FanPost

The numbers don't lie

Here are Ricky Rubio's Euro numbers during the first 5 years of his professional basketball career:

Age

Team

Pts

eFG%

Rebs

Stls

Asts

TOs

15

DKV

10.8

57

5.2

3.9

3.9

4.3

16

DKV

7.9

44

4.6

4.6

4.3

2.6

17

DKV

14.5

48

4.9

3.4

6.3

3.4

18

DKV

14.3

45

4.2

3.5

9.1

4.8

19

Barca

12.2

52

4.9

3.2

7.8

3.5

20

Barca

9

38

5.2

2.6

6.4

3.6

All statistics are per 36 minutes and pace-adjusted

Back in June, I used those numbers to try and predict what kind of player Ricky Rubio will be with the Wolves. Here is what I wrote:

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.

and later

"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.

Now that Rubio has played 14 games in the NBA, we can start to see how well that simple conversion formula predicted Rubio's performance. Below is a table showing the Euro-to-NBA stats I posted for Rubio in June, with Rubio's NBA performance thus far on the bottom line:

Age

Team

Pts

eFG%

Rebs

Stls

Asts

TOs

15

DKV

8.1

50

6.2

3.1

5.1

3.4

16

DKV

5.9

39

5.5

3.7

5.7

2.1

17

DKV

10.9

42

5.8

2.7

8.3

2.7

18

DKV

10.8

40

5

2.8

11.9

3.8

19

Barca

9.1

46

5.8

2.6

10.2

2.8

20

Barca

6.7

33

6.1

2.1

8.4

2.5

21

Wolves

12.1

47

5.2

2.6

9.4

3.7

All statistics are per 36 minutes and Euro are pace-adjusted

As you can see. Rubio's season thus far is almost perfectly in line with his track-record. He has remained steady in his performance along all of the predictable metrics, and thankfully, we have thus far caught the up-side of the large variance in scoring performance.

Using basketball references season finder function I arrived at the following conclusion:

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.

Now that Ricky has played some NBA games, we can test this projection with the "player-comparison" function, also at basketball-reference:

Per 36 Minutes
Rk Player Age FGA 3PA 3P% FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
1 Jason Kidd 21 12 3.5 0.27 3.7 0.7 2.1 3.8 5.8 8.2 2 0.3 3.4 2 12.4
2 Nate McMillan 22 5.5 0.1 0 2.6 0.62 1.8 4.2 6 10.6 2.3 0.8 2.8 4.3 6.8
3 Rajon Rondo 21 11 0.3 0.26 2.7 0.61 1.2 3.8 5 6.1 2 0.2 2.3 2.9 12.7
4 Ricky Rubio 21 9.7 2.2 0.41 3.8 0.79 0.6 4.6 5.2 9.4 2.6 0.2 3.7 2.7 12.1
Advanced
Rk Player Age PER TS% eFG% ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg WS/48
1 Jason Kidd 21 15 0.47 0.43 5.8 11.9 8.7 33.2 2.9 0.6 20.4 19 103 109 0.07
2 Nate McMillan 22 14 0.51 0.48 5.6 12.8 9.2 35.5 3 1.3 29.9 10.3 111 108 0.1
3 Rajon Rondo 21 16 0.52 0.5 4.3 11.9 8.3 28.2 3 0.5 15.7 18.9 107 98 0.15
4 Ricky Rubio 21 18 0.53 0.47 1.8 14 8 44.3 3.7 0.3 24.6 18.8 105 97 0.16

Thanks to Ricky's (relatively) prolific scoring, he may quickly outpace any comparison to Nate Mcmillan, but Rondo and Kidd could hardly be better comps. We knew what we had, now we know what we have. let's get excited.

BTW;

Gloating was certainly part of the impetus for this post, but more importantly, I wanted to issue a reminder. Players who rebound, block shots, steal the ball, and distribute assists, seem to do it wherever they go. This fact is very under-appreciated by "talent-evaluators", and because of that, easy picks like Kawhi Leonard and Kenneth Faried slip further than they should year after year, and disrespected talents like Greg Stiemsma often don't catch on (even when they are on the practice squad of a team in need of a solid, efficient-scoring, defensive center.) Instead, teams invest all of their scouting resources towards identifying "scorers". In doing so, they make the projection process look much more difficult than it is. Scorers are important, but more often than not, they just happen. Rebounders, shot-blockers, distributors, and ball-thieves don't just happen, but are easily identifiable.

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