Ricky Rubio and John Wall: Two Sides of the Same Coin?


The Timberwolves take on the Washington Wizards tonight at 7 P.M. CST at Target Center. The game can be seen on NBATV or heard on WCCO 830.

The marquee matchup tonight is at the point guard position, where Ricky Rubio and John Wall will square off.

Rubio has been predictably enigmatic (OXYMORON!) this season. He does so many things well, but the unanswerable question is whether Ricky’s kryptonite–the jump shot–will forever banish him to second-tier status among NBA point guards and compromise his team’s chances to keep opposing defenses honest in half-court sets. Similar questions have been raised about Wall.

In his most recent column, Britt Robson of MinnPost writes about this inherent dilemma of Rubio’s game:

Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio will never run out of magic. Whatever flaws or infirmities invade the rest of his game, Rubio will always be able to deliver the ball to his teammates in ways that tickle your endorphins, rock you back in your chair or lift you to your feet in spontaneous tribute.

There will be bounce passes that thread their way through the appendages of the NBA scrum like a bike messenger on a breakneck deadline in downtown traffic. His outlets as the middle man on a fast break will hit his streaking teammates in perfect stride. His skip passes against tilted defenses will blend enough arc and velocity to defy the most dogged recuperation efforts of his opponents. And his no-look passes will continue to have everyone — opponents, coaches, fans, even teammates — following his eyes instead of his hands for the split-second required to zip the orb into an opening that will usher in the layup.

So long as he is healthy, Rubio will also continue to be a premier ball-hawk and a formidable on-ball perimeter defender. He calibrates his pressure surge toward his opponent in a manner that keeps his reactive options intact; not so fast that he collides into a foul or is left in the lurch by a crossover dribble; and not so slow that he can’t close out on the shooter or use his agility and wing-span to either disrupt the dribble or deflect or steal the pass.

And his sense of anticipation and timing on when to circle back to filch the inbounds pass after a made basket, or make a beeline toward a lazy crosscourt pass near half-court, is as productive as anyone in the NBA not named Lebron.

Combine those thrilling virtues with Rubio’s matinee idol looks, his unyielding effort and energy, and his mien of confident modesty, and you have the most popular player on the Timberwolves. Kevin Love is better, a genuine superstar, but in terms of fan squeals and apparel sold and worn at home games, Rubio rules.

If only he could shoot the ball.

As with pretty much everything Britt writes, the piece is worth reading in full.

After reading Britt’s column on Rubio, I began thinking about the parallels–or lack thereof–between Rubio’s development as an NBA point guard and that of Wizards pg John Wall as I made plans to attend tonight’s Wolves-Wizards game  at Target Center. (Eds. Note: Patrick J is home in ‘Sota for the holidays and is excited to see Wolves basketball live and in person.)

I still follow the ‘Zards fairly closely, but having just moved to Pittsburgh in September after having lived in the Washington D.C. area the past three years, I’m admittedly not in touch with the pulse of the ‘Zards fan base like I was in 2011-12 or 2012-13.

So I emailed Britt’s column to Friend of PDW Jon Wallace, who lives in DC and is a die-hard Wiz fan, to get his take on whether a comparable DC writer would say similar things about Wall as Britt did about Rubio. (Eds. Note: Jon guest-blogged on this site last summer about the ‘Zards draft strategy. See his post here.) 

Here’s what he had to say:

(Robson’s) conversation actually strikes me as very similar to the John Wall conversation in 2012. He was going to be up for renewal soon and it was a question mark whether he was ever going to be good enough to earn a max deal.

Then in 2013, he pretty much lit the world on fire in the second half of the season, got his max contract, and carried that strong play into this year. His second half last year really quieted a lot of the doubts that people had about him, similar to the ones expressed currently about Rubio. Will he ever be enough of a shooter to keep defenses honest? Sure he can pass and run the break, but will he be effective enough in the half court? Can he win consistently?

Wall was already a better finisher than Rubio, but perhaps not as good defensively.

At the time Wall got his contract, Wizards people were split on the deal. I think everyone has come around, or at least accepted it. He has played well this year so far and the team clearly comes and goes as he does. But I think it was really important for everyone to see the strong play from the 25 or so games last year, (including a 47-8-7 game against the Grit and Grind crew). It was sort of a Eureka stretch for Wizards fans to see him play up to the #1 pick potential we all knew he had.

