Ricky Rubio’s importance to the Timberwolves shouldn’t be underestimated


I’m going to apologize right away if I seem a little pissed off when you read these words. If I seem pissed off, it’s because I am.

These Ricky Rubio trade rumors that keep popping up are incredibly annoying to me. They’ve been happening for years now, usually with no support or evidence of anything more than some random website or reporter trying to get clicks.

The bottom line here is that, at least for right now, Ricky Rubio is probably the most valuable player on the Wolves roster. I don’t think there’s much of an argument against it, to be honest. Anyone who watched the Timberwolves last year while Rubio was healthy should be in complete agreement with me. (Obviously, if we’re talking about the future of the franchise, Andrew Wiggins is probably the most valuable player. But I’m talking about right now, to this year’s team.)

You’ve probably heard people talk about the “eye-test”. If you don’t know what that is, well, it’s pretty self-explanatory. For me, the eye-test I took while watching the Timberwolves during the 2014-15 season with Rubio and without Rubio showed a huge difference. With Rubio on the floor, the offense flowed much smoother and much easier. Many more scoring opportunities were created and the offense performed at a higher rate. Defensively, Rubio’s pesky play bothered opposing point guards and hindered the flow of their offense.

Feb 28, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) passes the ball around Memphis Grizzlies center

Marc Gasol

(33) in the third quarter at Target Center. The Grizzlies won 101-97. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Additionally, and probably most importantly, the Wolves were COMPETITIVE when Rubio was healthy. They weren’t getting blown out by 40 points like most of their losses when Rubio was on the bench. The losses were close games that went down to the wire and, while it’s no fun to lose in dramatic fashion as they often did, it’s much better than getting throttled.

So, yeah, the results of the Rubio “eye-test” in the 2014-15 season were positive. In many cases, the “eye-test” results differ from the results of statistical analysis. However, that isn’t the case with Rubio. The stats back up my claims that Ricky Rubio makes the Timberwolves a much better basketball team.

For example, the difference in offensive and defensive rating between when Rubio is on the floor and off the floor is absurd. The offensive rating statistic measures the average number of points scored by a player’s team per 100 possessions while said player is on the floor. The defensive rating is, of course, the average number of points allowed per 100 possessions while the player is on the floor.

When Rubio was on the floor for the Timberwolves during the 2014-15 season, he registered an offensive rating of 104.9, compared to the team’s 102.2 rating while he was off the floor. Sure, that doesn’t seem like a huge difference yet. But I’m just getting started.

Rubio’s defensive rating last season was 105.5, which is nothing special at all actually. However, it’s incredibly better than the 113.7 rating that the Wolves put up without Rubio on the floor. This stat says a couple of things:

  • Besides Rubio and a couple others, the Timberwolves are a team loaded with awful defenders.
  • Rubio must be a VERY good defender if he can impact the team’s defensive rating by more than eight points.

By doing some simple math, we can add the differences together to conclude that Rubio’s presence on the floor last season gave the Wolves an average of a 10.9 point swing per 100 possessions, which should show that Rubio had a very sizable positive impact on the Wolves. For comparison, James Harden, who finished second the MVP voting last season, recorded a combined difference in offensive and defensive rating of 8.8.

Rubio haters will try to refute this stat by saying something like “he can’t shoot”. Sure, he struggles shooting the basketball. Nevertheless, he still recorded these stats as a struggling jump shooter.

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Oh yeah, and the Timberwolves were better at the following stats with Rubio on the floor compared to without him: rebound percentage, assist percentage, steal percentage, turnover percentage, opponent’s effective field goal percentage, opponent’s rebound percentage, opponent’s rebound percentage, and opponent’s turnover percentage. (In case you don’t believe me, here’s the Basketball-Reference stats page)

Hopefully, I’ve knocked some sense into those of you that want Rubio traded and whoever is fueling the crazy trade rumors. And if for some odd reason Flip Saunders actually is shopping Ricky Rubio, maybe this is another blog that he’ll read like he supposedly did when he went on his Twitter rant a few weeks ago and his mind is changed.

I’m not trying to say Rubio is one of the best players in the league. The point I’m trying to make is that he’s an ideal fit for this Timberwolves roster that Saunders has put together, and it shows both with the “eye-test” and in statistical analysis.

Oh, and these trade rumors are ridiculous.

NOTE: All stats used are from basketball-reference.com.

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