When the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Providence point guard Kris Dunn with the fifth overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the writing seemed to be on the wall for incumbent point guard Ricky Rubio.
After all, Rubio’s name had been involved in trade rumors for years up to that point. The arrival of a point guard taken with such a high pick surely spelled the end of the Rubio’s run. New head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau’s offense throughout his tenure with the Chicago Bulls was predicated on attacking, scoring point guards (Derrick Rose, Nate Robinson). Dunn fit the bill perfectly, Rubio did not.
Yet, here we are in late October, and Rubio is still the starter. Is Rubio auditioning for a trade?
Dunn may very well be the future starting point guard for the Wolves, but Rubio is the starter for the present. By present, I don’t mean for this month until he’s traded in a month or two. Rubio should be the starter for at least this season.
Rubio might have fallen a bit short of the Pete Maravich comparisons he garnered for his flashy style of play when drafted in 2011, but his game seems to be underappreciated. I
Much of the reason for the some of the negativity that people have about Rubio are about his weakness: shooting. Rubio entered the league with a jumper that was bent but seemingly not broken. Rubio’s tinkered with his shot but to no real improvement statistically. In fact, Rubio’s numbers haven’t altered much at all since he came into the league. He averaged 0.5 fewer points per game and 0.5 more assists last season than he did as a rookie and has never shot above 38.1 percent from the field in a season.
The criticisms are valid, but perhaps not indicative of his abilities as you’d think. As the NBA’s analytic movement has educated us on how important shooting and the spacing that comes along with it is, we’ve learned to associate bad shooters with being poor for their team. One of the better examples of this is how the Miami Heat were better off without their star player Dwyane Wade, a poor shooter, last season.
If a superstar like Wade doesn’t make his team better when he’s on the floor, how could a lesser talent like Rubio make his team better? After all, Rubio is often compared to Rajon Rondo, who has spent the last few years proving that stuffing the stat sheet but not being a scoring threat can serve as a detriment to his team.
It’s difficult to judge Rubio’s effectiveness by raw numbers. The best way to see his impact is with his on/off court numbers. The Timberwolves score 108 points per 100 possessions with Rubio on the court while giving up 106. Now let’s look at how the Wolves fared when Rubio went to the bench last season: 102.8 points per 100 possessions, 109.9 points per 100 possessions allowed.
The Wolves are a better team both offensively and defensively with Rubio despite his shortcomings. Over Rubio’s time with the Wolves, they’ve had many problems. In the grand scheme, he isn’t one of them.
Dunn is the safe bet to be starting for the Wolves three years from now, but that’s a long way away in NBA years. They didn’t draft him so high to be a career backup, and Dunn has the potential to be a top-tier point guard.
However, it’s rare to find rookies who are capable of being starting-caliber players for hopeful playoff teams, a description that fits the Wolves this season.
Dunn showed in preseason action that he’d need time to overcome the learning curve for first-year players (4.6 points per game on 22.6 percent shooting from the field in 7 preseason games).
Dunn’s time will come, but it won’t come this season.
Until then, the Wolves are just fine with Rubio running the point.