Isn’t it nice? PG Ricky Rubio’s impact felt in Suns’ season-opening win
PHOENIX — Two hours before the Phoenix Suns’ last season opener, the question had to be asked because head coach Igor Kokoskov had withheld the answer.
Who was going to start at point guard?
There was no need to ask that question to Suns head coach Monty Williams on Wednesday before Phoenix’s 2019-20 debut.
The job was Ricky Rubio’s from the moment the free agent signed with the Suns. He agreed to a three-year, $51 million deal this offseason, and though the price looked a tad high, the value of that signing could be seen throughout the Suns’ 124-95 season-opening victory over the Sacramento Kings at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
“I just like him as a basketball player, I like him as a person,” Williams said of Rubio when asked what one thing stood out about the point guard’s performance. “I like his balance of scoring and passing. He and Devin (Booker) have some synergy when we put those guys in pick-and-rolls. They just read each other.”
Rubio finished with 11 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and four steals.
He made it possible for Booker to score 22 points on 17 shots in a blowout. But Rubio’s feel, pace and helpfulness couldn’t be overlooked.
The veteran scored the first points of the season on a reverse layup and assisted on the second and third buckets of the year.
He grabbed offensive rebounds, drew a charge, then hit a go-ahead bucket in the third quarter as the Suns pulled away and never looked back. After he assisted a Kelly Oubre Jr. fastbreak layup with 7:15 to go in the third quarter, forcing a Kings timeout, Rubio had a word with each player on the Suns overly excited bench before Williams stepped into the huddle.
“It’s not only his passing ability, it’s his leadership ability,” Booker said. “Coming to guys, telling them what spots to be in. Even when we’re on the bench watching the game, just talking us through actions. It’s a chemistry we’re going to build with him.”
To that point, Rubio also knew when to get Booker going.
The Kings led through most of the second quarter, but with 10 minutes to go in the third, Rubio’s steal led to an Oubre dunk on an alley-oop.
Rubio took a charge the next time down that led to Booker’s mid-range pullup that tied the game at 62. The point guard sensed Booker was getting cooking.
Off the dead-ball turnover, sensing Sacramento wasn’t set on defense, Rubio pushed the ball for a dribble-handoff to a wide open Booker behind the three-point line.
Booker missed, but it was a building block of trust between the two, a sign that the pace and flow and importance of getting the best player on the court going were in the point guard’s head.
“When you hit a couple shots, especially him, you have a free car,” Rubio joked after the game.
And if there were more questions about how Rubio could help Phoenix’s young core led by Booker and Ayton, it came in how he muffled rising star De’Aaron Fox. Remember, this was the fifth pick in the 2017 draft, the point guard who the Suns passed on to take now-G League-relegated Josh Jackson.
Rubio drew Fox’s fourth foul two minutes into the third quarter. Fox finished with eight points, five assists and five turnovers.
The Suns can only hope this stability on the court Wednesday might be a microcosm of the bigger picture.
It was a year ago that GM Ryan McDonough’s sudden firing and lack of work before his termination left Phoenix with Isaiah Canaan starting for the Suns as they rolled to a win over the Dallas Mavericks.
The season soured from there, and the team only got halfway to ever giving themselves a clear-cut starting point guard. Tyler Johnson was acquired midseason, but the self-proclaimed bench player was never in the plans to remain the team’s starter.
So Wednesday meant something. Maybe a win over a concerning-looking Kings team was only a similar high of an opening night win as last year’s victory over the Mavericks.
But the Suns have a point guard. That is not fool’s gold.