Aw, shoot! Rubio’s offense lacking during World Cup
A sampling of Spain’s finest basketball players at home on a world stage renders it easy to see where Ricky Rubio gets it.
The good, the bad and the ceiling-determining.
Spain’s run at the FIBA World Cup ended Wednesday in Madrid far earlier than the host nation — and its rabid fans — had hoped with a quarterfinal loss to France. But throughout the two-week world championship event that concludes with Sunday’s gold medal game, the Timberwolves’ oft-scrutinized point guard reinforced he’s one of the game’s most electric players in terms of distributing and hounding opponents.
And why, to date, that’s all he is.
At the time of Spain’s departure, Rubio led the entire field in assists and steals. That’s nothing new for the 23-year-old entering his fourth NBA season; last year, he led the league in steals and ranked second in helpers.
Like fellow guards Sergio Rodriguez, Juan Carlos Navarro, Jose Calderon and Sergio Lull, Rubio could be seen darting all over defensively and poking the ball away at any opportune moment. It’s a frenetic, European style of risk-reward attacking not always seen in the NBA, where defense is less commonplace until the postseason.
Rubio brought that with him when he joined the Wolves in 2011. As a result, he’s ranked second in the league in steals per game each of the past two years and third or better in steal percentage each of his three NBA seasons.
Spain’s offense continues to be a standard-bearer of simple dribble-drive concepts — the ones that allow Rubio to slip between defenders and sneak one of those jaw-dropping passes to a teammate. Spain trailed only the United States in assists during the tournament, and Rubio’s 36 helpers in seven games topped the field.
But anyone looking for long-awaited signs of improvement regarding Ricky Rubio A-Topic No. 1 weren’t presented any.
A pass-first point guard his entire life, Rubio is in danger of going down as one of the worst shooting point guards in NBA history. His career field-goal percentage of 36.8 ranks 2,847th all-time and is dead last among 190 point guards who have made more than 500 field-goal attempts.
In seven games in Spain, he went 10-for-31 (32.3 percent) from the floor and missed all five of his 3-point attempts. It’s a small sample size, to be sure, but it doesn’t look promising for a player who spent most of his summer working with a shooting coach.
He wasn’t the only problem against France, but he wasn’t much of a solution, either. With the Tony Parker-less, Boris Diaw-led Frenchmen clogging passing lanes and outrebounding the de facto home team 49-29, Rubio went 1-for-7 for four points and had three assists and one steal.
Rubio apologists will point out his lack of attempts — 4.4 per game — as too few to determine anything regarding his long-term abilities as a shooter.
But it’s that number that illustrates a huge contributing factor to Rubio’s historically low metrics.
Until he reached the NBA, he wasn’t asked to be a volume shooter. When he returns home for international competition, he isn’t either. But conventional NBA wisdom says a point guard in 2014 must score, at least enough to draw defenders his direction.
With an upgrade in athleticism around him — Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, etc. — Rubio may yet get away with being a sub-40-percent field-goal shooter.
But until he figures out how to score more efficiently, his game won’t evolve.
With that in mind, Wolves president of basketball operations and coach Flip Saunders plans to hire a shooting coach this season.
When it comes to Rubio, said assistant will have his work cut out for him.
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