Utah Jazz: The Ricky Rubio experiment simply is not working

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 20: Ricky Rubio #3 of the Utah Jazz attempts a lay up against Dario Saric #9 of the Philadelphia 76ers in the second quarter at the Wells Fargo Center on November 20, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 20: Ricky Rubio #3 of the Utah Jazz attempts a lay up against Dario Saric #9 of the Philadelphia 76ers in the second quarter at the Wells Fargo Center on November 20, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Although there was hope that newly acquired point guard Ricky Rubio could have a major impact on the Utah Jazz this season, so far he’s fallen dramatically short.

Heading into the 2017-18 NBA season, the Utah Jazz were facing several questions. How would they fare in the absence of Gordon Hayward? Where would their points come from? Which newcomers and/or returners would step up to help this team be successful? Could their defense be enough to power them to victory?

These and so many other questions existed and, quite truthfully, they have either yet to be answered or have a negative answer. True, after just 18 games there is still plenty of time for wrongs to be righted, but at a 7-11 record and with a daunting month of December looming that could seemingly set the Jazz back in a major way, there’s no denying that they’re quickly running out of time.

With such being the case, they’ll need to look to make necessary adjustments as quickly as possible. And one of those necessary adjustments just so happens to fit in with yet another pressing question that faced the Jazz heading into this season, namely, how will Ricky Rubio fit with this team?

So far, again although through only 18 games, the answer is “not very well.”

On one hand, Rubio deserves some slack. He was brought in principally to be a compliment to Gordon Hayward and help be a pass-first point guard that would have hypothetically allowed Hayward to thrive even more on offense. Not only that, but he has been brought onto a brand new team and it’s more than understandable that he would need some time to adapt.

Furthermore, with a team that’s clearly struggling majorly to put up points, whether it’s a result of necessity or coaching, Ricky Rubio suddenly has taken it upon himself to try to be one of Utah’s main scorers. True, he’s putting up a career-high 13.2 points per game, the fourth most on the team, but really he’s not playing his style or holding true to his strengths at all.

There was hope among the Jazz faithful that he’d be able to improve significantly as a shooter this season, but so far that hasn’t been the case as his shooting numbers are down from last year. Up to this point he’s converting on just 37.8 percent of his field goal attempts on a career-high 11.1 attempts per game and 26.7 percent of his three-point attempts on an overwhelming career-high of 4.4 attempts per game. In other words, his volume is increasing but his efficiency is not. That’s not a good combination.

And by and large, rather than help the offense flow and lead his teammates to easy baskets, his impact on the team has been a negative one. Rubio’s net rating is among the worst on the team at -5.5. What’s perhaps more surprising is that the Jazz’s offensive and defensive ratings have both been significantly higher with Rubio off the floor.

In some ways this comes as little surprise as his supposedly tough defense has looked lackluster at best as he’s allowed players on multiple occasions to simply blow right past him and his terrible shooting usually leads to opposing guards sagging off of him and leaving him wide open, therefore collapsing Utah’s offense and removing any and all spacing.

Rubio’s poor shooting along with his high usage and number of shot attempts have certainly been a critical factor in Utah’s dismal offense that has made putting up points look nearly impossible. And though we all knew shooting wasn’t his strength, many supposed he would make up for it by setting up his teammates extremely well. Unfortunately, that just hasn’t been the case either as his assists are down significantly.

Now, you could certainly make the argument that part of the reason why he’s not getting as many assists is due to the fact that he has few reliable shooters around him to actually convert the shot into points following the pass, but I think that’s just an inaccurate justification of Rubio’s struggles. He was brought in with the supposition that he was crafty enough to get guys of all different abilities good looks and that just hasn’t happened whatsoever.

Rubio is averaging a career-low by far in assists per game as he’s putting up just 5.1 per contest. Before this season, his career-low was 7.3 and his career average is 8.3. Again, there are ways to justify this as you could argue that the Jazz play at one of the slowest paces in the league, thus he’s going to have a lesser volume of assists simply by nature.

However, it’s also important to note that he is logging a career-high in usage percentage by a significant margin. Therefore, despite the reduction in possessions per game, the fact that he’s getting the ball a lot more than he has in the past should help produce more assists. No matter what way you look at it, 5.1 dimes per game for a so-called passer extraordinaire is a poor figure, and it’s absolutely killing the Jazz.