This year, Wall has improved his jump shot (even shooting 32% from 3, including 36% on above the break treys) and played better defense than ever. No one is complaining about that contract now. What’s been particularly great about Wall is the way that he gets open jump shots for others. It has always been a skill of his, but the team construction and rotations have been much better at playing to that strength. According to SportsVU data on nba.com, 4 Wizards are in the top 17 in catch and shoot eFG% and 3 are in the 12 (with at least 4 such shots per game). No other team has 2 players in the top 12 and only Portland has 2 in the top 17 (Kevin Love and Kevin Martin are 20th and 21st respectively). He has basically resurrected the careers of Trevor Ariza and former Wolf, Martell Webster. He got ‘Tell paid this summer and will probably get Ariza paid this summer. All this has put him in line for his first All-Star appearance (thanks Eastern Conference!) and I see very little reason to question continued improvement through meaningful games in April and May.

Your humble Wizards correspondent is now furiously knocking on wood to assure continued good health and good cheer for Wall specifically and the team in general (something that Wolves fans can certainly understand).

Can Rubio improve his weaknesses and quiet the critics, as Wall has largely done? We won’t know for a while, but a strong second-half of the season would assuage some of the creeping concerns many Wolves writers and fans now have about Ricky’s long-term value.

For now, we’ll hope for a lock-down defensive performance against Wall and the Wizards tonight, capped by a Wolves win.

Enjoy the tilt.



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6 responses to “Ricky Rubio and John Wall: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

  1. Interesting take on Wall, though Ricky’s shooting percentages are creating a bigger liability than Wall’s were a few seasons ago. Additionally, Wall is such an explosive threat that it keeps defenses on their heels, whereas Rubio needs other players to fill lanes properly and space the floor in order to be successful. Not sure if Rubio can do that if the Wolves are going to need to play non-shooting players like Brewer heavy minutes – it’s hard for the Wolves to raise our team eFG% if we have one or two guys on the court that teams actually *want* to bait into shooting open shots.

    I actually felt the same way I did about Wall a few seasons ago – that he would never make The Leap and become truly great, and Wall has made me look silly. So I’m hoping that Rubio makes me feel the same way.

    • Yep, there are some key differences. I guess on the positive side for Rubio (as Jon notes) he is a better defender than Wall was (is?) and has floor vision that allows a longer list of potential passes at any given moment.

      Wall seemed like a simple case to me: He was too explosive, agile and skilled (at least as a dribbler) to not become a good pro. Barring major injury, some significant progress seemed inevitable.

      You could make the same argument for Ricky: His passing (and size, for a point guard) is too great for him not to figure out the rest.

      But the shooting stats — described by Zach Lowe as the worst ever in modern NBA history — are pretty scary.

      • Ricky’s shooting mechanics are so bad that I’d be shocked if he ever even sniffs the level at which Wall has shot over the past year. If he’s going to be great, he’ll have to figure out how other great point guards who were bad shooters became great, and emulate things from their games. Jason Kidd is the comparison that always gets made–well, at least early-career Ason Kidd, before he became Jason Kidd–but Magic Johnson was also an unreliable outside shooter for most of his career.

        In this NBA, with the current set of rules, could Rubio ever pick up a back-to-the-basket game like the one Andre Miller exploits? (Mark Jackson used to do the same thing.) I have to think he’d get opportunistic buckets here and there, and, once he got accustomed to having the ball in that position, he’d be dynamite at passing to open outside shooters around the arc.)

        • Rubio definitely has potential for a post-up game, though his frame is probably a bit too slight to do it routinely. He’d definitely be a great post-passer, but not sure if that jives with Adelman’s idea of an offense.
          Hopefully he can add some type of wrinkle to his offensive game. I’d be happy with a floater or increased FG% at the rim.

          • Agree on all points. And I think he would need to get stronger if he wanted to make a post presence of any sort tenable as a regular facet of his game.

            But, given his other skills deficiencies, I like this as a way he might be able to distinguish himself in a way that other similarly challenged point guards with unique passing skills have.

  2. DAG

    Nice graphics on the coins. Rubio is unique, poor shooting skills but a winner. Shooters LOVE to play with this guy. Ricky deserves a bigger market to be appreciated. Got to look beyond the stats.