It has gone on for a couple years now. The Wolves are 9-55 (.140) without Ricky Rubio over the last two seasons and are 11-17 (.393) with him in the lineup. Its clear that the Timberwolves struggle to win games without Rubio on the floor. But it is important to understand why.
Ricky Rubio is one of the most underrated defensive point guard in the NBA. While the Wolves defense has improved this season, a big reason for it is having Rubio on the floor. Rubio lacks speed but he plays the passing lanes well and is long enough where opposing point guards don’t have an easy time running the offense seeing over him. Opposing point guards are scoring and creating more against other point guards on the Wolves. Even if you don’t believe Rubio is a great defender, anyone else who plays point guard for the Wolves are very bad on the defensive end, so he is an improvement.
He makes players around him better on both ends. There is a reason why fans want LaVine to never play point guard outside of the fact that he can’t thrive there. The opportunity to play alongside Rubio could really elevate his game. The sample size of those two playing together is small, but they clearly want to play together and have decent chemistry when both are out there. But if you look at the different between the offensive rating of the Wolves with Rubio and Without, it is night and day. With Rubio on the floor, the Wolves have an offensive rating differential of +10.2. Without Rubio on the floor, it is -8.9. So there is an overall differential of +19 that Rubio has an impact on when he plays. Also, Rubio leads the team in +/- by a long shot, with a +6.3 per game average.
He is competitive too. Ricky comes from a winning background. He loves to win. He plays great defense in the clutch and also shows the ability to make good decisions offensively. If there is something Rubio, KG, and KAT share, it is the passion to win games. Having his competitive spirit on the floor is enough to make a difference on whether our team is out there competing or just looking to put points on the board.
The ball moves when Rubio is in the game. Over the last four losses, there has been multiple times that open guys never get the ball. Rubio encourages ball movement and in the last four games, most of the offense has been isolations and creating off of the dribble. When Rubio is on the floor, the Wolves Assist% (percentage of points made with an assist) is 64.5%. When Rubio is not on the floor, it is 52.3%. This is significant in that the Wolves without Rubio are scoring have of their baskets through someone creating it individually.
If the Wolves want to compete this season, it will only be if Rubio is healthy. It is scary to see him miss four straight games without much warning. There were a lot of questions on why Mitchell was not playing him more than the 30.8 minutes per game he has been playing. His overall health has to be a long-term concern for the Wolves being that his minutes have declined over the length of his career. It will be interesting to see if he plays against the Heat tonight. If he doesn’t, there is a good chance we see another loss. What we are learning very quickly though is that regardless of potential, production, or talent, Rubio may be the most valuable player on this team when it comes to the win column. The only way the Wolves can compete this season and not let it be another rebuilding year will be if Ricky Rubio is healthy.