Does Ricky Deserve a Supporting Cast?

Is it reconcilable to consider Ricky Rubio to be a good NBA point guard, and at the same time object to trading Kevin Love for established, highly-paid veteran players like the ones rumored to be involved in the Golden State negotiations?

That’s a long, awkwardly-phrased question that might require a couple of readings to understand, but it’s one that I’m asking myself in different forms as the draft approaches along with the deadline to trade Kevin Love for maximum available value. It seems that so much of one’s opinion about a given Love Trade hypothetical turns on what that person feels about the Wolves roster aside from Love.

Can Rubio lead a good team?

Next season will be his fourth as an NBA player. He’s plenty experienced and is now pretty far removed from his unfortunate knee injury of March 2012.

Consider what Bill Simmons wrote in his 2012 Trade Value column, shortly before his ACL tear:

23. Ricky Rubio
Poor Ricky played himself out of the top 15 with a ghastly shooting slump (he’s down to 35.5 percent shooting for the season) that mushroomed these past eight games (17-for-69), a swoon that would feel like a bigger deal if Jason Kidd didn’t shoot 38 percent for his first three seasons. Special players figure it out. Rubio sees the floor differently. He’s always a half-step ahead of everyone else, especially defensively. His unselfishness is genuinely infectious in a Bird/Magic kind of way; along with Rick Adelman (it’s 1999 Sacramento all over again for him), that’s the biggest reason why the Timberwolves have morphed into the league’s best passing team. And you can’t deny his effect on Nikola Pekovic (a stiff last season) and Kevin Love (now a franchise guy). Watch the Wolves every week and you can’t help but mutter, “Those guys look like they’re having fun.” Yeah, because it’s fun to play basketball with Rubio and Love when Adelman is coaching you.

Of course, you can pick apart Rubio’s “impact” pretty easily with advanced stats, which actually makes me feel better about basketball as a whole. I’m glad Ricky Rubio can be picked apart. I’m glad he’s the 33rd best point guard in PER right now. That reinforces everything I believed about those numbers in the first place. Sometimes, they’re going to be a little … off. They should be used to accentuate what we’re watching, not to single-handedly shape opinions or beliefs. You can’t fully measure how teammates relate to one another and fit in with each other; even the five-man plus/minus stat (which I like) only goes so far. We’ll always have players and teams defying their metrics. Kyrie Irving is better than Ricky Rubio — we can all agree, right? — but I’m not sure this particular Timberwolves team would be better with Kyrie Irving. That’s why I love basketball. It doesn’t always make sense. And by the way …

A. Minnesota is going to make the playoffs unless somebody gets hurt.

B. Rubio could shoot 30 percent the rest of the way and still be the second-biggest reason it happened. So there.2

That version of Rubio — healthy, and running a high-ball screen offense suited to his skills — seemed extremely valuable; possibly more valuable to his team than even Kevin Love. He was a great defender and an only-one-in-the-league passer who saw stuff that nobody else could even imagine. He was a real weapon.

But then he got hurt.

And then the NBA stopped locking out its players, which allowed full off-seasons, which allowed brilliant coaches like Rick Adelman to install their preferred offenses. In Rick’s case, that was an offense that cared little about point guard dribbling and creative passing. It prioritized careful entries to the high post and perceptive, timely cuts down the baseline for opportunistic layups against reckless defense. As effective as it was, it was not good for an improvisational wizard like Ricky Rubio.

Before I beat that dead horse too much, I’ll get to the question here:

Is it time for the Wolves to make a decision on Rubio and the point guard position?

Should they at least consider drafting a point guard in the lottery?

A step further: Some of the potential Kevin Love trades involve mid-lottery picks. Would it be crazy to pull the trigger on one and draft Marcus Smart, who might be a future star point guard (in a more conventional style)?

Forgive me, here, as I’m just trying to follow the logic of strenuously objecting to the idea that Love should be traded for veterans that command a salary befitting their performance, and that Rubio (and PEK!) should be surrounded with a reasonable supporting cast in the next few seasons.

If the best option is to rebuild and slash payroll, what does that say about Ricky Rubio?



Filed under Timberwolves

3 responses to “Does Ricky Deserve a Supporting Cast?

  1. Nathan Anderson

    I agree. Trading for highly-paid, established veteran players becomes more acceptable if Rubio can “carry” the team to more wins under a new offense better suited to his skills.

    On the other hand, some would argue that it NEVER make sense to trade for established (soon to be highly paid) veterans unless that veteran is (a) reasonably likely to become a superstar or (b) the team is in the playoffs without said player and can compete for a conference championship with that player. According to this argument, any other acquisition of an established (soon to be highly paid) veteran swallows cap space while leaving the team outside the playoffs or on the fringe of the playoffs race.

    In other words, because established veterans that are non-superstars only push the needle a bit, initial conditions matter. (I think that is your point above). But being against such a trade does not have to indicate a damning assessment of Rubio.

    I could believe that
    1. Without Love (and with no additions), Rubio can lead this team to 35 wins. (in my mind, that is a heroic assumption that Rubio is very good)

    2. Adding Klay Thompson and David Lee to the roster would produce at most 45 wins.

    3. Maxing out at 45 wins and losing all flexibility to sign free agents and likely being out of the lottery SUCKS. It’s a path to nowhere.

    4. Thus, Wolves should not acquire those players; they should keep Rubio, dump some more veterans, win around 25-30 games, get a top 10 pick next year and try to find another star (which relies on luck). That’s the most likely way to win at least one round of the playoffs and the best way to maximize the team’s return on Ricky Rubio. (i.e., Ricky needs to be paired with another star to make the team competitive in the playoffs).

  2. Grim Reaper

    I can’t sort out any of the Twolve players because they all have flaws that aren’t collectively hidden and they don’t win. Our best player has not been good enough (Love) and is no leader. The new/old coaching guard cannot change this without drafting superior ballplayers and more time (ugh).
    I was at the first Kahn draft party. Most fans were chanting for Rubio and high-fived after he was taken. I groaned. I was upset with the Flynn pick which received a mixed and muted reaction after the Rubio pick. I wanted Curry, but as recent drafts prove — there is no sure thing. Flip the GM needs to find a gem in these drafts where the only sure things are considered “too old” and already labeled as NBA role players.

    • Nathan Anderson

      Although our best player has (technically) not been good enough to make the playoffs, it is difficult to see how he could be much better. Only a player like Lebron or Durant could have led this Twolves team to the playoffs with the current supporting cast.

      For example, flip Love with Melo and the Twolves still don’t make the playoffs. Flip him with Harden and they still don’t make the playoffs. Which player, given the current roster, could replace Love and lead this exact team to the playoffs? I don’t think Paul George could do it or Blake Griffin could do it.

      So yes, they need more non-Love talent.

      There is no sure thing in the draft, but there are players that are more likely to succeed than others. Clearly, Curry was more likely to succeed than Flynn. I’ll always remember Kahn “you’re gonna love Jonny Flynn.”

      when played well in summer league (or at least seemed to), I held out hope.