Johnson. Nash. Rubio...?
The purple and orange seem to have a thing for point guards (we can never forget their three-headed PG experiment with Bledsoe, Dragic, and Thomas all in the same lineup), and the franchise’s development and reliance on the position has ultimately been what’s vaulted them to their greatest pinnacles throughout history.
Kevin Johnson was the consistent stabilizer that parlayed scoring duties amongst a bevy of potent bucket-getters (Barkley, Chambers, Majerle) in the early ‘90’s. The swag and hard-nosed grit he brought to the position was ultimately the glue that incessantly banded together a number of fiery personalities.
We know all about Nash. His resume speaks for itself, and to hear his name automatically brings about countless imaginative visions of his dazzling no-look passes, Maravich-esque dribble combinations, and cold-blooded clutch shot making.
And Ricky Rubio very well could be the next point guard to emblazon his fortified credentials into Phoenix history books.
Viernes de regalito— NBA Spain (@NBAspain) October 30, 2020
Viernes de Ricky Rubio... pic.twitter.com/CcUOz5dWBv
If he keeps up his current pace, his place-hold will be immovable.
They say the truest measure of a player’s impact is reliant upon his team’s performance with him in the lineup, and the Suns immediately improved when Rubio stepped foot into town.
His role was clear when Phoenix inked him to a 3-year, $51 million contract in 2019: control the ball, and control the tempo.
The Suns already had their quintessential late-game hero in Devin Booker - a reliable shot-making presence no matter where he was slotted on the floor. They drafted the ying to Booker’s yang in Arizona big man Deandre Ayton. What was missing though, was a cunning heady playmaker to run the show, and create avenues for their twin titans to score.
This is where Rubio’s presence was beautifully ingrained.
Prior to Rubio’s arrival in the Valley, Booker was charged with innumerably high amounts of ball-dominant possessions, in which he was solely responsible for guiding his team up-court, and deciding whether or not to opt towards his own shooting stroke, or create for an ally. This repeatedly led to iso-heavy possessions and poor shot selections, as oftentimes both shot clock efficiency, and capable teammates were sparse.
But boy, do James Jones and Co. sure know how to build a roster from the inside out. Booker and Ayton were standalone as nuclei for the troupe. And with the pair unquestionably in the foresight of the team’s future plans, Jones began to create outward avenues that would spearhead their long-term success.
He brought floor-spacing bigs in Frank Kaminsky and Aron Baynes. He created a shooting buttress by acquiring dead-eye marksmen: Cam Johnson, Ty Jerome, Dario Saric. And then he proceeded to bolster their 3-and-D capabilities with fluid lanky wings who could rupture opponent tendencies on both ends (Kelly Oubre, Mikal Bridges).
All that was missing was a man to run the show, and after posting one of the better outings of his Utah tenure in 2018-19, Rubio positioned himself as one of the top lead guard candidates in that year’s free agency frenzy.
Meanwhile, Jones was wheeling and dealing in efforts to free up cap space to make a belly-flop splash into the player pool, and after discussing the potential fit in terms of scheme, the metropolitan area, Rubio’s future teammates, and of course monetary stipends, the two were able to put pen to paper.
And Rubio firmly placed his talents firmly in the hearts and minds of Phoenix fans worldwide.
The team saw immediate improvements.
O Captain, My Captain.— David Kevin (@theIVpointplay) August 3, 2020
Ricky Rubio last night - 20/9/7 and a beautiful nutmeg. pic.twitter.com/8VSRFMVGfL
Now, they weren’t the seven-seconds or less offense of yesteryear that Mike D’Antoni so famously revolutionized basketball with several seasons back, but Rubio brought a rare combination of mental dexterity and igniting speed that catapulted their attacking forge to a level not seen in ages.
They saw stark improvements in countless statistical categories, jumping from 23rd to 10th in team points per game (113.6), 28th to 12th in offensive rating (111.7) and 29th to 17th in defensive rating (111.4) per Pro Basketball Reference.
Their 2 and 3-point field goal percentage numbers also spiked significantly, and the team enjoyed huge ratio boosts in 3-pointers made (18.2%), free throws made (12.6%) and assists (14.1%).
Rubio has a centrifugal role in all of this. He’s a passing machine, able to use the seasoning of his deep professional tenure (one that began during his teenage years in Spain) to dissect opponent strategies and defensive looks by the millisecond. The true epitome of an effective point guard, Rubio sees plays develop long before they actually happen, and that’s had a direct role in Booker’s ascension, as well as Phoenix’s overall rise as a squad.
The hype behind Ricky Rubio as a prospect was justified by his insane passing alone. He made fools out of Euroleague vets during his Barcelona days.pic.twitter.com/WZqIVcHE70— Dmitry Planidin (@DmitryPlanidin) October 24, 2020
His assists (8.8) and scoring (13.0) sums were his second-highest ever, and he remained the defensive pest he’s been throughout the entirety of his career, constantly giving his team extra possessions with 1.4 steals per contest.
But Rubio’s influence in Phoenix is deeper than basic numbers can represent.
Hollinger’s assists ratio statistic measures the percentage of assists a player is responsible for on any given night. Rubio's metric postured him at third in the league at 37.1. He was also 10th in real plus-minus, and the fifth-rated PG in RPM wins, ahead of Trae Young, Kemba Walker and Jamal Murray to name a few.
According to the same Hollinger report, Rubio, and Rubio alone added 5.5 wins to his team’s total on the year.
Now, it was Devin Booker who garnered most of the attention for his eye-popping displays during the NBA’s Bubble restart, and for good reason.
But the Suns don’t go 8-0 without Rubio’s amalgamation capabilities, and they won’t make any noise going forward (no matter what happens in the draft) without the continuance of his excellence from last season.
He’s got a long way to go before he can be mentioned in conversations with KJ and Nash (although he may be able to compete with Nash in a hair-voluptuousness dialogue), but he’s as important a player as any if the Suns are truly going to illuminate the Western Conference with their kindle.