How Big of a Contract Extension Is Minnesota's Ricky Rubio Really Worth?

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How Big of a Contract Extension Is Minnesota's Ricky Rubio Really Worth?
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Even before he was drafted in 2009, NBA fans and writers from America to Spain dubbed Ricky Rubio the next Pistol Pete Maravich.

It was a lofty, and probably unfair, comparison. But it helped Rubio get selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft by David Kahn and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

A year before that happened, The San Francisco Chronicle's Scott Ostler said, "Maybe Rubio is the reincarnation of Pistol Pete." He later added, "Rubio is either the best basketball player in the world outside of NBA, or merely the most exciting, or both."

Of Rubio's draft prospects, Ostler said, "NBA insiders say if Rubio opts to enter the 2010 draft, he will go no lower than No. 3."

The New York Times' Pete Thamel talked about the parallels as well, saying, "...comparisons to Pete Maravich have arisen because of his looks and ability."

Now five years after he was drafted, Rubio's due for a contract extension with the Wolves. And needless to say, he is not the next Pete Maravich.

But don't tell Rubio's agent Dan Fegan that. In an article published on Friday, Grantland's Zach Lowe said:

"Rubio is among the most divisive players in the league now, in part because of the sense that his agent, Dan Fegan, is going to demand an eight-figure extension that Rubio does not yet deserve."

Eight figures? That would put him in Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson territory. It may come as a shock to Fegan, but statistically, Rubio is not there. He's not even close:

2013-14 Stats of Guards Drafted in 2009
PTS AST REB STL FG% 3P% Contract
Ricky Rubio 9.1 8.5 4.4 2.5 37.8% 34.5% ?
Stephen Curry 23.6 8.5 4.4 1.6 46.6% 41.7% 4 years/$44 million
Ty Lawson 17.8 8.8 3.5 1.6 43.2% 36.4% 4 years/$48 million
Jrue Holiday 14.3 7.9 4.2 1.6 44.7% 39% 4 years/$41 million
Tyreke Evans 14 5 4.7 1.2 43.2% 21.5% 4 years/$44 million

Basketball-Reference.com

As the next Pistol Pete, Rubio was expected to be at least as productive as those guys. He simply hasn't been, and overpaying him the way the Pelicans did Evans could rob Minnesota of future flexibility.

He's not the scorer they are, and really never has been.

Part of the problem with the Maravich comparisons was that Rubio didn't show a knack for putting up points before he entered the league. On the other hand, Maravich averaged 44.2 points per game in three years at LSU. Yes, 44.2.

How was Rubio ever supposed to live up to that? At least as a scorer, he probably has no chance. But as a passer and playmaker? Well, that's a different story.

For the most part, Maravich used his talent and handles to put up points. We just remember the passing because he did so with such flair.

Over his 11-year NBA career, Maravich averaged 5.4 assists. 

As he wraps up his third season, Rubio is averaging eight assists.

In the way he moves, handles the ball and passes, Rubio is still Maravich-esque. Last year, The Denver Post's Benjamin Hochman relayed a quote from then-Nuggets coach George Karl on Rubio:

I actually think Rubio's a better passer (than Maravich). I think Pistol Pete was a flamboyant passer but more of a scorer, where I see Rubio as a true point guard, a true playmaker.

His length, his flash, there's no question that there are situations that he actually looks like him on film. He's got that long gait, and then the ability to handle the ball at a high efficiency level and also a high dribbling level, that's more Pistol Pete than anybody I've seen.

The combination of those skills and his pass-first attitude makes Rubio both valuable and unique. Basketball in general is trending toward scoring guards, so Rubio can stay relevant by making his teammates better.

The problem isn't that Rubio struggles to score. It's that he darn-near can't score, and that's detracting from what he does as a distributor.

From Lowe:

Rubio’s lack of scoring punch indisputably hurts Minnesota late, which is why Adelman has overplayed Barea in fourth quarters to the frustration of every breathing basketball fan. But with Rubio neutered as a scoring threat, Minnesota has almost no off-the-dribble creator. It has no one who can take the ball from the perimeter into the paint and get buckets...

Meanwhile, those guys who were drafted in 2009 with Rubio are showing they have no problem scoring. In Curry's case, he leads his team in points. And he does that while still averaging as many assists as Rubio.

So to expect Rubio to get paid as much seems borderline ludicrous. 

If Fegan can talk Minnesota into getting his client that kind of deal, good for him and Rubio. But a more appropriate goal would be something between $7 and $8 million.

That would put him right around where Jeff Teague and Brandon Jennings are (offensive rating or ORtg measures points produced per 100 possessions, while defensive rating or DRtg measures points allowed per 100 possessions):

Ricky Rubio Comparables
PER WS ORtg DRtg Contract
Ricky Rubio 15.9 5.6 107 102 ?
Jeff Teague 16.5 3.7 104 110 4 years/$32 million
Brandon Jennings 16.3 4.1 106 111 3 years/$24 million

Basketball-Reference.com

Even that much money might seem excessive for those who focus on Rubio's poor shooting and general inability to score.

But you can't discount the value of a good distributor. When Rubio's on the floor, the T'Wolves average 113 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, they average 100.9. 

He helps the Wolves defensively too. Sure, he gets in trouble for gambling sometimes, but he's second in the league in steals at 2.5 a game. And Minnesota surrenders 1.5 fewer points per 100 possessions while Rubio's playing.

Add to what Rubio already does on both ends the fact that he's still just 23 years old. So while he'll never be Pistol Pete as a scorer, he can still get better. Shooting is a skill that anyone can improve. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

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Jason Kidd is an example of a player who's done so at the NBA level. From 1994 to 2007, he shot 33.3 percent from three-point range. From 2007 to the end of his career in 2013, he hit 37.8 percent of his threes.

Rubio can get better and prove himself worth every bit of $8 million a year. But putting him on that next tier of point guards with Curry and Jrue Holiday doesn't make sense, at least not yet.

Again, Rubio has plenty of time to work on his shortcomings. At the end of whatever contract he signs this summer, he'll still be on the right side of 30.

At that point, we'll be able to evaluate once again what he's worth and whether he's lived up to the comparisons to Maravich.

But even if he improves as a scorer, I'd bet we'll still be evaluating him as a playmaker and passer. For therein lies his true value. 

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com and are current as of March 28, 2014.

Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.


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