Ricky Rubio, 27, has been a pro basketball player for the past 13 years.
At 14, he began his playing career in Spain and was one of the youngest ever to play in the Euroleague. He’s had invaluable time to polish the fundamentals of the game against quality competition.
Yet Rubio still can’t shoot — and it’s hurting the Utah Jazz, who might want to consider pulling the plug on the point guard at least to see if alternative lineups can work.
The Jazz currently have the fifth least efficient offense in the league and are 26th in pace, per ESPN. They’re turning the ball over 15.4 times per game — essentially tied for the most in the NBA. The Jazz are averaging 98.4 points per game — the third least in the NBA. Utah is also 27th in field goal percentage.
It’s almost impossible to find an offensive statistic in which the Jazz are performing well — and Rubio isn’t helping the cause.
In October, at the start of the season, it appeared as if Ricky Rubio had finally figured it out. His changed look — the long locks and tattoos — might’ve done the trick, it seemed.
Rubio was putting up 15.7 points, making 43 percent of his total shots and 35 percent of his threes, both which would’ve been career-highs if it translated over to November. He scored 10 or more points in six of the seven games. Rubio’s style of play meshed well with Quin Snyder’s philosophy on ball-movement and the Jazz thrived.
But Rubio has regressed to the mean this month and has done little to shed the putrid shooting label he developed in Minnesota.
In the past eight games, six of which the Jazz have lost, Rubio has made 26 of his 83 shot attempts, or 31 percent. He’s been a non-factor from deep, too, as he’s hitting 15 percent of his threes on less than one make per game.
Some will say it's a slump. That he’ll break out of it.
Or it’s just Rubio playing to the level Utah should’ve expected when they acquired him this past summer. Career-wise, there’s evidence that shows it’s likely the latter.
In his seven NBA seasons, Rubio has made 37 percent of his total shots and 31 percent of his threes, almost mirroring his percentages from this season, which are a tad worse than the disappointing numbers he’s posted throughout the course of his career thus far.
“But the Jazz didn’t trade for Rubio to get scoring. They traded for his leadership, defense and passing acumen.”
Sure — but it hasn’t helped the Jazz win games.
Rubio is averaging a career-low 5.5 assists per game and the Jazz’s offense improves when he’s off the court.
With Rubio commanding the offense, Utah’s offensive rating is 100.3, which would place the Jazz in the bottom five of the league. When he’s on the bench, Utah’s offensive rating improves to 105.1, which is in the top half of the NBA.
Rubio’s defense hasn’t made a difference, either. Opposing teams are scoring at a much easier rate with him on the court than off. Opponent effective field goal percentage increases from 48.5 to 53.9 percent when he’s playing and the offensive rating jumps from 100.2 to 106.6.
“Okay – so if Rubio isn’t the answer, who is, then? Has John Stockton discovered a reverse-aging serum?”
Stockton’s not playing at The Viv anytime soon, but the answer might already be on the roster: Donovan Mitchell.
Utah saw Mitchell’s court vision first-hand at summer league, where he regularly flashed highlight-worthy passes and ball handling he lacked at Louisville last season. Mitchell has rarely played without Rubio this season, and although the sample size isn’t substantial, it might be worth experimenting.
When Mitchell shared the court with Joe Ingles, Rodney Hood, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, Utah’s offense improved. Per-100 possessions, that lineup projects to score 24 more points than normal, with a higher field goal and three-point percentage. Snyder has only played those five together 22 minutes this season and won’t be able to going forward, given the injury Gobert suffered against the Miami Heat.
Defensively, the team improves when Mitchell is on the court, too. Teams have an offensive rating of 106.2 when he’s benched, compared to the 102.8 when he’s playing.
Utah is among the best teams in the NBA defensively, but they cannot score – and Rubio isn’t helping and probably won’t, because, well, that’s just not what he does. Utah’s roster was constructed purely for defensive purposes, but at some point, the Jazz are going to need to score to win games. In their last four losses, the Jazz have cracked 100 points only once.
It might be a slump. Rubio might wake up tomorrow and discover his shot against the Brooklyn Nets. But that would be an anomaly. A betting man would place his money on Rubio continuing to struggle shooting because he’s struggled with that his entire NBA career.
The skeptics will quickly point out that Mitchell isn’t a point guard, that he’s better-suited playing off the ball. But in today’s positionless NBA, the lines between point guard and shooting guard are blurred. The traditional role of a point guard is distributed to everyone, regardless of position. And if a team is lucky enough to have a player that transcends positional boundaries, like the Jazz might in Mitchell, then passing is naturally inherited by that talent.
The Jazz won’t know until they try it. Playing small, with Mitchell, Ingles, Alec Burks and Rodney Hood might not work, but it could end up being the most productive lineup that Snyder has to trot out.
What the Jazz are doing right now and what Rubio is giving them isn’t working. If the Jazz want to give themselves a chance, Snyder owes it to himself and the team to experiment — even if that means benching Rubio more than he intended.