FanPost

Projecting Ricky Rubio

Ricky Rubio

 

PG

6'4" 

180lbs

20 years old

 

Images_medium

via t1.gstatic.com

Ricky Rubio.  The Spanish phenom who began playing professional ball in Spain at 14 years old, was an international celebrity, a youtube favorite, an olympic hero, and a household name among NBA fans long before his 18th birthday.  The hype machine is on overload for this prospect.  No man can completely clear his mind of Rubio's flashy passes, catchy name, and floppy hair when trying to project him as an NBA player.  Rubio's uniquely overblown reputation makes careful, sober, objective analysis all the more important.  The numbers don't see any of the flair or hear any of the praise, and thus moreso than for any other prospect, we need to stay grounded in the numbers in assessing Ricky Rubio.  So let's see what those numbers say.     

NBA Projection:

 Ricky's combined pace-adjusted per-36 ACB, Euroleague, and Eurocup statistics for each year:

Age

Team

Poss

Pts

FGA

3PtA

3pt%

eFG%

FTA

FT%

Reb

Ast

Stl

Blk

TO

PF

15

DKV

13

10.8

3.4

1.7

0.74

0.57

6.0

0.57

5.2

3.9

3.9

0.5

4.3

8.2

16

DKV

9

7.9

4.2

2.7

0.26

0.44

3.8

0.68

4.6

4.3

4.6

0.0

2.6

4.6

17

DKV

15

14.5

6.9

3.9

0.31

0.48

6.3

0.79

4.9

6.3

3.4

0.0

3.4

4.0

18

DKV

16

14.3

5.8

3.4

0.42     

0.45

6.1

0.8

4.2

9.1

3.5

0.2

4.8

3.6

19

Barca

12

12.2

6.4

4.6

0.39

0.52

3.9

0.84

4.9

7.8

3.2

0.1

3.5

3.2

20

Barca

11

9.0

5.3

3.6

0.25

0.38

3.7

0.81

5.2

6.4

2.6

0.0

3.1

3.6

Age

Team

PER

WS/40

 

15

DKV

13.3

4.8

 

16

DKV

15.4

7.9

 

17

DKV

19.6

8.8

 

18

DKV

19.4

8.0

 

19

Barca

20.7

9.1

 

20

Barca

14.2

5.9

 




















Minutes -  age 15: 80; age 16: 929; age 17: 1116; age 18: 572; age 19:  1140; age 20: 1236

Looking across the numbers, Ricky has proven throughout his career that he is extraordinarily skilled in three areas.  He has been one of the best passers in the ACB since he turned 17, and has been arguably the top ball-thief and rebounder (at PG) in the second best league in the world since he was a freshman in high-school.  Ricky just seems to see the game one step ahead of everyone else.  He knows where teammates, opponents, and the ball are going to be before anyone else, and uses this skill to collect assists, rebounds, and steals at an extremely high level.

Ricky is not perfect however.  He is a terrible scorer.  Both in terms of volume and efficiency.  He has only had one year since his 80-minute rookie season in which he eclipsed a 50% eFG.  He managed to follow that seeming improvement with a simply embarrassing 38% eFG.  The only real saving grace for Ricky's poor shooting is that he has the good sense not to do it too much.  If he wasn't so good at everything else, Ricky's scoring deficiencies would ensure that he never leaves the bench.  Fortunately for both Ricky and the Wolves, he is so good at everything else in the box score that he deserves to be out on the court.  This is evidenced by his scores in the composite metrics (PER and WS/40) thus far in his career.

There is a popular narrative going around that Rubio's situation in Barcelona has impeded his development (see here for a good example [4]).  To summarize the basic idea, the highly regimented play style of coach Xavier Pascual, and the surplus of league-best talent on Barca has neutered Rubio's role in the offense.  Looking at Rubio's year by year statistics, there seems to be good justification for this theory.  Barca has taken away one quarter of Rubio's per minute possessions, and increased the percentage of those possessions that are used on 3-pointers.  This role change has moved Rubio away from his flashy, freestyle, ball-dominant game with DKV, and lowered the rates for all of his on-ball statistics. 