Part of the reason for the low assist numbers has to do with the fact that Rubio is also turning the ball over at an incredible rate. He’s averaging an astounding 3.6 turnovers per game, which is not only a career-high in and of itself, but it also means his assist-to-turnover ratio is far and above the worst it’s ever been (1.43). And a lot of his turnovers haven’t just been bad luck, they’ve been downright awful, awful decisions as he’s forced looks that simply aren’t there.

Last of all, although the sample size is quite small given that Rudy Gobert has now been sidelined for Utah’s last six contests and will be out for quite some time, Ricky Rubio simply could not figure out how to utilize Utah’s best player and help him be effective on the offensive end. Rudy Gobert is an amazing talent, but he needs guys around him (much like Gordon Hayward and George Hill were) that spread the floor and know how to execute the pick-and-roll effectively with him.

Since Gobert and Rubio were considered two of the best in the league in running the pick-and-roll, many presumed that this would be a match made in heaven. Nevertheless, such has been far from the case. Gobert actually has an even worse plus/minus, net rating and offensive rating than Ricky Rubio.

However, I have a hard time believing this poor showing is the fault of Rudy Gobert, but rather that it’s a result of some of the guys around him, principally Ricky Rubio. Of Jazz two-man lineups that have logged at least 90 minutes together, the duo of Gobert and Rubio has the second-worst net rating on the team of -10.7. And that’s been in 296 combined minutes. Meanwhile, the duo of Gobert and Raul Neto has a net rating of 15.2. Yes, that’s been in only 14 minutes played together, but still the difference is astounding.

In fairness, it should be noted that most other two-man lineups featuring Rudy Gobert also have a negative net rating, so the team as a whole simply isn’t functioning well to utilize the Stifle Tower’s strengths on offense. Nevertheless, the fact that his production with Rubio on the floor is so much worse than with his other teammates is very telling in and of itself.

In short, neither the numbers nor the eye test lie – the Ricky Rubio experiment simply isn’t working for the Utah Jazz. In Utah’s recent drubbing of the Orlando Magic in which the Jazz came away with an astounding 40-point victory, Rubio played a season-low 16 minutes in which he finished with just nine points on 3-of-9 shooting from the field and 0-of-2 from deep with just three assists.

Meanwhile, backup point guard Raul Neto logged 24 minutes, scored nine points on a much more efficient 3-of-5 shooting, dropped seven assists and finished the game a mind-blowing +44. Sure, it was just one game, but Neto seemed to make right decision after right decision and had Utah’s offense humming whenever he was in the game. Though not a sharpshooter himself, he’s certainly more of a scoring threat than Rubio and his decision-making has looked infinitely better.

Therefore, especially after yet another discouraging Jazz loss on Monday in which Rubio was back nearer to his normal load of minutes as well as to his now typical frustrating play (he logged six turnovers and just two assists), I think it’s time the Jazz look to make a change at the point guard position in which Rubio’s minutes are dramatically reduced and Raul Neto sees an uptick.

We largely know what we’re going to get with Neto. He’s not going to blow anyone away or be the team’s leading scorer night in and night out. But at the very least he’s steady, dependable and a far better decision maker than Rubio has shown so far.

I know that many fans are worried about damaging Rubio’s confidence and making him even less effective than he already has been, but in my mind, after six playoff-less years with the Minnesota Timberwolves and a poor start in Utah, he’s already shown that he can’t be the starting point guard on a winning basketball team and at this point the Jazz should worry less about his feelings and more about winning games.

Once his contract expires at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season (assuming he’s not dealt sooner), the Jazz will likely be looking for a replacement point guard anyhow, be it among their ranks (such as in Dante Exum) or in free agency, so rather than continue to struggle with him on the floor, the Jazz need to look to do what will work the best for the team.

Next: Utah Jazz: Just like that, Rodney Hood is rocking the hardwood

I was among the many that had high hopes for Ricky Rubio coming into the season, but his atrocious shooting, terrible passing that has often led to turnovers and his inability to involve Rudy Gobert or several other of his teammates in any sort of meaningful way has me utterly worn out.

The experiment isn’t working and it’s time for Rubio to see a significantly reduced role.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats