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It’s Time To Stop Undervaluing Ricky Rubio

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Ricky Rubio is never in the conversation of “top NBA point guards.” But he should be.

When debating about the top current point guards in the NBA, six names are consistently used: Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, John Wall, and Damian Lillard. Others are occasionally thrown in there, like Mike Conley, Kemba Walker, and Kyle Lowry. One name is never used, but it should be: Ricky Rubio

Rubio started playing professional basketball in 2005, when he was only 14, with DKV Joventut in the Spanish ACB League. In the 2006-07 season, his second professional season, Rubio led the Spanish ACB League in steals and took home the league’s Rising Star Award. He was also named FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year in 2007, 2008, and 2009. 

Despite his success at such a young age, he was not exceptionally well-known. Due to his age, DKV Joventut would not allow him to speak in interviews until he turned 18. But after being selected for the Spanish national team for the 2008 Summer Olympics, Rubio’s fame could not be tamed anymore.  

The 2008 Beijing Olympics are when Rubio burst onto the American basketball scene. He was playing with and against established NBA talent and was more than holding his own at only 17. He helped lead Spain to the Gold Medal Game and took home a silver medal after falling to the United States. Rubio averaged 4.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.1 steals in eight appearances. After the Olympics, nearly every NBA team wanted to get their hands on the Spanish Samurai. 

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Lucas Jackson-Reuters

The Minnesota Timberwolves took Rubio with the fifth pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, but he stayed in Spain playing for FC Barcelona until 2011. Rubio spent his first seven seasons in the NBA with the Wolves until he was traded to the Utah Jazz for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 2018 first round pick, which turned into Josh Okogie out of Georgia Tech.

In his eight seasons in the NBA, Rubio has averaged 10.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.9 assists, and 2.0 steals per game. While the numbers are not overly flashy, they prove that he is a solid player. But after all the hype that surrounded him, it may seem like somewhat of a letdown that he did not develop into a Pistol Pete Maravich-like player, whom he has been consistently compared to throughout his career. However, just looking at his stat line is not enough when trying to comprehend just how incredible Rubio is.

Per 75 possessions, Rubio averages 13.1 points, 9.6 assists, and 2.4 steals. The only other point guards in the history of the NBA that can match that kind of stat line are Chris Paul and John Stockton.  

Out of all players who have played 10,000 career minutes, Rubio is fourth in steal percentage at 3.3.  

Rubio is third in total steals, eighth in assists, and 59th in Wins Over Replacement Player since the 2011-12 season.  

Rubio finished with the third highest Defensive Win Shares total for point guards in 2017-18, trailing only Ben Simmons and Westbrook.  

Rubio ended the 2016-17 season in the 22nd percentile as an isolation scorer. In 2017-18, he finished in the 81st percentile, which was better than Simmons, Jimmy Butler, and LeBron James.


The season did not start well for the Jazz. Still reeling after losing Gordon Hayward in free agency, the team was leaderless, rudderless, and seemingly hopeless, especially after defensive stalwart Rudy Gobert was sidelined with his second knee injury. A year removed from reaching the second round of the playoffs, the Jazz seemed destined for the lottery with a record of 19-28 halfway through the year. A big part of the Jazz’s struggles were due to Rubio—he still wasn’t acclimated to coach Quin Snyder’s system, and the veteran’s struggles brought the whole organization down. 

But after Jan. 24, the whole season turned around. Rubio finally looked comfortable running the offense, and combined with the return of Gobert and the rise of rookie star Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz were suddenly a force to be reckoned with. They finished the regular season on a 29-6 run and finished fifth in the Western Conference. Over that stretch, Rubio averaged 16.0 points, 6.1 assists, and 5.3 rebounds. Rubio posted career highs in points per game, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage in his first season in Utah.


The Jazz would not have had the second half turnaround that they did without Rubio.  He was a key player in the Jazz’s first-round playoff series win against Oklahoma City, locking down Westbrook and even recording a triple-double in Game 3. But when he went out with a hamstring injury late in the series and could not recover before the team’s second-round matchup with the Houston Rockets, the Jazz floundered, losing the series 4-1. 

Rubio is an elite defensive point guard with a growing offensive arsenal and is only getting better going into his ninth NBA season. After seven seasons with a losing team, he is now part of an organization with seemingly unlimited potential and camaraderie that allows him to show off his skills as a leader, competitor, mentor, and star. 

Going into a contract year, Rubio will be playing with even more fire. With the Jazz beginning to get more national attention, so will Rubio, and maybe he will finally start to get the recognition he deserves. 

*All stats are courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball-Reference, ESPN, and Andy Bailey of Bleacher Report.

Edited by Jazmyn Brown.

SQuiz
In 2009, the Minnesota Timberwolves selected three point guards in the first round, including Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn. Who was the third?
Created 8/25/18
  1. Ty Lawson
  2. Steph Curry
  3. Jrue Holiday
  4. Nick Calathes

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