So yes, it looks like Barcelona has hurt Ricky's numbers, and yes, it would have been nice to see some improvement over the last two years.  However, even if we focus on the numbers Rubio put-up with Barca, he still projects to be a pretty special player.  Even with Barca, Rubio proved to be a dominant off-ball player, leading all ACB point-guards in both steals and rebounds.  Additionally, while his assists have fallen from his ridiculous 2008-09 rate (which was a standard deviation better than the next best player's) Ricky is still top three in the ACB over the last two years.  It isn't all rosy, as is clear when you look at Rubio's terrible scoring statistics, but Rubio does three things: pass, steal, and rebound, better than any point-guard in Europe.

Let's start the comparisons with another young point guard who played in Europe for a year before being drafted six spots after Ricky.  Brandon Jennings:

Brandon Jennings at 19 and Ricky Rubio at 18, both per-36 pace adjusted.

Team

Pos

Pts

FGA

3PtA

3P%

eFG%

FTA

FT%

Reb

Ast

Stl

Blk

TO

PF

BJ

Roma

14

12.1

11.9

4.4

0.23

0.43

2.8

0.73

3.1

3.9

3.4

0.1

2.6

4.1

RR

Barca

16

14.3

5.8

3.4

0.42

0.45

6.1

0.8

4.2

9.1

3.5

0.2

4.8

3.6

 


Team

PER

WS/40

BJ

Roma

13.0

3.0

RR

DKV

19.4

8.0

Minutes -  Brandon Jennings: 773; Ricky Rubio 572

Interestingly, Rubio was actually the far superior scorer.  Ricky scored 2 more points per-36, while taking less than half as many shots.  Rubio also more than doubled Jennings' assists rate and had collected more steals and rebounds.  Meanwhile Jennings was playing in the Italian league, which is considered inferior to the Spanish league.  19 year old Jennings had absolutely nothing on 18 year old Rubio.  It is a similar story if we compare 19 year old Rubio to 19 year old Jennings.    

Let's see how things changed for Jennings when he moved to the NBA. 

Age

Team

Pos

Pts

FGA

3PtA

3P%

eFG%

FTA

FT%

Reb

Ast

Stl

Blk

TO

PF

19

Roma

14

12.1

11.9

4.4

0.23

0.43

2.8

0.73

3.1

3.9

3.4

0.1

2.6

4.1

20

Bucks

20

16.9

16.3

5.2

0.37

0.43

3.7

0.81

3.8

6.3

1.4

0.3

2.7

2.5

Minutes - 19: 773; 20: 2,673

Much of the narrative surrounding Jennings' rookie year was that he performed significantly better in the NBA environment than he did overseas.  Guard-friendly officiating in the NBA allowed Jennings to flourish in a way he never would have in Europe.  Looking at the numbers, this story seems to give NBA-Jennings too much credit.  Instead, it looks like Jennings simply got significantly more minutes per game, was given more possessions during those minutes, and used those possessions more aggressively.  Any increases to Jennings' statistics between Italy and the NBA can be explained by his increased usage or increases expected of every European player coming to the NBA.  Jennings' rebounding increase is perfectly consistent with what Hollinger finds for most players coming from Europe to the NBA [2].  Jennings' increase in assists can be explained by a combination of Hollingers' Euro/NBA conversion combined with Jennings' increased usage.  While Jennings' increased scoring is counter to Hollingers' expectations, it is also unusual for a Euro-rookie to see such a drastic increase in usage and shot attempts.   Really the only improvement evident in  Jennings rookie season was that he managed to maintain his shooting efficiency in the face of the 12% decline experienced by most European players coming to the NBA.  This would be much more impressive if the eFG% he maintained wasn't a measly 43%.

This article isn't about Brandon Jennings, so I will cease my Jennings bashing here.  The point is. if Rubio sees the same increase in usage that Jennings saw coming into the NBA, I can all but guarantee he has a much better rookie season than Jennings did.

 In order to find more fruitful comparisons for Ricky Rubio, we need to look at players already in the NBA.  In order to do this, we need to make some adjustments to Ricky's numbers.  The rules, play-style, and level of competition all affect the way a given player's game translates into the box-score between the NBA and Europe.   As alluded to above, John Hollinger has found that European players moving into the NBA tend to see a large decrease in scoring volume and efficiency, a very large increase in assists, and a modest increase in rebounds.  In order to reliably compare Ricky to NBA players, we need to first identify what his numbers will look like when he comes to the NBA.

