Starting point guard Ricky Rubio is off to a poor start that’s eerily similar to a year ago. And that’s extremely bad news for the Utah Jazz.
Heading into the 2018-19 season, the Utah Jazz were banking on continuity being their best weapon. With no adjustment period needed for the likes of Ricky Rubio, Jae Crowder or the oft-injured Dante Exum, this team figured to be humming with chemistry and able to get off to a quick and effective start.
Well, while such has largely seemed to be the case for Crowder and Exum, who have gotten off to considerably solid starts, it appears quite the opposite for Ricky Rubio. Much like he did last season, Rubio is off to an abysmal start, perhaps the worst of any Jazzman. The sample size is still quite small and time is ample, but the current trend remains an absolutely discouraging one.
Yes, Rubio had an excellent game against the New Orleans Pelicans in which he went 8-of-14 from the field and 3-of-7 from deep to notch 28 points while dropping 12 dimes. It was a complete game that had many proclaiming that Rubio could very well be ‘back’ for the Utah Jazz. Instead, he followed up that contest with two absolute duds, a 2-of-9 outing for six points against Dallas and a 2-of-6 outing for five points against Minnesota in a disappointing loss.
Rubio’s outburst against New Orleans reminded me somewhat of his early-season explosion last year against the Portland Trail Blazers in which he dropped a whopping 30 points and was the hero of the contest. After that bout, many concluded that Rubio had arrived and that we’d see a major turnaround from that point on. Instead, Ricky put together a string of poor performances that resulted in him having a horrific start to the season.
Sure, ultimately he put it together and had a strong finish for the Jazz. But this routine of poor starts and inconsistent play is concerning and, quite frankly, is damaging to a Jazz team that was relying on consistency in order to be a force in 2018-19 and wade their way through a tough early schedule. Instead, Ricky’s early season this year is looking nearly identical to his atrocious start from a year ago.
Consider this, here’s a look at Rubio’s stat line up to this point–
9.0 PTS, 31.1 FG%, 32.0 3PT%, 2.7 RPG, 7.1 APG, 3.1 TOV, 1.1 STL, 1.1 +/-
And here’s a look at his stat line from October through December of last year–
11.4 PTS, 39.1 FG%, 28.7 3PT%, 4.0 RPG, 4.9 APG, 3.0 TOV, 1.6 STL, -2.5 +/-
Finally, just for good measure, here’s his stat line from just December of last year, which was his worst month and was eerily similar to how he’s playing currently–
9.2 PTS, 37.4 FG%, 24.4 3PT%, 4.7 RPG, 4.5 APG, 2.6 TOV, 1.3 STL, -4.7 +/-
Now, let’s dissect the good and bad here. Rubio’s 3-point percentage is actually better right now than in both those poor instances. And, as much as he spoiled us with his hot finish last year, 32 percent is actually almost perfectly on par with his career average of 32.4 percent. As nice as it would be to see Ricky be a consistent threat from this area, at some point we may just have to accept that hitting the 3-ball isn’t his forte.
Also, the fact that the assists are up is a great sign, as that has always been Rubio’s primary skill and was a discouraging sign from early last year. Lastly, at least his plus/minus is in the positive as opposed to his consistent negative marks from early last season. However, he has posted a negative plus/minus in four of Utah’s seven contests this year.
Which leads perfectly into some of the more discouraging aspects of Rubio’s start this year. His field goal percentage has been absolutely horrific. The fact that he’s shooting worse than he did from the field than in his poorest stretch last season is an alarming sign. Not only that, but he’s posting the highest turnover per game mark of his career thus far. That’s not giving much credence to the continuity strategy unfortunately.
As painful as it is to say it, Ricky Rubio has started out this season almost exactly like last year, and in some ways worse. That’s bad news for the Utah Jazz who were relying on Ricky Rubio being more like the player he was to end the season and much less like the player that during stretches couldn’t stay on the floor because of his unreliability.
Unfortunately, as recently as Wednesday night in Minnesota, Dante Exum closed the game over the erratic Rubio. In other words, while it’s still early, the fact that he has lost Coach Quin Snyder’s trust during stretches already is concerning.
Rubio has often been considered the barometer of this team. As he goes, so tend to go the Jazz. And if he, as the operator of the Utah offense, is off, then the whole team is very likely going to struggle.
With all this said, I absolutely believe that Rubio can turn things around and revert to a version of himself much more similar to what we saw to close out the year last season. However, this poor start and his overall streakiness and inconsistency are troubling attributes. If the Jazz want to be a truly elite team, they need to put together a solid season from start to finish. Rubio’s play has been a large factor preventing that so far this year.
Not only that, but they can’t continue to wonder whether Ricky is going to be a force or whether he’s going to shoot twenty-something from the field and turn the ball over half a dozen times. Of course, every player in the NBA has their off nights, their highs and lows. But Rubio’s dramatic mountains and valleys can be infuriating to say the least. When he’s off, he’s extremely off. The middle ground seems to be few and far between.
For this season, the Jazz simply need Rubio to get back in a groove and stay there. And they need him to do so before February, which is how long it took last year. Beyond that, I may upset a lot of Jazz fans here, but I just don’t know that Ricky is the answer for this Jazz squad long term.
Yes, the season is young, and yeah, I’m probably overreacting a bit. And don’t get me wrong, I really like Rubio as a player and especially as a person. He has expressed his love for playing in Utah and for an oft-overlooked team like the Jazz, that’s a trait that can’t be overlooked. I even wrote an article last year expressing how fans, myself included, owed Rubio an apology considering how magnificently he turned his play around.
Yet here we are once again watching him apparently revert to the norm. We can hope for hot streaks. We can bet that he’ll improve in time for postseason. We can pray that he’ll return to form in the near future. But as of yet, there’s no indication that such is about to happen any time soon.
Painful though it is to say, this is Rubio’s eighth year in the league and at some point it isn’t outlandish to believe that his career averages are largely what they are. There will be some spikes and declines, but for the most part, maybe we know what we’re going to get.
Yes, it’s encouraging that he posted career-highs in shooting efficiency last year, but the fact that there seems to be little to no consistency in keeping those clips up is discouraging. Rubio relied on a red-hot finish to get those averages above his career marks, and at this rate, may need a similar revelation in 2018-19.
When Rubio is on he’s great. When he’s off, it’s severe and dramatically affects the Jazz. Unfortunately, so far in the early-going of this season, it’s been much more of the latter for Ricky, and the team has suffered as a result of it in a start to the season that has featured multiple losses which easily could have gone the other way.
Time will tell whether I find myself writing yet another apology letter this season, or if the woeful ups and downs simply continue for the Utah Jazz point guard.