Ricky Rubio is a Monster

Ricky Rubio's career in the NBA has been a strange ride. However, with a healthy Jazz team, Rubio is hitting his potential and hitting it hard.

Ricky Rubio was famously drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves 5th overall in the 2009 NBA draft. The Wolves then selected Jonny Flynn 6th (also a point guard), and the 7th overall pick was Stephen Curry. Of all the point guards taken in that draft - those three, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Jennings (he's back!), Jeff Teague, Ty Lawson, Eric Maynor, Darren Collison, Toney Douglas,, Pat Beverley, Patty Mills, and a few others - it's hard to imagine the Wolves doing much worse than Flynn and Rubio (partly because Rubio didn't come to the NBA for two full years after the pick).

Rubio took a strange ride through Minnesota in the six years he played there, where he showed flashes of being a superstar passer, a great on-ball defender, and a god-awful shooter. He offered up a Jason Kidd style of statistics: Over six seasons he averaged just over 10 points, over 8 assists, about 5 rebounds, and over 2 steals per game. He also made just 31.5% of his three-pointers in Minnesota before being traded to the Jazz last summer.

I won't say that Ricky has fully blossomed this year, but the Jazz's season has shown that he can flourish in the right conditions. It has just turned out that those conditions basically amount to a healthy Rudy Gobert.

For the season, Rubio is only averaging 5.3 assists per game, which is a far cry below his 8.0 career average. However, watching the Jazz, it's easy to see why. Donovan Mitchell can break teams down off the dribble, Joe Ingles can play old-man basketball with the ball in his hand, and post-ups happen with some regularity. 

But despite that low average, when this team has been healthy, Ricky is off the charts. That question mark of health has been mainly Rudy Gobert. Gobert has played in 41 games this season and the Jazz are 26-15 in them. They are 11-15 when Gobert doesn't play. Going into Tuesday's action, they're also 19-4 since he came back from injury.

If Rudy Gobert is the engine that makes them go, then Ricky Rubio is the oil that keeps the engine running smoothly. Take a look at how great he's been since Gobert came back.

01-20 - 3-11 19 30.5 5.2/11.9 .436 1.2/2.9 .393 3.6/4.3 .829 5.7 6.6 1.2 0.1 2.7 3.1 15.2 12.6 9.6

If you take out the shortened game that Rubio played when he injured his hip and then the first game back (when he played on a minutes restriction), the numbers are even better. He's continually scoring in double figures, he's getting a ton of assists, and he's been rebounding with gusto, even after the return of his dominant-rebounder teammate.

One way to quantify Rubio's presence over the past month is by checking in on a sportsbook. Certain websites offer bets like "How many points + rebounds + assists will Ricky Rubio have tonight? Over/under 23.5." That's a real bet that I've seen (but would never place money on because gambling is illegal and immoral, duh) numerous times over the past month. Some days it has dipped to 22.5, others it has climbed to 24, but typically it's 23.5.

Since Gobert's return, and not counting the game in which he got injured, Rubio has cleared 23.5 points + rebounds + assists 14 times in 18 games. Two of those times he didn't hit the over were his first two games back from his own injury when he wasn't quite full-strength.

Perhaps most important for the Jazz's recent run of success is that Rubio is making almost 40% of his three-pointers since Gobert returned. It's easy to see why: When you have a 7'1 rim-roller, the defense is going to collapse on him, creating open shots for teammates. Rubio has never been a good outside shooter, but he's capable of making uncontested three-pointers. This year he's getting a lot of chances. According to NBA.com, Rubio is taking 2.2 wide open threes (no defender within 6 feet of him) per game since Gobert's return. He's making an unsustainably-good 45% of them. Prior to this season, Rubio never attempted more than 2.6 three-pointers per game total for a season. Also, efore Gobert's return, Rubio was only making 29% of his wide open threes.

Just watch him dominate this game against the Pelicans. He does everything you could want a point guard to do. He knocks down open shots, he continually finds open teammates, and he never stops moving. The only bad thing he does is wear a top-knot.

The real Ricky Rubio is probably somewhere in between those two shooting statistics. He should be able to make his open threes, but he likely won't be able to make half of them (Joe Ingles will continue to make 50% of them because Joe Ingles is a three-point shooting robot).

In any case, the results are hard to argue with. The Jazz are rolling. They're officially seeded in the playoffs as of Wednesday afternoon, they're looking stronger than ever, they're healthy, and at least five of their final 14 games are against tanking teams - seven if the Lakers decide to throw in the towel. Things are lining up for a nice little Utah Jazz run to jump up a few spots and avoid the Warriors/Rockets. That could mean a first-round win for the 2nd straight year.

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