NBA/EURO statistical conversion values [2]:

Pts

3PtA

3Pt%

eFG%

FTA

FT%

Rebs

Asts

Stls

Blks

TOs

PFs

0.75

0.73

0.88

0.88

0.95

1.00

1.18

1.31

0.80

1.43

0.79

0.85

 

The conversion value for points, eFG%, rebounds, and assists are taken directly from Hollinger.  Hollinger used a superior method to identify these conversion formulas, so I use his values where I can.  I am still building a data-set that will allow me to find solid conversions for the other statistics.  However, until I have enough data to actually look at all player transfers from Europe to the NBA, I need to improvise.  So instead, I simply took the mean values from all players in both the NBA and Europe across 3 seasons, and divided the NBA mean by the Euro mean for each statistic. 

This might seem like a poor methodology given that it ignores the superior skill and athleticism of the opponents a European encounters after crossing the pond.  However, I have some reason for tentative confidence in these values.  Primarily because this method almost perfectly recovered the conversion values that Hollinger found for both assists and rebounds.  Rebounding and distributing seem to be skills that players either have or don't have.  This may or may not be true for some of the other non-scoring statistics (Stls, Blks, TOs PFs), but for now these conversion values are the best I have.

So how do Rubio's European-statistics translate using this Euro-to-NBA conversion?

Age

Min

Pos

Pts

FGA

3Pt%

eFG

FTA

FT%

TOT

Asts

Stls

Blks

TOs

PFs

15

80

13

8.1

7.4

64.8%

0.50

5.7

56.7%

6.2

5.1

3.1

0.6

3.4

7.0

16

929

9

5.9

6.0

23.3%

0.39

3.7

67.9%

5.5

5.7

3.7

0.0

2.1

3.9

17

1116

15

10.9

10.9

27.4%

0.42

6.0

79.1%

5.8

8.3

2.7

0.0

2.7

3.4

18

572

16

10.8

11.0

37.1%

0.40

5.8

78.9%

5.0

11.9

2.8

0.2

3.8

3.1

19

1140

12

9.1

8.7

34.5%

0.46

3.7

84.4%

5.8

10.2

2.6

0.2

2.8

2.7

20

1236

11

6.7

8.2

22.2%

0.33

3.6

80.5%

6.1

8.4

2.1

0.0

2.5

3.1

 

It looks like we can pencil Ricky in for at least 5 rebound and 8 assists per 36 minutes.  Hollinger looked at actual cross-league player transfers to identify the conversion metric used for rebounds and assists, so the conversion values are valid.  Additionally, both rebounding and assisting are highly consistent across careers, and production in these areas, even in a vastly inferior league, is highly predictive of NBA production (r^2 or 0.83 and 0.88 from NCAA to NBA for rebounds and assists respectively [3]), so the results of this statistical conversion are also highly reliable for boards and assists.  Based on these factors I feel pretty comfortable penciling Rubio in for at least 5 rebound and 8 assists per-36.

The conversion values for steals, turnovers, and personal fouls were obtained using my inferior method.  In addition, the skills that lead to these three statistics are not necessarily the same in the NBA as in other leagues.  The r^2 for steals, turnovers, and personal fouls NCAA to NBA are 0.60, 0.45, and 0.44 respectively [3].  Thus, even if we have perfect trust in my conversion value, our prediction for these statistics has quite a bit of error in it (note: this error could go either up or down with equal likelihood.)  So, Ricky could definitely put up over 2 Stls, 2.5 TOs, and 3Pfs per 36 minutes next year, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it.

The conversion value for points and eFG% were both obtained using Hollinger's method.  This means that we can be comfortable with the values above as the anchor for projecting Rubio's scoring statistics.  However, both scoring and scoring efficiency are extremely difficult to predict across leagues (r^2 = 0.34 and r = 0.24 NCAA to NBA respectively, [3,5])  This means that Rubio's actual scoring and scoring efficiency could be considerably higher or considerably lower than the stats projected above.  Even though scoring is tough to predict across leagues, it is hard to imagine Rubio scoring more than 10-12 points per-36, and he is likely to score considerably less.  It is also unlikely that Rubio will be anything but highly inefficient when he does score.  Of course, this could all be very wrong if Rubio sees an increase in usage similar to what Jennings did.  If he does, who knows what his numbers will look like.     

