The story has been written a number of times before, both in Minnesota and now in Utah.
Having built a reputation as a tremendous passer and very good defender but poor shooter and even worse finisher, Ricky Rubio occasionally displays spurts that leave observers wondering if his weaknesses can catch up to his strengths.
Take last season for example. Through the first four months of the campaign with the Timberwolves, the Spaniard averaged no better than 11.8 points per game over the course of a month before scoring 17.8 per contest in March and 14 even in April.
After getting traded to the Jazz over the summer, Rubio scored 15.7 points per game in October and then put up 30 in the first game of November before dipping down to a three-month span through January than never saw him average more than 11.7 points.
But beginning with the Jan. 24 Utah win over the Detroit Pistons that started the Jazz’s current stretch of 18 victories in 20 games, Rubio has been excellent, and a key cog in the success.
In the 17 games he’s played in (he missed three because of right hip soreness), Rubio has averaged 16.1 points per contest on nearly 46 percent shooting from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range.
Only time will tell if the 6-foot-4 guard’s hot play can continue, but it’ll likely be a big factor as Utah makes a push for the playoffs. The Jazz are 27-17 when Rubio scores 10 or more points and 10-13 when he doesn’t.
“You know, when he is aggressive like he was, it is a big plus for us,” said center Rudy Gobert on Sunday after Rubio scored 30 points on 10-of-22 shooting from the field and 4-of-5 from beyond the arc to lead Utah in a huge 116-99 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
Gobert specifically noted Rubio’s play in the pick-and-roll game, as the threat of a point guard being both a good shooter and an aggressive driver can open up a variety of opportunities to get a bucket.
“He makes guys like (Pelicans star big man Anthony Davis) have to guard on the pick-and-roll,” Gobert said. “It is big for us.”
Added Donovan Mitchell: “You know Ricky, he’s developed so much in the game this past year. Obviously I have seen him before I got here, but his 3-point shooting is something teams are respecting now, which opens up so much more for him...you know (when) he is hitting like that, it opens up so much more and he starts finding guys, his leadership, he starts calling plays.”
While Rubio’s uptick in scoring over the course of the Jazz’s surge has been big (which has also included doubling his free-throw attempts per game to 4.5), he’s done a variety of things well. He’s averaging 6.7 assists and 5.8 rebounds per contest, having tallied 11 assists twice during the run and having secured 10 boards in each of the last two games.
Those numbers have helped boost his season averages to 12.5 points, 5.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds.
"I think he's a guy in particular, as the year has progressed, that we've seen him being more and more precise," said Utah head coach Quin Snyder last week. “I think, by and large, he’s seeing the game more completely with his teammates.”
As Utah gets set for Tuesday night’s home game against the Pistons, the start of a five-game stretch against teams primed to miss the playoffs, Rubio could see even a little bit more responsibility placed on his shoulders, as the Jazz announced Monday afternoon that backup point guard Raul Neto will miss at least two weeks after fracturing his left hand on Sunday.
Detroit is a drastically different team from the one Utah beat 98-95 on Jan. 24, as it completed a blockbuster trade five days later, acquiring Blake Griffin from the LA Clippers in exchange for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley and Boban Marjanovic.
The deal hasn’t had the desired immediate results for the Pistons, however, as they have gone just 8-10 since, have lost four of their last five games and are five games out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference with just 16 to play.