Utah Jazz still mired by the Ricky Rubio conundrum

Ryan Aston , 2019-01-23 04:35:50
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The Utah Jazz got good minutes out of point-man Ricky Rubio in his return from injury, but is he the long-term solution at the position?

Utah Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio returned to action against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday after missing his squad’s previous six games with a hamstring injury. For the most part, he put his best foot forward in limited time off the bench, scoring 12 points in just 14 minutes of play.

That performance sparked a recurring debate in our J-Notes group thread; one that can be boiled down to the following question — what does Rubio really bring to the table and is it something that gives the Jazz their best shot at success?

It’s a conundrum the team has been dealing with for the better part of two seasons now.

Now, before we get to that, let’s make clear something I think all of us can agree on: Rubio is a first-rate person; maybe one of the best in the Association. The Jazz’s efforts to improve the community in which they play have been bolstered in a big, bad way by his efforts. Few NBA players give of themselves like Rubio.

In that way, as well as in his incredible work ethic, he’s the textbook example of what team officials mean when they talk about Jazz DNA.

While that’s a concept we can all get behind, there’s a divergence of thought on what Rubio does when he’s out on the hardwood.

On one side, we have the group that loves what he brings as a floor general and teammate. To them, he’s a visionary passer and a player who overcomes his weaknesses to great effect, making a quantifiable positive impact on the floor in spite of them. If I were to take the pulse of Jazz Nation, I still think a large percentage of fans fall in this camp.

On the other side, we have the group that bemoans Rubio’s lack of shooting prowess, wonders about his decision-making and questions his fit in Coach Quin Snyder’s offense. These folks pine for Donovan Mitchell at the point, a fully realized Dante Exum in the starting five or some hot stove alternative every time Rubio has a bad game/quarter/play.

Here’s the crux of the matter, and the real conundrum as relates to Rubio — both sides are right.

Rubio the Jazzman has been as Jekkyl and Hyde as they come.

Consider the following facts, all from the current season —

  • Despite a rep for shaky shooting, he’s shot better than 45 percent in nearly half of his games. He’s also hit multiple 3-pointers 16 times and once made five in a single game.
  • He’s scored 15-plus points on 12 occasions.
  • He’s a net positive (2.9 points/100 possessions) for the year.
  • He joins Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder and Rudy Gobert as part of the NBA’s fourth-best five-man lineup (minimum 150 MP), which boasts a net rating of 15.

Now, contrast all of that with this lot —

  • He’s shot worse than 40 percent 20 times and has more games of six or less points (10) than 20 or more (8).
  • He’s committed four or more turnovers 16 times.
  • Among that same set of the league’s most-used lineups, he joins Mitchell, Ingles, Gobert and Derrick Favors, i.e. the team’s regular starting five, as part of the third-worst offensive unit with an O-rating of just 97.5.
  • The Jazz are under .500 (19-22) when he plays this season and undefeated (7-0) when he doesn’t.

The Jekyll and Hyde act was just as pronounced last season. Through January of 2018, he averaged 11 points per contest on 39 percent from the floor and 30 percent from behind the arc in the blue, green and gold. Over the ’17-18 season’s final three months, he put up 16 points per game on 46 percent shooting and 43 percent from distance.

Truth is, when Rubio is good, he’s very good…and it changes everything for the team. Clearly, we saw this in all it’s glory during the second half of last season; we also saw it during the team’s first-round playoff series with the Oklahoma City Thunder when he outplayed former NBA MVP Russell Westbrook in spurts.

However, when he’s bad, he’s like a big black hole of suckatude offensively. The Jazz lose all semblance of space on the court and way too many of his passes end up in the hands of the other team.

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So what do you do with Rubio, whose biggest consistency is being inconsistent? Keep him in hopes that the good games will begin to outnumber the bad ones or put an end to the experiment altogether?

I’ll say this — I suspect Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey is exploring every avenue to improve the team’s chances, and Rubio isn’t near the untouchable list (nor should he be). If a better, more consistent option becomes available, that option needs to be seriously considered.

That said, he’s done great things in a Jazz uniform on several occasions, too, continues to be a net positive on the floor and, in many ways, has been the heart and soul of the squad at times. Also — the grass may not be greener as his detractors assume. There’s a lot to consider here.

In other words, the Rubio conundrum is as much a thing as ever.

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