I've been avoiding his conversation for close to three weeks now because, quite frankly, I don't like the way I think it's going to end. But I also think it's something we can't avoid anymore. It's time we had this chat.
Kris Dunn will reportedly refuse workouts with Boston and Phoenix. Really thought this only happened in Philadelphia. /s— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) May 19, 2016
"I will say this, the Kris Dunn talk to the Wolves is legit. I know a team that has him #2 on their board." - @DWolfsonKSTP— Andrew Renschen (@InfraRen) May 18, 2016
Kris Dunn hoping to deter teams with young, established point guards from drafting him https://t.co/hbDj9PvoVr— John Reid (@JohnReid64) May 24, 2016
Hearing Providence point guard Kris Dunn wants to go to Minnesota, will not work out for Phoenix or share medical records.— John Gambadoro (@Gambo987) June 3, 2016
This all started with an early report from Woj (of course) that Kris Dunn, or at least someone in Kris Dunn's camp, doesn't want him to be drafted by a team with an established point guard - namely, Boston at #3 or Phoenix at #4. That report has been scoured and sourced and confirmed as accurate, down to the letter, by basically everyone with any power to ask.
I find it pretty much impossible to buy that Dunn has some debilitating personal issue with Eric Bledsoe or Brandon Knight or Isaiah Thomas or Marcus Smart. And while I can see and even sympathize with wanting to avoid the Suns after their front office apparently mistook "basketball team" for "three-ring circus" last season, the Celtics are a tight ship that's already making the playoffs. "Avoid the crazy" isn't a common denominator here.
So I'd say it's safe to assume his issue is he doesn't want to be a backup. Which, seeing as how the Wolves are clearly not on his "nope" list, raises a $13.4 million question.
Why does Kris Dunn's camp see Eric Bledsoe's presence as a deal-breaker with Phoenix, but doesn't care about Ricky Rubio in Minnesota?— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) June 3, 2016
There it is.
So Kris Dunn, or Kris Dunn's agent, or endorsement, or great aunt Sally Sue doesn't think of Rubio as an established starting NBA point guard. First of all, minus-100 basketball IQ points to Sally Sue. Second....ok then. Dunn wants to start in the NBA. Which makes him every other point guard in every NBA draft ever. Whatever.
What baffles me is that the Wolves are, by all accounts, reciprocating the love. Which would seem to imply that someone on the Wolves doesn't think of Ricky Rubio as a starting NBA point guard either. Or, at least, his starting NBA point guard. And since our head coach and our president are the same person, I think we have a pretty good guess at who that someone is.
Ricky Rubio has always had his place in the NBA questioned. He was drafted in 2009, yet didn't play his first NBA game until 2011. He then missed half of his rookie season after Kobe Bryant ran him over, resulting in a torn ACL, then missed a third of his sophomore season as well, dropping the dreaded "injury prone" moniker on him. Through no fault of his own, he's never come close to being able to fully flex his pinpoint passing precision. Meanwhile, his shooting touch has not come through - a particularly difficult stigma to overcome in today's NBA landscape where scoring guards are everything. This, of course, is made most excruciatingly apparent in comparison to his 2009 draft mate whom the Wolves didn't draft - Steph Curry. Who is, by the way, the reigning NBA champion, 2-time reigning NBA MVP, and who made over twice as many three point shots this past season alone (402 !!!!!!!!) than Rubio has made his entire NBA career (178).
However, we here of House Hoopus are smart enough to know that Ricky has massive value nonetheless. Rubio's blend of superior court vision, anticipation, and moxie made him one of the NBA's elite in every non-scoring regard this past season.
- 5th in assists per game and assist%
- 1st in steals per game and steals%
- 7th among point guards in rebounds per game (6th among in rebs/48)
- 4th among point guards in Wins Produced and WP/48
- 5th among point guards in RPM and RPM WINS
So the issue isn't, or at least shouldn't be, that Rubio legitimately is not a starting NBA point guard. He absolutely is, and is in fact one of the better ones. The guy contributes massively to winning basketball, terrible shooting and all. He was the Wolves' second-best player last season, and arguably its most important one. No one moved the needle as much as Ricky did.
That means the issue is likely that Ricky Rubio is not Tom Thibodeau's preferred type of point guard. I hesitate to say that. This is indeed the conversation I don't really want to have. But I think that not having it at this point would be disingenuous of us, because the evidence keeps piling up.
First, as we've already talked about before, scoring point guards were Thibs' go-to archetype when he was coaching Chicago. He had Derrick Rose, for sure. But then there were a lot of game - literally half of them, in fact - where he didn't have Derrick Rose because Rose was injured. Nevertheless, Thibs built his offense specifically for the point guard to score, and didn't change it for anything.
