On Ricky Rubio’s on-ball defense against elite point guards


Ricky Rubio has his lovers, and Ricky Rubio has his haters – there isn’t much in-between.

However, I am the exception. I love Rubio. He’s my favorite player in the NBA because of his dazzling passing ability. How he sets up his teammates and finds creases to thread the ball into just amazes me. But, at the same time, I understand that Ricky cannot shoot the ball with consistency, and the NBA is a point guard’s league.

If you have an elite point guard on your team, you have a chance to win every night and the Timberwolves are not to that level yet.

As I was organizing this article, my original opinion was that Ricky Rubio is an overrated defender. Ricky does a great job getting steals and he does a good job bringing the energy defensively, but I’ve always thought that Ricky was a below-average on-ball defender.

If you miss a shot, it shows up in the box score. If you throw a bad pass, it shows up in the box score. But if you gamble defensively and miss a steal, which ultimately creates an easy basket for the opposition, it doesn’t show up in the box score. That’s why many people think that Rubio is overrated defensively – he gambles too much.

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I could simply look for information and statistics that only support my original opinion, but as I was gathering the information needed, I noticed a trend. The trend was that the statistics I was gathering didn’t support my opinion. Instead of stopping, I continued.

For this article, I looked at all the games Ricky Rubio played in last season, save for game in Orlando when he sprained his ankle. I created a chart of every point guard Rubio faced that season and gathered their individual statistics against Rubio to validate or invalidate my original opinion of Rubio being a lackluster on-ball defender.

In the chart below are all the point guards Rubio defended during the 2014-15 season. I collected their individual point totals as well as their field goal percentage to see how efficient they were against Rubio that game. For the point totals and field goal percentages I rounded the numbers to the nearest whole. Then I added up the averages, which is located on the bottom of the chart.

As seen to the right, the point guards Rubio faced during the 2014-15 season only averaged 14.4 points per game and only shot 37%. That’s really good defense. Because Rubio only played in 22 games last season, I decided to take it another step further. Perhaps, the numbers were flawed because Rubio only played in a limited amount of games.

In this next chart, I took who I believe to be best five point guards in the NBA and checked out how well Rubio defended them.

But this time, I took their numbers during the 2013-14 season because that’s the year Rubio played the entire 82-game schedule. These players are the best point guards in the game so I could have easily flawed these numbers by only taking their point totals against Rubio, but I didn’t. Instead, I took their averages per game that season, and compared their averages against Ricky.

In the chart below, you can see that four of the five point guards had lower numbers than their averages when Ricky defended them last season. It’s important to note that Russell Westbrook only played against the Wolves once during the 2013-14 season due to injures.

Now, these statistics aren’t perfect, because there is more to defense than guarding your own man, but it does mean that Ricky Rubio is a better on-ball defender than I, along with many other folks out there, had previously thought.

Ricky still gambles too much in my opinion, but his on-ball defense against elite point guards is pretty remarkable. You cannot stop elite guards from scoring, but it is possible to bring down their efficiency and that’s what Rubio did during the 2013-14 season.

Although Ricky Rubio is not quite the elite point guard that many Western Conference teams possess, he can guard them pretty well.

Now, if he only could get a consistent jumper…

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