As Rubio Lineups Continue to Struggle, the Guard Remains a Focal Point

December 13th, 2017 | by Steve Godfrey

NBAE via

While most of Jazz Nation is wondering if Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors can coexist, the question may actually be better phrased around guard Ricky Rubio.

With Rubio navigating the ship and both bigs anchoring down low, the Jazz are simply unable to keep up with the current. Early in the season, it looked like Rubio’s marriage with the Jazz would be smooth sailing. Rubio initially led the team in points and surprised the NBA world by knocking down 16 threes in his first eight Jazz games. However, the regression soon caught up and left lineups with multiple non-shooters raging and thrusting down a swift current, out of control and unsustainable.

In a rather large sample size — the three have now played over 200 minutes together — the trio gets outscored by the widest margin of any of Utah’s most used three-man combinations. Of the nine common trios that net a positive point differential, Rubio is part of only one, alongside rookie Donovan Mitchell and stretch forward Jonas Jerebko. By contrast, Rubio appears in nine of the 12 common three-man lineups that are negative overall.

Regular Season: 3-Man Combinations Table
Rk Lineup MP PTS
1 A. Burks | T. Sefolosha | E. Udoh 158:24 +21.0
2 D. Favors | J. Jerebko | D. Mitchell 171:02 +19.4
3 D. Favors | J. Ingles | J. Jerebko 159:19 +14.6
4 J. Ingles | J. Jerebko | D. Mitchell 182:03 +10.2
5 J. Jerebko | D. Mitchell | R. Rubio 138:21 +7.3
6 D. Favors | J. Ingles | D. Mitchell 379:47 +4.6
7 R. Hood | J. Ingles | D. Mitchell 143:26 +3.0
8 R. Gobert | J. Ingles | D. Mitchell 201:08 +2.2
9 R. Gobert | R. Hood | J. Ingles 189:39 -0.3
10 D. Favors | D. Mitchell | R. Rubio 261:19 -2.4
11 D. Favors | R. Gobert | J. Ingles 229:23 -3.3
12 R. Gobert | R. Hood | R. Rubio 148:25 -4.1
13 D. Favors | R. Hood | J. Ingles 243:38 -4.2
14 J. Ingles | D. Mitchell | R. Rubio 285:32 -5.3
15 R. Gobert | D. Mitchell | R. Rubio 144:51 -5.7
16 D. Favors | J. Ingles | R. Rubio 386:04 -6.8
17 R. Gobert | J. Ingles | R. Rubio 280:24 -7.2
18 D. Favors | R. Hood | R. Rubio 182:12 -7.3
19 R. Hood | J. Ingles | R. Rubio 182:00 -8.2
20 D. Favors | R. Gobert | R. Rubio 211:54 -10.0
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/7/2017.
SCH’s Dan Clayton recently analyzed the the combination of Rubio, Gobert, and Favors and pointed out that with any combination of the two of three, the Jazz stay afloat, outscoring opponents by 4.6 to 30.3 points per 100 possessions. However, all three just can’t get it done together. “It’s the opposite of synergy,” he notes. Why?


One reason that Rubio with the bigs has been ineffective is the spacing issue of putting three non-shooters on the floor. Rubio becomes a dead man beyond the arc, someone that defenses don’t need to respect. Rubio also struggles to create his own shot, like Favors and Gobert, which means the lineups might have two playmakers and two scorers to initiate the offense, and that’s as hard as white river rafting in a hail storm. On top of that, when Rubio runs the Pick-and-Roll with either big, defenders can go under the screen or drop back entirely, focused on cutting off the rolling big.

Since Rubio is a point guard, he should be able to create for himself and score. Since he isn’t a threat to do so, opposing point guards can sag into the paint, double-team where they please or back off to extend their reach elsewhere. The defense doesn’t mind granting Rubio the wiggle room for a jump shot. Let him shoot, they might say. Let him beat us. We’ll live with that. Rubio hasn’t been able to cash in on the space as he is shooting 28% from three when a defender is six feet or more AWAY from him and his percentage on all catch-and-shoot threes hovers at 30%.

Another Problem

While his scoring and shooting are large parts of the problem, Rubio has also regressed hard in many statistical categories, not just from the beginning of the year but in a career-low perspective.