In 2012, Nate Robinson was third on the team in field goal attempts per game despite playing just 25 minutes/game. In 2013, DJ Augustine was fourth in FGA/gm as a Sixth Man. In 2014, Aaron Brooks was fourth in FGA/gm despite playing just 23 minutes/game, and Rose being healthy for two-thirds of the season. Per36, a point guard under Thibs led the Bulls in FGA/gm all but one season, with three season seeing a point/combo guard also second in FGA/gm (the list expands to include John Lucas III and Jimmer Fredette under these conditions)
This is obviously simply not feasible with Ricky Rubio. Regardless of how much he contributes in other areas, your team is dead in the water if you have a 38% shooter lead your team in field goal attempts.
The rebuttal to this, of course, is that Thibs has first-hand experience with a point guard of exactly Ricky's archetype - he won a championship as an assistant with Rajon Rondo and the Celtics. That's very true, and something he's referred to more than once as an example of how he saw an offense adapt to an exclusively pass-first point guard.
But the question isn't if it could work, which I think we all agree it obviously can, but rather is this what Thibs wants?
@Fl0lver depends what Thibs thinks of Rubio. Do I think he's married to Rubio? I don't.— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) May 25, 2016
That's basically been then tenor of the responses everyone's getting, regardless of who they're asking. Thibs likes some aspects of Ricky's game. He also doesn't some aspects. And given a choice - which, for him, actually is a choice - he would prefer someone more like Rose. Remember, he's both coach and president, so he has complete control over the decision. He can decide he doesn't want coach Ricky to for no other reason than he doesn't want to, and then not do it.
The responses also fairly reflect Thibs' own response to Rubio that he gave Jerry Zgoda:
"All players have their strengths and weaknesses, and Ricky has established himself as a very good player. So we're excited about that. The point guard position is such an important position in the way the team functions. You need to have a good understanding where guys like to get the ball, who has a good matchup, what's going on in the game and keep the team organized and I think Ricky's really strong in those areas."
It's not exactly a glowing endorsement. Towns had one of the best rookie seasons ever. Wiggins scored so easily on his defense there were times he couldn't do anything about it. Rubio is "organized".
The verbiage here feels distressingly like the way you'd think of Thibs describing Kirk Hinrich. You know, like he "works hard". He "does some good stuff". A useful, reliable tool for the toolbox, but if you happen to lose it, eh. You can always get another one.
Which isn't true, not just from the standpoint of how good Rubio actually is, but also in that Ricky pretty much can't be anything but the point guard - also worth talking about here too, because the option of playing Rubio and Dunn together probably isn't a good idea either. Ricky's usefulness on offense is entirely dependent on him having the ball in his hands. He's clearly not a shooter, and every second the ball is dominated by someone else reduces his ability to make something good happen for the team.
At best, you rob him and yourself by marginalizing him. At worst, you end up like Dallas circa Rajon Rondo. The RRs aren't built to function as role players, and I think that has to be fundamentally built into the coaching philosophy of whoever is calling the shots. Ricky either runs your team or he doesn't, and you either 100% buy into him or you don't. Taking a middle ground just does a disservice to everyone.
So, to recap, Thibodeau isn't sold on Ricky Rubio. He has a preferred type of point guard that Ricky is not, which is supported by both seemingly everyone with a glimpse into his thinking as well as the offense he himself ran for five years in Chicago.
Point guard is not a need for this team. More than anything else, they need shooting on the wings. And defense on the wings. And a wing who can slide to the 4-spot and enable an honest-to-goodness small lineup next to Towns (read: doesn't get destroyed by guys like Carmelo Anthony) And rebounding in general. This draft offers decent options to solve these issues in a simple manner. Take Jamal Murray, Buddy Hield, Jaylen Brown, or Marquese Chriss. And that's it. You're done. Go play ball.
Instead, Thibs seems to have locked in on a point guard in this draft, and that point guard has made a ruckus about not playing behind other point guards. Drafting him means knowingly and willingly creating a complex headache for yourself. Why do that unless there's already a specific outcome in mind? The gut feeling I'm getting here is that Thibs has already decided he's not going to roll with Rubio, and Kris Dunn is potentially a cheap, easy and immediate way to replace him.
Maybe I'm being paranoid and reading too much into this. I hope I am. But from where I'm sitting, it sure looks like someone is already counting down Rubio's days in a Wolves jersey, and that's definitely a discussion worth having.