So how do these numbers compare to NBA players past and present?  Let's start with the two numbers I feel safest projecting.  Which players in NBA history have managed to put up 8 assists and 5 rebounds per game before their 22nd birthday?

Name

Pts

FGA

3PtA

3P%

eFG%

FTA

FT%

Reb

Ast

Stl

Blk

TO

PF

Magic

21

15.4

0.4

0.18

0.54

4.5

0.76

8.4

8.3

3.3

0.7

3.8

2.6

Westbrook

16.9

14.8

1.3

0.22

0.43

4.2

0.78

5.1

8.3

1.4

0.4

3.4

2.6

J. Kidd

12.4

11.6

3.5

0.27

0.43

2.6

0.70

5.8

8.2

2

0.3

3.4

2

 

Gaze for a moment at how awesome Magic Johnson was.  Now that we have done that, it is clear I need to factor in Rubio's poor scoring if I want to find a realistic NBA comparison.  If we further discriminate by eliminating any players that score more than 15 points per-36, and expand our age requirement  to all players under 23 we are left with:

21 year old Jason Kidd

229740_display_image_medium

via cdn.bleacherreport.net

 

22 year old Rajon Rondo

120209_rondo_medium

via sportsofboston.com

and 22 year old Nate McMillan

Nate_2bmcmillan_2bplayer_medium

via 2.bp.blogspot.com

 

Name

Pts

FGA

3PtA

3P%

eFG%

FTA

FT%

Reb

Ast

Stl

Blk

TO

PF

Rondo

13.0

10.3

0.7

0.31

0.54

3.7

0.64

5.7

9.0

2.0

0.1

2.8

2.6

McMillan

6.8

5.5

0.1

0.00

0.47

2.6

0.62

6.0

10.6

2.3

0.8

2.8

4.3

J. Kidd

12.4

11.6

3.5

0.27

0.43

2.6

0.70

5.8

8.2

2.0

0.3

3.4

2.0

Rubio 18

10.8

11

2.5

0.37

0.40

5.8

0.79

5.0

11.9

2.8

0.2

3.8

3.1

Rubio 19

9.1

8.7

3.4

0.35

0.46

3.7

0.84

5.8

10.2

2.6

0.2

2.8

2.7

Rubio 20

6.7

8.2

2.6

0.22

0.33

3.6

0.81

6.1

8.4

2.1

0.0

2.5

3.1

 

Rondo, McMillan, and Kidd have all proven to pass and rebound as good as anyone in the NBA throughout their careers.  Interestingly, all three are also extremely talented ball-thieves, something that they share with Rubio, but not something that I included in the player comparison search.  There really seems to be some underlying ability that helps produce assists, steals, and rebounds which all four of these players share.  The other trait shared by Rubio's three player comparisons is defense.  Rondo, McMillan, and Kidd are each arguably the best defensive point-guard of their respective generations.  Their outstanding stealing and rebounding prowess likely has a lot to do with this, but each is also well regarded as a man defender.  Scouts have lauded Rubio's man defense in Spain, but it remains to be seen if he is all-NBA defense material.

Physically, Rubio has a lot in common with both Kidd and McMillan.  All three are tall for point guards at around 6'4".  Rubio is clearly the skinniest of the three, but he has put on some bulk since he was drafted, and is likely to continue to fill-out.  All three players are considered excellent athletes.  Unfortunately, it is hard to identify how well they match up in terms of speed and quickness without combine numbers, and that data isn't available for any of them.  Rondo is clearly the shortest of the four players at 6'1", but his freakishly long arms and unequaled quickness likely limit the importance of that distinction.

Each of these three players would be a really exciting outcome for Rubio, and based on his projected NBA statistics, each of these three players is also well within his reach.  Even at 18 years old Rubio was putting up numbers that place him in the same class as the 21 year old Jason Kidd, and the 22 year old Nate McMillan and Rajon Rondo.  His assists rebound and steals are consistently as good or better than each of these three players.  His scoring volume is right in the same range, but he will need to improve on his efficiency to reach even the low bar set be this trio.

So while Ricky Rubio himself may think he is, "Ricky Rubio", and "not like anyone else", the numbers tell a different story.  Rubio may actually be the latest incarnation of a particular player-type that comes along once every generation.  The defensive point guard who generates possessions by collecting rebounds and steals better than anyone else in the league, and maintains possessions through upper-echelon ball-handling and passing.

