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Ricky Rubio, Jason Kidd, and Improving the Unicorn

After a little more than half of Ricky Rubio's first season, I think it is safe to say that he is living up to expectations. Rubio's offense combines both flair and substance and his defense is tremendous. That being said, there are definite areas for improvement. Rubio is turning the ball over on 22.5% of his posessions and his 48% true shooting % and 40.6% eFG% are both very poor. He is a young player, and young players should improve.

Ricky Rubio and Jason Kidd

We have heard the comparison between Ricky Rubio and Jason Kidd. I do not think it is well understood how good this comparison. It is eerie how similar those two players are.

Here is 21 year old Rubio in comparison to 23 year old Kidd.

Player

Season

G

MP/G

PER

TRB%

AST%

STL%

TOV%

USG%

WS/48

Jason Kidd

1996-97

55

35.7

16.9

7.4

38.9

3.3

19.1

17.2

0.107

Ricky Rubio

2011-12

36

34.4

15.4

6.9

38.8

3.4

22.5

18.7

0.097












Player

Season

G

MP/G

PER

WS/48

TS%

eFG%

FG%

3P%

FT%

Jason Kidd

1996-97

55

35.7

16.9

0.107

0.498

0.46

0.403

0.37

0.679

Ricky Rubio

2011-12

36

34.4

15.4

0.097

0.48

0.406

0.363

0.349

0.806

Kidd was a better shooter, turned the ball over slightly less, and was probably a better player, but Rubio passed just as well as Kidd and forced steals at an almost identical rate. He also had the ball in his hands more than Kidd did; while this does not explain his turnover rate or his shooting percentages, Minnesota is leaning on Rubio more than Dallas/Phoenix did.

As an aside, that '96-'97 team's PG's were a 30 year old Kevin Johnson, a 25 year old Jason Kidd, and a 22 year old Steve Nash. They won 40 games. Nash left for Dallas two years later, and that was Johnson's last truly effective season before injuries took his career away, but 3 of the top 15 point guards of all time on the same team?

Looking At Kidd

23 year old Jason Kidd was not nearly the player who made the All-Defensive 1st team 4 times and the All- NBA 1st team 5 times. That Jason Kidd ('98-'99 through '03-'04) looked something like this:

Player

Season

G

MP/G

PER

TRB%

AST%

STL%

TOV%

USG%

WS/48

Jason Kidd

1996-97

55

35.7

16.9

7.4

38.9

3.3

19.1

17.2

0.107

Jason Kidd

1999-04

423

38.4

20.1

10

42.3

2.9

17.7

22.9

0.158












Player

Season

G

MP/G

PER

WS/48

TS%

eFG%

FG%

3P%

FT%

Jason Kidd

1996-97

55

35.7

16.9

0.107

0.498

0.46

0.403

0.37

0.679

Jason Kidd

1999-04

423

38.4

20.1

0.158

0.505

0.449

0.407

0.328

0.816

Kidd also put up a slash line of 15.2/6.3/9.1/2.0/0.3 (pts/reb/ast/stl/blk) per 36 during his peak if those stats are more to your fancy.

Kidd improved dramatically by turning the ball over less (despite having the ball in his hands more), rebounding better (he is one of the best rebounding point guards in the history of the NBA), assisting on a slightly higher percentage of his posessions, and playing better defense (his DRtg decreased from 106 in the four seasons before his peak to 98 during the five seasons of his peak and increased to 103 in the eight seasons after his peak). Kidd did not improve in a few parts of his game; his poor shooting was never his forte, and while he improved his free throw shooting tremendously, he never developed much of an shooting stroke.

What Does This Mean For Rubio?

We keep saying that once Rubio develops a jump shot, he is going to be a tremendous player. Kidd shows two sides of that coin; Rubio may not improve his jump shot to the point where he is ever a truly effective offensive weapon, but he can still develop into a tremendous player without one. Kidd took Kerry Kittles, Richard Jefferson, Kenyon Martin, and Jason Collins into the finals twice. That team took two games from a San Antonio team led by Tim Duncan in his prime.

That being said, it is hard for me to look at some of Kidd's numbers and wonder what he would have been like with a better shot. A 20 PER over five years is great, but that would be the 40th best mark in the NBA this year. That WS/48 is in the same territory. Kidd is an all-time great for his consistency, not necessarily his peak. Those peaks were great (two finals appearances in his prime), but I would still be wary if Rubio cannot turn into a halfway credible threat from the outside.

Improving a point guard's shooting certainly can be done. Kenny Anderson went from a slash line of 41.3/31.7/81.1 in his first four years (49.1 TS%, 43.2 eFG%) to a slash line of 42.6/36.3/77.7 in his next five (52.4 TS%, 47.2 eFG%). Mark Jackson shot 29% from three over his first seven years and 36% over his next seven. That being said. it is difficult to find a rookie PG who has shot as bad as Rubio is shooting right now. The one comparison is Russell Westbrook as a rookie, and Westbrook has improved in the three seasons since by using his absolutely incredible athleticism to get to the rim instead of improving his jump shot. Rubio will get better (it will be hard not to), but he's almost hit rock bottom as far as shooting effectiveness.

En Conclusión

After digging through some past players and noting how players get better, Rubio's shooting effectiveness is definitely worth watching. I doubt Rubio gets better this year - no practice, plus long road trips equals not a lot of time in the gym working on your game. Starting from game one next year, I would expect to see a dramatic improvement in Rubio's shooting. If an improvement is not seen, I would be willing to be concerned about how strong of a peak we are going to see from Señor Rubio.

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