For a good but not great player, there’s been a lot of attention paid to Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio lately.
Before we get into what the Wolves might do with Rubio at the trade deadline, it’s worth noting that he’s a great human, his effort should never be questioned, and he’s loved in every locker room he’s been in.
On Monday morning I asked what it would take for the Timberwolves to land Aaron Gordon on Twitter, who requested a trade from the Orlando Magic. The initial trade proposal that was reported back in February was Rubio and a draft pick for Gordon. At the time, that seemed more than fair for Minnesota.
But Timberwolves Twitter seemed a bit split on this one:
Wait, so we like Rubio again?! Or maybe we don’t? I’m confused!
For starters, the fact that Rubio’s stock dipped so low to start the season probably wasn’t all his fault. The D’Angelo Russell/Rubio dynamic was always a bit weird, and it never made a lot of sense to play them both at the same time. Timberwolves Twitter went wild over the fact that both players could be on the same court simultaneously, but the reality of that was Russell dribbling for a long time and Rubio shooting a lot of shots he shouldn’t have had to take.
The numbers don’t lie.
In the first 21 games of the season (when both Russell and Rubio were healthy), Rubio averaged 6 points, 5.9 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game while shooting 35.2% from the field and 16.1% from the 3-point line. It was at this time when everyone wanted to get rid of Rubio.
Since Russell’s absence on Feb. 8, Rubio has averaged 11.7 points, 7.6 assists, and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 45% from the field and 39.4% from the 3-point line in 19 games. Rubio has thrived as the primary ball-handler for this team. Maybe he’s not a top-10 point guard, but he’s certainly better than he was.
That’s quite the difference, and while this isn’t the topic of the article, you have to wonder if Russell is worth $28 million when Rubio is being paid $17 million. Both are overpaid, in my humble opinion.
The real kicker with not wanting to trade Rubio actually doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Rubio as it does with the now-Rookie of the Year favorite Anthony Edwards.
In the 19 games leading up to Feb. 8, before Russell went out, Edwards averaged 14 points while shooting 37.8% from the field and 32.8% from the 3-point line. Since that day, with Rubio running point, Edwards has averaged 20.2 points while shooting 39.3% from the field and 31% from the 3-point line.
Edwards hasn’t been shy in saying that Rubio has been huge for his development, especially lately.
“I would say so, yeah. I hope so. I’m trying to get there,” Edwards said via good friend Jace Frederick of the Pioneer Press. “I’m growing and learning every day from Ricky. Just trying to watch what he does. I feel like he’s a great leader on our team. If I keep learning from Ricky, I feel like I’ll be in a good position.”
Edwards later called Rubio the best leader that he’s ever been around.
These are things that I would imagine nobody has said about Russell.
Edwards’ emergence also has to do with the fact that Malik Beasley is suspended, but you could also argue that Beasley’s presence would help open things up for Edwards even more. Russell’s presence does the opposite, which was highly discussed in the first half of the season.
This is where things get tricky, though. We know who Rubio is. He’s not going to be a top-5 guy on a really good team. Offensively, he has extreme limitations. And while he is a great leader, he kind of is who he is.
I’m not going to say that a player like Gordon, who hasn’t been able to shine in Orlando given every opportunity, is going to thrive in Minnesota. But he’s 25, and the fact that he and Rubio are both due $34 million over the next two years makes it seem like a pretty easy choice if the trade is based player-for-player. Gordon has the higher upside. Worst-case scenario, Gordon isn’t a great fit and he walks in free agency in two seasons or you flip him next season.
Well, yeah, Kyle. But this isn’t a player-for-player trade. It would also include a draft pick.
And that’s the kicker here. What will the Wolves have to attach to a trade for Gordon, or any other player with a bigger contract, if they make a move at the deadline? Rubio is the only player outside of Russell, Beasley, or Karl-Anthony Towns who is being paid more than $10 million this season. Towns isn’t going to be traded. Beasley isn’t attractive to other teams given his legal troubles, and I would bet against Gersson Rosas admitting that Russell maybe isn’t as good as he hoped right away. That leaves Rubio as the main piece to go along with whatever the draft pick is. A lottery-protected first-round pick would certainly be ideal for the Wolves, or even a pick swap.
We’ll see what happens in the next few days. I think there’s also something to be said for gaining Edwards’ trust early in his career on a team known for continually doing the wrong thing. Maybe keeping someone like Rubio, who Edwards clearly looks up to, is the right move long-term instead of going after a so-so power forward.
The Ricky Rubio situation has never been a boring one, even after all these years.