As the NBA has evolved, so have the Utah Jazz.
No longer building their team around scoring big men, the Jazz have become more perimeter-oriented. Since arriving five years ago, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey has acquired players that fit the modern system.
But Lindsey’s most recent move — the trade that sent Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio to Utah — is an aberration from the plan.
The move for Rubio all but closes the door on the possible return of George Hill, who had a breakout season with the Jazz last year.
Instead going into the meeting with Gordon Hayward without a starting-quality point guard on the roster, the Jazz decided to pass on perusing through the free agent market to fill the need.
On the surface, it seemed like the Jazz had adequately replaced Hill with another above-average point guard.
Posting a career-high 9.1 assists last season, Rubio was fifth in assists per game during the 2016-17 season. He was also fourth in assists accumulated, dishing out more dimes than LeBron James, Chris Paul and Stephen Curry.
As a distributor, Rubio is elite. It’s the primary reason why scouts compared him to Steve Nash before he came to the states from Barcelona.
Unlike Nash — and even Hill, for that matter — Rubio lacks shooting touch and it’s significantly delayed his development.
Rubio, who was drafted in 2009 but didn’t sign with the Wolves until 2011, has shown little improvement, especially in terms of scoring. He’s hovered around 10 points per game since his rookie season, but even more concerning has been his inability to become a mild threat as a shooter.
Up until last season, Rubio had been making less than 40 percent of his total shot attempts — a mark that’s considered unacceptable for rookies, let alone veteran players. According to Michael Rand of the Star Tribune, “Since the 1979-80 season, no player in league history has played more than 5,000 minutes while making a lower percentage of field goals than Rubio.”
Historically, for a player that’s lasted in the NBA for as long as he has, Rubio is one of the worst shooters ever.
Last season, the Jazz were ninth in 3-point percentage, making 37 percent of their attempts on a modest 26 tries per game. The season prior, the Jazz were 12th in 3-point percentage and in 2015 they were 19th.
The improvement has been gradual and some of their success from deep last season could be attributed to Hill, who made over 40 percent of his threes on a career-high 4.8 attempts per game.
Rubio tried his hand at shooting from deep last season, attempting the most threes in his career (196), but only made 60 total. While Hill played a large role in helping the Jazz become a 3-point shooting team, Rubio couldn’t do the same for the Wolves, who were last in the league in 3-point attempts and in the bottom half in threes made.
The shot charts above, courtesy of Daren Willman, show the difference in play between Hill and Rubio.
Rubio, to put it bluntly, wasn’t effective from anywhere on the floor. He wasn’t consistent from mid-range, couldn’t finish inside and was unreliable behind the 3-point line.
His passing and defense will fit the “Jazz DNA,” but Rubio’s shooting, or lack thereof, can be problematic. Four of the top five scorers in the NBA last season were guards, and given how the league continues to change, the onus of putting points on the board will be on the lead guard.