Ricky Rubio has been gambling for steals a lot lately and he’s losing. For those who haven’t been paying close attention, Rubio now qualifies for the league steals title and is percentage points ahead of Chris Paul. Rubio is averaging 2.43 steals per game, but it’s coming at the expense of his other defensive responsibility.
I hear you asking me, “How can he be losing when he’s leading the league in steals?”
Defensive statistics can be quite dicey. On a team that’s as effective as a turnstile defensively, a player can’t really stand out as a good defender. Such has been the case to an extent for Rubio. The Minnesota Timberwolves rank No. 15 in the NBA in points allowed per game, but are just No. 24 in opponents field-goal percentage.
A big reason for that is playing a defensive style that favors gambling instead of conservative play. When a player like Rubio gambles for a steal and misses, it leaves the rest of the team in bad position and usually results in an open shot for the opposition.
On the flip side, the threat of Rubio in the passing lanes does make a team think twice about how they want to run their offense. Without clear lanes, teams have to slow the offense and can’t attack as easily. But if long arms made players excellent defensively, then teams would just look for the players with the longest wingspan.
Here’s how it looks when Rubio gets into the passing lanes:
Rubio’s defensive metrics as provided by Synergy Sports leaves a lot to be desired. He ranks No. 275 (!) among all players in overall defense, allowing 0.9 points per possession. What’s most telling are his stats when his opponent spots up. This happens when Rubio gambles for steals and leaves his man wide open. Get ready for this doozy:
Rubio allows 1.13 points per possession when his opponent spots up, which is No. 329 in the NBA. Think about that for a minute. We’re being generous by saying that each NBA team has 10 guys in their regular rotation, but even if we say that, that means 300 players regularly play. Somehow, Rubio ranks beneath each and every one of them.
What’s more surprising is that the Timberwolves have fared much better defensively with Rubio off the court. With Rubio on the court, the Wolves allow 108.1 points per 100 possessions, according to 82games.com. When Rubio sits down, the Wolves improve by 2.9 points. They even score more points offensively (103.6 to 103.1) when Rubio sits.
In the long run, Rubio will probably win a few steals titles. However, it would be much better for his team (and their win-loss record), if he stopped gambling so much and just played solid fundamental defense.