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Updated: January 7th, 2014 10:51pm
National media is starting to rip on Ricky Rubio, but let’s dig deeper

National media is starting to rip on Ricky Rubio, but let’s dig deeper

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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Right here at 1500ESPN.com a couple weeks ago, we discussed the elephant in the room for the Minnesota TimberwolvesRicky Rubio's horrible close-range shooting numbers. Over the past few weeks, those numbers have improved slightly -- from 38% inside 5 feet to 42% -- but it's still a big enough issue that the national media has started to pounce. 

NBA.com's Steve Aschburner, who covered the Wolves closely during the KG era, wrote this last week: "Like his team, Rubio still gets talked of more for his potential than his production or overall play. In fact, the plateau onto which Minnesota appears to have settled owes much to the Spanish plain on which Rubio's game rests these days. Were he playing better - specifically, posing more of a scoring threat to the opponents that are loading up on Kevin Love and Kevin Martin - the Wolves would be, too... It's disappointing enough that Rubio's offensive game hasn't grown. What's worse is that it seems to be regressing."

Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry took out his own carving knife in late-December: "In a nutshell, Rubio is a really bad close-range scorer, a drastically ineffective midrange shooter, and an almost average 3-point shooter (yay?). In sum he is hitting only 35 percent of his shots, which is obviously dreadful. But his numbers this season are only slightly worse than his previous campaigns, so it's a little surprising to hear people making such a big deal about his stroke. He's pretty much the same guy with the same shortcomings. ... The critical issue here is player development. Unlike other young point guards like Damian Lillard or Steph Curry, Rubio is not getting better. At a critical stage, when you're supposed to blossom, Rubio's growth has stunted. That's on the organization as much as it's on the player."

... and added this pretty fantastic shot chart:



Shooting 38% (well, 42% now) from inside 5 feet is just all kinds of atrocious, and it's the primary reason why Rubio's overall shooting percentage sits at 35% instead of, say, 40-something percent.

It often looks as if Rubio is just flipping the ball toward the rim aimlessly when driving close to the hoop, as he did a few times in the Wolves' blowout win over the Sixers the other night.

By comparison, the top guards in the NBA shoot between 48-60% from inside 5 feet.

Yes, Rubio needs to become a better shooter -- specifically from point-blank range -- in order to reach new levels as an individual player.

The important question is this: To what degree is Rubio hindering the overall production of the team?

The answer: He isn't. In fact, the opposite.

When Kevin Love and Rubio are on the court together, Love shoots 40% from three, but 36% when Rubio is off the court. Rubio seems to have a particularly huge impact on Kevin Martin. When Martin and Rubio are on the court together, Martin shoots 44% from deep, but only 29% with Rubio off the court.

With Rubio on the court, the Wolves outscore opponents by 8.2 points per 48 minutes. When Rubio is on the bench, the Wolves are outscored by 2.1 points per 48 minutes. That's a 10-point difference per 48 minutes with Rubio on the court (although Rubio generally plays most of his minutes with Love, Martin and Nikola Pekovic, which clearly helps).

Also, with Rubio on the court the Wolves average 108 points per 100 possessions. With Rubio on the bench, the Wolves average just under 100 points per 100 possessions.

Rubio also has the Wolves' third-best defensive efficiency rating, according to Pro-Basketball-Reference (behind Gorgui Dieng and Ronny Turiaf), and he leads the NBA in steals.

So, despite Rubio's poor shooting, his other skills -- passing, rebounding, defending, steals, etc. -- raise the overall water level of the team when he is on the court. 

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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