Well, here we are again. Ricky Rubio is at the center of the rumor mill as the NBA Trade Deadline approaches.
To this point in his career, these rumors have been just that. Rumors! It’s impossible to correctly identify the details of each rumor and each alleged trade negotiation that has included Rubio throughout his career. If I had to guess, I’d say much of the speculation surrounding him over the years has been blown out of proportion and real discussion has been minimal.
This time around feels different. Tom Thibodeau is running the show for the Timberwolves and he has repeatedly dropped hints about what he sees at the point guard position in the future for his team. That future doesn’t seem to include Rubio.
The first giant hint Thibodeau dropped came last June during the NBA draft. Not only did he choose point guard Kris Dunn with the No. 5 overall pick, but reports suggested Dunn was actually the top player on Thibs’ draft board ahead of Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram.
Being Thibs’ first draft pick as President of Basketball Operations, Dunn will likely get every chance to succeed, which means at some point Rubio will probably be on a different roster. Of course, trading Rubio is still a bad idea for the Wolves, and moving him prematurely seems foolish.
The latest trade speculation comes from Ian Begley at ESPN, who reported that the Wolves have been in contact with the New York Knicks about a point guard swap involving Rubio and Derrick Rose. ESPN Insider Brian Windhorst later joined SportsCenter to confirm the reports, adding that the purpose of the trade would be to create space, both financially—Rose’s contract expires after this season—and on the depth chart, for Dunn to take over the starting point guard spot moving forward.
This would be a great idea if Dunn was performing at an adequate level in his rookie season. If Rose was still a good point guard, that would certainly help too. But Dunn has struggled mightily and Rose—while he might simply represent a salary dump in the offseason—doesn’t exactly fit as a ball dominant guard and non-threat from deep.
The preseason favorite to win NBA Rookie of the Year (as chosen by NBA GMs) has underwhelmed tremendously. In 16.6 minutes per game, Dunn is averaging 3.6 points and 2.5 assists per game to go with 1.3 turnovers. The Providence alum has managed to make 36.3 percent of field goal attempts and 26.5 percent of three-pointers—worse marks than Rubio, by the way.
Defensively, there was never really a concern with Dunn. His combination of length, athleticism, strength, and quickness—and his overall defensive mentality—suggest he’ll be, at the very least, an above-average defender in his prime. He has all of the tools to shut opposing guards down.
But his offensive struggles are seriously concerning. Too often he dribbles the air out of the ball trying to set up the offense, or he dribbles right into a double team and turns the ball over, or he makes poor decisions leading a fast break. Dunn struggles finishing at the rim against taller defenders as well—which was supposed to be one of his strengths as a draft prospect.
Rookie point guards are going to experience struggles. That’s the nature of the position and part of the transition from college to the pros. However, this lack of production from a guy who was supposed to be the most NBA-ready prospect in this class is a sign that Dunn is nowhere near ready to take on a starting role.
I’ve accepted the fact that Rubio isn’t in Thibodeau’s long-term plans. I get it. His prototypical mold for a point guard is not what Rubio is. Dunn’s measurable and potential fit Thibs’ vision for a lead guard and suggest he can eventually be the point guard of the future in Minnesota. But trading Rubio before Dunn has distinguished himself and proven to be capable of running the show is an unwise move.
Why not keep Rubio around until Dunn shows he’s capable? Entrusting the most important position on the floor with that lack of production and awareness is extremely risky. Maybe Dunn’s age—he turns 23 in less than a month—is putting pressure on Thibs to let him loose. It’s beginning to look like Thibodeau’s infatuation with Dunn might put the future of the franchise at risk.
Even if a trade isn’t agreed upon this week, discussions will almost certainly revamp this summer. Unless Dunn’s performance spins 180 degrees in the final 25 games, the same logic will apply to a potential Rubio trade.
Much of the Wolves fan base was concerned about Thibs’ win-now mantra as he moved into the POBO position. In his previous coaching stint with Chicago, that was just fine. He had veteran players and experienced stars all over the roster. That philosophy won’t gel with the extreme youth and budding potential of Minnesota’s roster.
Thus far, Thibs and GM Scott Layden have been mostly reserved and patient in their approach, while letting the young talent develop and seeing what they really have on their hands. If they do settle on trading Rubio once and for all, it will almost assuredly set the team back in the short-term and further test the patience of the new leaders in Minneapolis, as well as a fan base that continues to wait.