Ricky Rubio was destined to be in Indiana, alongside Victor Oladipo. At least, that’s what we thought all along over the past few weeks with daily rumblings from national insiders. Instead, the Phoenix Suns popped up out of nowhere, signing Rubio to a three-year, $51 million deal to be their starting point guard.
The definition of a point guard is someone who directs the team’s offense. If Suns GM James Jones was looking for a conductor to lead a fun offense, there weren’t many better options available than Rubio. Known for his flashy pass-first style, the Spaniard becomes Phoenix’s best facilitator since Steve Nash.
Back in January on The Burns & Gambo Show, right when trade rumors were heating up close to the deadline, Jones was asked about what the Suns are looking for in their playmakers. What Jones had to say at that time was absolutely foreshadowing, and possibly why Rubio was coveted right when free agency started.
“If I were to say we were a football team, I’d say we want to run the spread offense,” Jones said. “We want someone leading our team that will spray the ball around and get (our players) easy buckets and set the table for them. That’s where we trend, as far as playmakers and facilitators.”
Over his eight-year NBA career, Rubio has averaged 7.7 assists per game while always helping elevate big men. Rubio helped Nikola Pekovic average 17.5 points. Karl-Anthony Towns’ first two seasons were aided with Rubio’s presence, which concluded with a career-high 25.1 points. Rudy Gobert, Utah’s two-time Defensive Player of the Year, also saw massive scoring improvement set up by Rubio’s dishes.
Ricky Rubio helped Nikola Pekovic average 17.5 points in a season once. Karl-Anthony Towns put up 25.1 points per game during his second and final season with Rubio.— Evan Sidery (@esidery) July 2, 2019
Deandre Ayton is going to be spoon-fed the best looks of his career with Rubio running the show. pic.twitter.com/UH2n7UzmbI
Next up on the list for Rubio’s big man partnership list is Deandre Ayton. With the 28-year-old veteran point guard now in the Valley, Ayton will be spoon-fed by one of the savviest playmakers in the league. Not only should the Suns’ No. 1 overall pick be excited about this move — albeit an overpay at $17 million annually, which was expected for a losing organization — but franchise cornerstone Devin Booker as well.
According to Basketball-Reference, only two players carried an assist percentage above 30, a steal percentage above two, and a usage rate of 22 or below: Chris Paul and Rubio. This shows the mold Rubio fits into, and ironically enough Paul played next to James Harden. (Yes, I’m still on the idea of Booker progressively going down the Harden path. We’ll see whether he gets there with Rubio’s presence.)
Rubio can also set up shots on the perimeter at a high level. Last season in Utah, the Jazz shot 40 percent on three-pointers assisted via Rubio, which is an outstanding mark. The Suns shot just 32.1 percent overall from three. If Rubio can maintain the same impact on shooters in Phoenix, he will help tremendously.
So not only can Rubio help accelerate the development of big men, but he’s excellent passing to the right spot for the shooters that now fill the Suns’ roster. The multi-season point guard riddle finally seems to be solved, as Rubio’s biggest flaws should be dimmed alongside high-usage scorers like Booker, Ayton and Oubre.
After Booker saw an incredible 13 different point guards cycle in and out during his first four seasons, stability has arrived at the position with Rubio.
Rubio will now help serve as the bridge to relevancy and contention over the next three years as the core four of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and presumably Kelly Oubre Jr. Rubio’s contract will expire at the end of the 2021-22 season. At that point, the Suns’ main core pieces will all be entering into their primes (Booker - 25, Ayton - 23, Bridges - 25, Oubre - 26).
It’s also key to note new contracts could come for Ayton and Bridges in 2022, so it’s obvious the Suns are wary of their long-term cap sheet with this addition of Rubio. Even though it might seem pricey, it leaves no real impact on Phoenix’s cap, unless Rubio’s on-court performance nosedives.
During these next three years, incremental progress from the young core will be vital. Adding Rubio as the fourth option fits his style perfectly too. Never a shooter, Rubio will be asked to do what he does best, facilitating for the likes of Booker, Ayton, Bridges and Oubre.
Phoenix hasn’t won more than 25 games in five years. The pieces finally seem to be in place for that streak to be snapped.
Everyone just witnessed what can happen to an organization stuck in the gutter. When the Brooklyn Nets hired Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson as their GM-head coach combo three seasons ago, did anyone in their wildest dreams ever imagine Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving signing on the dotted line there? Absolutely not.
The Suns now have three years to grow this roster with the on-court leadership a real floor general provides. By 2022, the Suns need to be in position to be sustainable contenders, with an enticing roster ready to all peak together.
Signing Ricky Rubio is an ideal next step to take. The front office is in place. The head coach, who is well-respected around the league, is in place. The top-15 point guard and solid role players are in place. Now, it’s up to the Suns’ very promising core to help push them over that finish line entering into the 2020s.