head coach Monty Williams can intertwine with Rubio lineups.
The even better part is the Suns got one of the NBA’s best defensive point guards to help offset their star’s critical weakness.
Rubio has been criminally underrated in casual circles for his defensive prowess.
His defensive ratings in Utah of a lowly 101.2 and 104.1 are no joke, and neither is his steal percentage, which has remained above the 80th percentile among point guards his entire career — meaning he’s freaking great at snatching the ball away from ball-handlers.
In the playoff here on James Harden, Rubio sticks behind the former MVP and knows the left-handed dribble is coming. He just waits for his chance.
Off the ball, the basketball IQ from the offensive side comes up here and Rubio’s got the length to make up more space too. Notice how Rubio doesn’t fully gamble here, either, and stays in-between the two Rockets shooters.
And as you can see, having Rubio rack up steals means the best passer on your team is starting the break.
With Rubio at 28 years old, the Suns might have just squeezed in the window of him maintaining a large portion, if not all, of his defensive value. Watching how he moves year-to-year will play a part in the value Phoenix gets over three years.
If all of this sounds a little underwhelming for $17 million a season, well, it kind of is!
But the Suns needed to overpay for a respectable point guard, let alone a good one. Whether that was going to be on the trade market or in free agency, it was coming. That’s the reality of the Suns not winning 25 games four straight seasons.
Beyond the “absolutely monumental I cannot exaggerate this enough” gap of improvement a quality point guard creates compared to what the previous groups the past two seasons brought, Rubio’s the best in-the-moment player add by the Suns since the Eric Bledsoe acquisition six years ago, who also happens to be the team’s last good point guard.
Rubio will act like a self-stabilizer of sorts while the likes of Booker, Ayton, Mikal Bridges and whatever other young talent is left improves until 2022 when his contract runs out.
By then, Booker will be in year eight and Ayton in his fifth. They won’t need Rubio anymore.
Rubio plus Tyler Johnson, Booker, Bridges, Saric, Ayton and Aron Baynes makes it, at the least, seven reliable and solid players in their roles, eight if Kelly Oubre Jr. is back. And who knows the potential instant-impact of the seasoned rookies Cam Johnson and Jerome.
That, plus filling the biggest painstaking need a Valley team has had since the days of Josh McCown and John Skelton, makes this offseason a win for general manager James Jones if his draft picks pan out.