Notice what David points out: assist percentage is the lowest of his career, even though he has a lob partner down low and shooters on the outside. On top of that, PER which measures all his stats combined into one number is currently 13.1, where the baseline, average player PER is set for 15.0. David is also showing that Rubio is shooting more three-pointers than ever before (but at a very low percentage) and controls the ball and offense more than ever before in his Usage Percentage.

Compared to The Other Point Guards

A common sentiment being shared is that perhaps it’s time to bring Rubio off the bench. Many fans are clamoring for Mitchell to run the point, as the Jazz are a +25 with him, Favors, and Gobert playing together. If Mitchell is to become Damian Lillard 2.0, he’ll need to handle the ball and become the offensive leader. In due time, Mitchell will become the floor general.

Another point guard on the roster that could surpass Rubio is Raul Neto.

According to the numbers, an argument can be made. First, take a look at their respective per-36 numbers.

Per 36 Minutes Table
Rk Player Season Age FG% 3P 3PA 3P% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS
2 Raul Neto 2017-18 25 .484 1.5 3.4 .450 3.7 5.4 1.0 0.3 2.0 13.3
3 Ricky Rubio 2017-18 27 .386 1.5 5.0 .292 4.7 6.3 2.1 0.2 4.0 14.9
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/7/2017.

Not only would Neto provide similar assist and point numbers, his turnovers would be less and 3-point percentage, naturally, higher. Defense is Ricky’s specialty so there would be a drop off there (see the steals average above) as Rubio’s defensive rating is 103 and Neto’s is currently 107. However, Neto’s Offensive Rating is off the charts – 111 – while Mitchell is at 101 and Rubio 97.

Per 100 Poss Table
Rk Player Season ORtg DRtg
1 Donovan Mitchell 2017-18 101 105
2 Raul Neto 2017-18 111 107
3 Ricky Rubio 2017-18 97 103
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/7/2017.

The advanced stats make a point, too. Notice Rubio is lowest amongst his peers in PER, True Shooting Percentage and Win Shares Per 48 minutes, but highest in Turnover Percentage, which isn’t ideal when combined with his Usage Rate.

Advanced Table
Rk Player Season G MP PER TS% TOV% USG% WS/48
1 Donovan Mitchell 2017-18 25 729 16.0 .528 12.9 28.9 .081
2 Raul Neto 2017-18 15 214 13.9 .570 14.8 17.2 .118
3 Ricky Rubio 2017-18 24 689 13.1 .513 21.5 23.2 .064
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/7/2017.

Point Guard Revolving Door

Since Deron Williams left in 2010, the Jazz have had the following as starting point guards:

  • Devin Harris
  • Earl Watson
  • Jamaal Tinsley
  • Mo Williams
  • Trey Burke
  • John Lucas III
  • Dante Exum
  • Shelvin Mack
  • Neto
  • George Hill
  • Rubio

That’s 11 names in six years, basically a new starter every half season or so. The Jazz didn’t send a 2018 first-round pick (lottery protected, via OKC) for Rubio just so they could engage in Neto or Rubio debates. They didn’t let Hill walk and trade for Rubio just so that two months into the season Jazz twitter could start up the Trade Machine to entertain swapping the two.  They didn’t trade a valuable asset, a decent draft pick, for another PG to be listed in their revolving door.

Instead, the Jazz envisioned Rubio’s wizardry as a ball-handler and passer to complement Gordon Hayward and take some pressure off his shoulders. The plan changed quickly with Hayward’s departure, but many were still expecting Rubio to thrive as the pass-first point guard the Jazz needed. He could run the offense, set up easy shots for Rodney Hood, throw up lobs to Gobert, and be a stickler and hustler on defense. He was young, fit the Jazz schedule, timeline, and identity, and had a favorable contract that would keep him Utah for awhile to help them compete. It seemed to be a good fit.

Right now, it’s not.

He still has time to figure it out. The Jazz front office is probably concerned, but they are also rational and will give Rubio time to adjust to his new teammates and new role. For Jazz fans, on the other hand, that same patience is running out.


Steve Godfrey

Steve studied journalism and English, and now teaches high school in Northern Utah. He started his own website and writes about being a Tortured Jazz fan at: He joined the Salt City Hoops team at the start of the 2017-18 season to connect with more Jazz fans and to continue to apply his passion for writing and for basketball.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Revisiting Assists, Turnovers and Ricky Rubio’s Hand In Both | Salt City Hoops

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