Last night on twitter, I had a healthy discussion with my followers about who was better between Ricky Rubio and Kyrie Irving. If you hadn’t heard by now, Rubio made a triumphant return off of a torn ACL that he suffered just about 10 months ago.
Rubio electrified us with an 18 minute performance against the Dallas Mavericks in which he provided the crowd with dozens of crisp and elegant passes to various Timberwolves teammates.
There was no question that every one of the 18 minutes that Rubio played were some of the most impactful basketball that we’ve seen all season long. He was stifling on the defensive end providing a sense of ball pressure that the Wolves had never seen before. He had three steals and forced just as many turnovers through his pressure if not a few more.
Rubio was more impactful on the offensive end than his numbers indicate. He registered a meager 8 points going 1-4 from the field and 6-8 from the free throw line. While that may appear to be a ho-hum total in the eyes of many, keep in mind that he only played 18 minutes tonight. His per 36 number would be 16 points and getting to the line 8 times in such a limited amount of time to work with is very impressive.
His point total was nothing compared to the impact that he had passing the ball. He finished with 9 assists last night–per 36 that’s 18 assists. Not to mention the hockey assists that Rubio got from facilitating the movement of the ball from on side of the floor to the other and the plays that his teammates failed to finish for him. Derrick Williams posted his best outing of the season because of the impact that Rubio had–he finished with 16 points and 6 rebounds in only 19 minutes.
One of my favorite plays from the game last night was a three on two fastbreak that Rubio operated with so much composure. He didn’t rush a shot or force himself into the lane. Instead, he waited for the trailer–Nikola Pekovic–to come dive into the paint. J.J Barea was filling the lane on the right wing with Rubio bringing the ball down on the left. Rubio directed Pekovic to dive to the rim, taking the attention off of both of the defenders who were already collapsed in the paint. After that, he delivered a perfect cross-floor pass to Barea on the right wing for a fastbreak three.
It wasn’t anything special about the play on the surface, but for him to keep in mind what the defense is thinking and the positioning of the defense is an elite characteristic. He’s got the composure to not force a shot and ruin the perfect opportunity for a score. It was an extremely heady play that most second year point guards won’t make.
Rubio could’ve easily finished with over 13 or 14 assists. His passing bug was contagious, too. The Wolves are a team that is usually very hard to watch because of their ball watching tendencies and inability to finish plays. Tonight, the Wolves played with vigor and speed. They usually finish with about 21.4 assists per game, per ESPN.com. Tonight they had 28 and could’ve easily had more.
The team’s pace ranks 18th in the league at 91.8 and they usually have about 96 possessions per game, per teamrankings.com. Tonight, they had 106 possessions which is way above their average. Rubio was the jolt that they needed to improve on the offensive end.
Rubio’s all-around impact on the Wolves goes way beyond simple numbers. You can’t gauge the way that he sees the floor. He turns every offensive possession into a symphony. He sees two to three possessions ahead of the defense at all times–always ready to make a counter to whatever the defense is going to bring. He doesn’t have to score to impact the game because of all of the other ways that he does. He’s on his way to being an elite defender and he’s already the best passer in the NBA. His scoring opportunities will come.
He’s going to be one of the top two or three point guards in the league in a few years. His progression is already steps ahead of Kyrie Irving. Sure, Irving is an elite scorer, but that’s about all he brings to the table that Rubio doesn’t. Irving isn’t as adept of a passer as Rubio and probably never will be. His effort on the defensive end–or lack thereof–is something that worries me to death as well. You can’t just be a scorer on a winning team. It takes a lot more than that to win in the playoffs.
Irving’s 41 points in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks were amazing. His ball handling capability and his scoring prowess are something to behold. But I would trade that for the 18 minutes that Rubio gave the Timberwolves any day. At the end of the day, Rubio’s total impact is greater than Irving’s on a consistent basis. Not to say that both point guards won’t be forces in the league one day, but that Rubio will be the greater force.
All in all, the point guard position is as strong as it ever was. As we start to phase out the Deron Williams’ of the world the Irvings, Rubios, Roses, Westbrooks and Walls will come along to fill that void. We’ve got plenty of years of great basketball ahead of us.