 

Ricky Rubio may also be something much less impressive....

Age

Team

Pos

Pts

FGA

3PtA

3P%

eFG%

FTA

FT%

Reb

Ast

Stl

Blk

TO

PF

18

Estud

15.2

14.6

11.1

3.1

0.29

0.50

3.1

0.63

3.1

6.0

2.1

0.0

3.9

3.4

19

Estud

16.2

12.6

11.3

3.3

0.23

0.40

3.2

0.60

3.7

7.0

2.0

0.1

4.7

3.6

SERGIO RODRIGUEZ  6'3" Spanish PG

18

DKV

16.0

10.8

11

2.5

0.37

0.40

5.8

0.79

5.0

11.9

2.8

0.2

3.8

3.1

19

Barca

12.0

9.1

8.7

3.4

0.35

0.46

3.7

0.84

5.8

10.2

2.6

0.2

2.8

2.7

RICKY RUBIO  6'4" Spanish PG

 

However, since Rubio is already on the team, I'm not going to dwell on any negative projections.        

 

Final player comparison verdict:

Sergio Rodriguez  <------- Rondo/McMillan --> Jason Kidd

 

Fit:

The Timberwolves have been in desperate need of a quality point guard for many years.  The Jonny Flynn experiment has failed hard, and while I like Ridnour, he isn't the kind of point guard that can move the ball around, help out off-ball, and generally "make the players around him better."  Rubio potentially offers that skill-set, and if there is anything the players on our team need, it is to be made better.

I would like to see the Timberwolves give Rubio a lot of possession and a great deal of creative freedom.  I am really curious to see if he can inject some energy into our consistently lifeless offense.  Run pick-n-rolls with Love, Beasley, and Adolph, hit Wes for open jumpers or catch him cutting to the basket...  Anything but the stagnant pound the ball for 24 seconds then chuck up a shot which we have become accustomed to.

My one concern with Rubio as a fit with Minnesota has nothing to do with how Rubio will help the Wolves, but instead has to do with what the Wolves might do to Rubio.  Namely, the Rambis effect.  Many have deemed Rambis as responsible for Flynn's failures thus far in the NBA, this may be true, but the clearest evidence of Rambis' negative effect on young point-guards was seen with Ramon Sessions.    

Ramon Sessions' NBA career:

Year

League

Team

GP

Min

Asts/36min

PER

WP48

2007/08

NBA

Bucks

17

26.3

10.2

16.3

0.239

2008/09

NBA

Bucks

79

27.5

7.38

17.5

0.198

2009/10

NBA

Timberwolves

82

21.1

5.13

12.8

0.042

2010/11

NBA

Cavaliers

81

26.3

6.93

18.9

0.189

 

Sessions is actually a reasonably similar player to Rubio.  He is a good sized point guard that cannot shoot to save his life, but makes up for it with assists and rebounds.  I can understand why Taylor may not want to pay a new coach to come in for an abbreviated lock-out season, but the potential damage that Rambis could do to Rubio needs to factor into the equation.

Assuming Rambis is gone by the time next season starts, I think Rubio is an ideal fit for this team.  He can be a focal point of the offense, without needing to actually carry the scoring load.  He is also likely to help patch-up our atrocious perimeter defense.  Ricky Rubio will make a great Timberwolf.

 

Conclusion:

Ricky Rubio will almost certainly be a good player.  He does three very important things: assisting, rebounding, and stealing better than any point guard in Europe, and will likely translate these skills to the NBA.  If Rubio manages to establish himself as a lock-down defender, and/or finds a way to score efficiently, he will be a great player.  I am excited to see what Rubio does if and when he is given a high-usage role with the Wolves.  If he can excel early on while seeing 20+ possessions a game, I wager he is destined for stardom.

I'm probably being a bit over-optimistic, but it is hard not to be.  The guy is young, proven successful, and fun to watch.  I don't get many opportunities to say this, but right now is a good time to be a Wolves fan.

 

Allow me to summarize my projection for Rubio's future with the Wolves in a picture:

Agwmch_medium

via i.imgur.com

 

References:

1. Draft Express

2. John Hollinger

3. Jon Nichols

4. Rafael Uehara

5. Courtside Analyst

6. Basketball-Reference

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