Revisiting Assists, Turnovers and Ricky Rubio’s Hand In Both

March 21st, 2018 | by Steve Godfrey

(Rob Carr via espn.com)

Throughout the season, the Jazz are turning the ball more often than head coach Quin Snyder’s heart rate can handle. In fact, at one point Snyder questioned if the Jazz were displaying a turnover problem, and while those tendencies still exist, they have countered their carelessness with extra production from ball movement. Let’s look at both sides of the coin. 

The Bad

The Jazz are notorious for running a motion offense with a lot more passing and movement than other, more isolation-oriented NBA teams. The Jazz are also known for being selfless, looking for the extra pass. Sometimes, the offense tries too hard and turnovers happen. According to NBA Miner, the Jazz are one of the 10 teams with the most passes that lead to turnovers (5.5 per game). Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the passing within Utah’s offense can be good or bad. 

On the turnover side, the Jazz average about 15 giveaways a game, middle of the pack in the NBA. Since Utah plays at a slower pace than most teams, those 15 turnovers hurt their offense more on a percentage basis. All told, 13.6 percent of Jazz possessions end in a TO, a bottom-10 figure. However, since the All-Star break, the Jazz have only gone over the 15 TO threshold twice. To make their push for ideal playoff positioning, and playoff success, the Jazz must take care of the ball. While Snyder has been patient with his floor generals (Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell lead the team in TOs with 2.8 and 2.7/game), every possession gets more important as April gets deeper. 

The Good

The Jazz are bottom ten in assists per game, which is surprising given that Rubio is a pass-first point guard and many on the depth chart are unselfish, like Joe Ingles. Instead, the Jazz average 22 assists a ball game, good for 23rd in the league.

When analyzing the low assist number, it’s also important to remember that the Jazz play hot potato for 48 minutes a night. The ball doesn’t stick, which makes this assist average even more surprising. Even a simple play like the Pick and Roll has multiple players’s touching the ball, not just two.  Often, a point guard will facilitate action from the top of the key, receive the screen, and dish off to the roller. Traditionally, Karl Malone or Blake Griffin-type players would take that roll and score, resulting in an assist for the PG. Now? The roller takes a step or a dribble and if the defense sucks in, kicks it to the corner for a three, a Jazz favorite. It’s basically a designed play. 

Recently, however, the assist number is rising as it should given the talent and personalities on this current roster. If the Jazz notch a few more than their average, 24 seems to be the lucky number, they stand 22-3. During the most recent win streak, the Jazz are notching 29 (vs Suns and Pistons) and 30 (vs Pacers) dimes. What suddenly gives? 

Lineup Combinations

When Tricky Ricky was brought to Utah from Minnesota, many fans got drooly over the idea of Gobert connecting on gobs of lobs from the Spanish floor general. Instead, the chemistry was off. Rubio would deliver passes to the knees or at awkward angles for Gobert to reach, usually resulting in a turnover. Then, Gobert went down with his injury and the Jazz, with Rubio at the helm, needed to adjust. 

Now? The two are surging together. In fact, R+R Ballers together post the third highest 2-man lineup point differential, at +8.2 

Regular Season: 2-Man Combinations Table
NetNetNetNetNetNetNetNetNetNetNetNetNetNet
Rk Lineup MP PTS
FG FG% eFG% FT% ORB ORB% DRB DRB% TRB TRB% AST STL BLK
1R. Gobert | D. Mitchell1055:27+10.5+2.7+.031+.041+.001+0.9+3.3+3.7+3.3+2.2+4.9+3.50.0-0.3
2R. Gobert | J. Ingles1112:55+9.0+2.6+.026+.035-.001+1.0+3.1+3.0+3.1+1.9+4.3+3.9+0.4-0.5
3R. Gobert | R. Rubio968:36+8.2+1.5+.022+.029+.018+0.4+2.3+3.4+2.3+1.8+4.0+3.90.0-0.8
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/17/2018.

While one can’t deny the change in identity with Rudy on the floor and the success that has followed post-injury, Rubio deserves a lot of credit, too for adjusting throughout the year and working out several kinks. 

