Should the Timberwolves trade Ricky Rubio this summer?

Mar 4, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) gets a pass away from Milwaukee Bucks guard O.J. Mayo (3) in the second quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 4, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) gets a pass away from Milwaukee Bucks guard O.J. Mayo (3) in the second quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

The NBA Trade Deadline, while ultimately relatively anti-climactic, brought to light the cold, hard reality that the Timberwolves are already considering trading their newly-minted $55 million point guard.

Ricky Rubio is a polarizing figure, and has been discussed at length around the NBA blogosphere and across Twitter as overrated, underrated, and virtually everything in between.

We here at Dunking With Wolves (especially your’s truly) have been pretty bullish on the Spaniard, believing that his most glaring shortcoming (shooting, obviously) pales in comparison to the honest truth that Rubio is legitimately above-average at every other aspect of the NBA game relative to his position — passing, rebounding, individual and team defense, running an offense, etc.

Yes, shooting is important, and especially in today’s NBA. But it also isn’t the only thing that matters, and players that are above-average in nearly every facet are still a clear net-positive when it comes to their team’s on-court production.

That said, the Wolves are clearly open to the idea of moving Rubio, whether or not they were the ones actually making those outbound calls. He’s not in the same untouchable category as Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Zach LaVine, at least, and we’re finally getting a loose idea of how the Timberwolves’ brass values their starting point guard.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote a lengthy piece on the issue late last week, and didn’t specify which party initiated the talked, but Jon Krawczynski at the Associated Press doubled down on his analysis from trade deadline week after Lowe’s article was published.

The substance of the talks were more or less consistent with what Lowe reported, although the assertion that the Wolves discussed adding a first-round draft pick to sweeten the pot in an attempt to acquire Khris Middleton is something that Krawczynski could not corroborate, and Darren Wolfson of KSTP denied.

From Lowe’s story:

"After some initial talks, the Wolves told the Bucks they would swap Ricky Rubiofor Middleton, and when the Bucks declined, the Wolves even discussed the possibility of tossing in a protected 2016 first-round pick, per league sources familiar with the matter. Other outlets have reported of the Bucks’ interest in Rubio — Bucks head coach Jason Kidd seems to have a thing for rangy point guards with busted jumpers — but they never seriously entertained trading Middleton, sources say."

According to Lowe, the Bucks never considered adding Giannis Antetokounmpo or Jabari Parker to trade talks. That left them to offer point guard Michael Carter-Williams, the much-maligned (and since this weekend, out-for-the-season) former Rookie of the Year who is a very, very poor man’s version of Rubio — a bad shooter who isn’t above-average at anything, really.

Let’s say that Milwaukee had bit on the Middleton-for-Rubio idea. Was it a good ask from the Wolves? Would that swap improve the Wolves roster, either now, later, or both?

From strictly an on-court production perspective, Middleton is probably a better player. He’s shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc each of the past three seasons, and 41 percent combined over that stretch. He doesn’t turn the ball over and has seen his assist rate skyrocket to 17.8 percent this year, which would be the best mark of any Timberwolf this season that has not spent the majority of their minutes playing point guard.

Middleton is also one year younger and on a contract that runs one year longer than Rubio. He’s six-foot-eight and can play both wing positions, and did better than simply hold his own when forced to play a lot of small-ball power forward last season.

The Wolves were no doubt dreaming of the fit alongside Andrew Wiggins on the wing. They would be interchangeable at the two and the three, and both capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor. To arm Karl-Anthony Towns with with an athletic, long-range weapon like Middleton should absolutely be a goal of the Wolves front office.

More from Dunking with Wolves

But where would that move that leave the Wolves? Up the creek without a


point guard, of course. Minnesota would have Middleton, Wiggins, and Zach LaVine, and no starting-caliber point guard to run the show.

At this juncture, I’m not sure it’s even a debate as to whether or not LaVine is a point guard; we’ve all seen how much he’s thrived since his full-time switch just a few weeks ago. That leaves rookie Tyus Jones as the only option.

Jones has played well over the past few games, no doubt. I happen to think he’ll be not just a solid backup point guard in the NBA, but one of the better backups in the league. But he’s also 19 years old and has never been asked to play anything resembling starter’s minutes as a professional, so there are more than a few question marks.

The 2016 NBA Draft isn’t especially deep, either. And they’ve already declared the aforementioned Towns, LaVine, and Wiggins as untouchable in trade conversations.

So where does the point guard come from? Free agency? Doubtful, and certainly risky. Trade? Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad are the only viable trade pieces left. The only other option would be playing Wiggins or Middleton extended minutes at the four, which doesn’t seem like a great idea or a long-term solution.

To be clear: this isn’t exactly a classic situation in which the cart is put before the horse in terms of roster balance. Sure, the Wolves aren’t a playoff team, but we aren’t talking about finding a sixth man or a third big to fill out the rotation.

We’re talking about a starting point guard.

And in a league that is becoming increasingly point guard-reliant, the one-spot needs to be filled with someone that can put Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine in the best possible positions to succeed in order to further their individual careers and the success of the organization.

It should not be too much to ask that there is a proven commodity with a steady hand guiding the starting five of an up-and-coming team.

Once again, from Lowe’s piece:

"There is a tendency to look at Rubio as both a finished product and a relic. You can understand why Minnesota would offer him up for Middelton, and it likely would win that exchange. But Rubio’s still just 25, and he has spent half his career either injured or leading terrible teams. There are obvious flaws in his game, but there is also something bigger that works. I’d love to see him on a better team. Hell, I’d love to see him on a Wolves team with Middleton and Wiggins starting on the wing."

Should the Wolves trade Ricky Rubio? Maybe.

I wouldn’t call him untouchable, but I also wouldn’t be so quick to point fingers at him for why the team is scuffling once again. And the Wolves would be well-served to pause long and hard before they flip their point guard for talent at another position.

Next: Should the Timberwolves Trade Andrew Wiggins?

Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine are a tantalizing trio, but they need someone to get them the ball on-time and on-target.

Trading Rubio without a point guard contingency could set this re-re-re-build back another year or two — not time that Wolves fans will be willing to waste.