Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio, an undoubtedly talented playmaker and defender, has made it clear to management that he has his eye on a max contract for his next deal. The much hyped Rubio has despite an excellent set of skills failed to live up fully to expectations, as his offensive struggles remain substantial even after three seasons of experience.
Rubio’s offensive efficiency is hideous, as he’s never managed to break just 40% shooting from the field, and has a career TS% of .485 – a laughable number that would make any advanced statistician cringe. What makes the number even worse is the fact that Rubio is low-volume shooter (8.7 shots per game for his career) who picks and chooses his shots carefully, suggesting that a larger scoring responsibility will never be in his future.
What the 23-year old can do however, is read the defense better than almost anyone. He’s a sublime passer who has the John Stockton gene of seeing plays develop before they actually do, and adjusting his decision making on the fly to accommodate the play. He’s extraordinarily gifted in that way, while extraordinarily flawed when it comes to creating for himself, and being the end target.
Looking at the numbers, Rubio struggles scoring-wise all over the court. He shoots just 30.1% on jump shots, and converts at a rate of 48.9% on lay-ups, which is incredibly low. For comparison’s sake, Stephen Curry connected on 61.5% of his lay-ups, Chris Paul 64.2%, Tony Parker 62.7% and Russell Westbrook in the lower end at 54.8% – Why compare Rubio to these guys? Because he’s asking for a pay-check that mirrors, or even exceeds those of these players.
The one thing Rubio does well scoring-wise, is getting to the free throw line. His free throw-to-field goal ratio is outstanding, and he’s a career 80% shooter. Last year, he took 3.9 attempts from the line a night, based on just 8.2 shots from the field, an elite ratio.
Defensively, Rubio has them all beat. He’s one of the players whose steal numbers actually mean something, as he’s just tremendous at timing the swipe and coming up with the ball. He reads passing lanes incredibly well and despite being an average athlete, he keeps up with speedier players by using clever positioning. Rubio’s also a solid rebounder for his position and more importantly than anything above, he understands his limitations.
Overall, Rubio is a positive for whatever team he’s on. He’ll lead the break, he’ll set you up in the half-court, he’ll thread himself into whatever system is in place, and do it effortlessly, and he’s the essence of team-oriented basketball.
But there is no way he’s a max-level player. Not even close.
Kyle Lowry, a much superior all-around player, got four years and $48 million to stay on in Toronto. Lowry, who is four inches shorter, is not only a better shooter and overall scorer, he’s also the better rebounder and play initiator. Unlike Rubio, Lowry can create scoring plays out of nothing, given his ability to shoot, as well as finish around the rim (59.2%), and isn’t limited to excelling in just a few areas.
Using Lowry as a measuring stick, it’s clear Rubio should accept any contract offer above $10 million a year with a gracious smile. The fair value for a player like Rubio is $8 million a year, but given that NBA Free Agency could be its own character on the Looney Tunes, a deal at $10 million annually seems more realistic.
So as per usual, when dealing with projected realism in the NBA, would it really be a surprise to anyone if Minnesota ended up handing Rubio what he wanted? My guess is Rubio will be on several “Top 10 overpaid” lists a year from now.