So, Let’s Talk About Ricky

As the point guard, it is solely #3’s responsibility to take care of the ball and get other’s involved. Ideally, teams want a point guard who can stack multiple assists in a row without turning the ball over in the process. Just like the Jazz, it’s Rubio who is both Jekyll and Hyde. 

Rubio’s turnover percentage is the highest it’s been since his first years in the league. With Minnesota, he still had a high turnover average, but he collected more assists to even the balance. In fact, Rubio is sitting at a 1.98 assist to turnover ratio, his lowest ever. His 5.5 assists per game are also his lowest of his career. 

However, during the recent win streak, Rubio has had three games with over 10 assists, something he has only done six times total this season. With everyone healthy – and that lob partner down low – Rubio is working his magic as the magician he was brought here to be. Additionally, he has had 60+ games to learn the new offense, develop repertoire with new teammates, and figure out how to make his marriage in Utah the best it can be. 

More Ricky, Shooting Style

Initially, his playmaking flaws were further exposed when he wasn’t shooting well either. Rubio isn’t a scorer and isn’t a shooter, but, at the beginning of the season, was trying to carry the team offensively by scoring. It wasn’t working. 

Remember: many wondered if the lineups with both Derrick Favors and Rubio could co-exist while playing alongside the Stifle Tower. Fans were frustrated at Favors, looking for small-ball replacements (and, admittedly, Crowder instead of Favors is giving the Jazz it’s best five-man unit), but Rubio was equally part of the problem and fans were wondering if DM should take full-time point guard duties. 

But, both Rubio and Favors, as non-shooting threats, have taken steps to overcome the initial bias. Rubio still takes ill-advised threes, but mostly off the pass and within the offense – only 10% of his deep shots are unassisted.  If he is playing one-on-one or needing to create for himself, he seems to have received a pep-talk to take midrange jumpers as he takes a few steps inside the three line and then pops for the jumper. He shoots 40% from the field, but that number gets even better. 52% of his points come from twos, and specifically, 26% come from the midrange. 

In short, he has found his scoring role which has then helped him find his facilitating role which has then helped the awkward Rubio-Favs-Gob trio work. Altogether, the three can play and win together. They post a positive rating together, which wasn’t the case in November (they were -10 in over 200 minutes together back in Nov/Dec.)

Regular Season: 3-Man Combinations Table
NetNetNetNetNetNetNetNet
Rk Lineup MP PTS
FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% eFG%
1R. Gobert | D. Mitchell | R. Rubio693:24+12.2+2.8-0.3+.034+1.5+2.6+.021+.043
2R. Gobert | J. Ingles | R. Rubio816:46+9.7+2.5+0.4+.027+1.6+3.5+.012+.036
3J. Ingles | D. Mitchell | R. Rubio1025:33+5.9+2.0+2.2+.011+1.7+3.7+.010+.019
4J. Jerebko | D. Mitchell | R. Rubio336:29+5.9+1.5+1.4+.010+2.4+6.6-.001+.023
5J. Ingles | J. Jerebko | R. Rubio343:40+5.6+3.2+3.7+.017+2.6+7.8-.013+.029
6D. Favors | R. Gobert | R. Rubio529:06+2.3-0.4-0.2-.003-0.7-0.7-.017-.007
8D. Favors | D. Mitchell | R. Rubio765:11-0.6-0.3+1.6-.012+0.6+1.6.000-.010
9D. Favors | J. Ingles | R. Rubio918:19-2.0-0.7+2.1-.020+0.9+3.2-.011-.016
11R. Hood | J. Ingles | R. Rubio301:49-10.8-2.1+5.8-.054+2.4+8.4-.026-.045
12D. Favors | R. Hood | R. Rubio276:54-12.4-4.2+1.2-.055-0.4+3.8-.069-.058
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/17/2018.

Moving Forward

I believe it is this Rubio that management envisioned to guide Utah forward. While Rudy certainly anchors the team, it seems his return stabilizes Rubio as well. Post All-Star break, Rubio is averaging 6.6 assists which is still a dip from his 8.0 career average but far better than his four-assist average during November of this season. As well, post-All-Star Ricky is averaging 2.4 turnovers, lower than any monthly average thus far. As he levels off with this play, the Jazz will continue to coast to the postseason. 

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: http://www.thetorturedfan.com/. 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.

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