Change. This is a word which does one of two things for most people. It can either cause an arousal of excitement within the deepest depths of one’s soul, or it can cause panic—the fear of the unknown, uncertainty waning in the shadows from afar.
When the Minnesota Timberwolves took Kris Dunn fifth overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, sports pundits everywhere started reporting the likely departure of incumbent starter, Ricky Rubio. However, he is still currently (as of 7/15/2016) on the team and is still the presumed starting point guard for the Timberwolves.
The fan base is really excited, and the overall impression I observe from a lot of them is that they are ready to move on from Rubio and are ready to begin the Dunn-era.
Unless there is a trade that is just overwhelmingly beneficial for the Timberwolves, trading Rubio at this point would be foolish.
The Case for Rubio
To the casual fan, because he’s not the best shooter around, Rubio automatically “sucks” and should be immediately traded. Here are a couple infographics created by Reddit user, elbevee, that show the impact Rubio has had on the team as a whole, and the impact he had on Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine when they played together last season.
Source: @Statswish "elbevee"
As you can see in this infographic, Rubio impacts the overall play of the Timberwolves significantly when he is on the floor compared to when he is off the floor. You can see the Wolves are about seven points worse when he is off the court. As someone who goes to games and watches this team regularly, the difference of play by this team is night and day when Rubio is on/off the court.
It’s apparent the offense stagnates when he isn’t playing. Bad shots are taken, and the turnovers tend to pile on quicker. Defensively, Rubio and Towns have been a few of the bright spots on the team, but the effort needs to come from the other three players on the court on nightly basis too.
Source: @Statswish "elbevee"
In this infographic, you can see how Rubio influences the positive impact by the three most important players on the Timberwolves—Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine. Wiggins and Towns both become negative impact players when Rubio is off the court, but become positive while he is on it. LaVine is still a negative impact player regardless, but much less when Rubio plays with him.
However, I’m not worried about LaVine. He has made huge strides from year-one to year-two. Expect another big jump in year-three regarding his progression.
All of this blame Rubio receives for the problems that occur with the Timberwolves is just crazy. Do people realize there are four other players on the court with him playing at all times as well?
Maybe the problem could be attributed to porous team defense? Yes, Rubio takes gambles every now and then for steals, but there is a reason he is considered an elite defender in this league at the point guard position, just ask Zach Lowe.
Or maybe, as a team, the lack of players hitting their open shots—especially three-pointers could be a major factor to why the Timberwolves have been disappointing for so long. They ranked 26th in the league three-point shooting percent by making only 33.8% of their attempted three-pointers. Surprisingly, they ranked 7th in the league in overall field goal percent by making 46.4% of their attempted shots (thank you Sam Mitchell for the “We Hate Three-Pointers Philosophy”).
Overall, it’s defense and three-point shooting which has been plaguing the Timberwolves for years now. We can expect new coach, Tom Thibodeau, to address both of those problems—especially the defensive aspect of it.
Blaming all of the Timberwolves’ woes on Rubio just seems out of whack, especially considering the positive impact he provides for them on a nightly basis.
Is Dunn Ready?
If trading Rubio is the ultimate goal, there needs to be an actual plan in place for his replacement. When I say plan, I mean an actual, viable player who can be currently had to replace Rubio’s impact.
If I’m not mistaken, there currently isn’t anyone available in free agency that would be an upgrade over Rubio. Yes, I know there are rumors that Russell Westbrook out of Oklahoma City might be available in a trade, but the Timberwolves would have to give up the farm to obtain him.
Right now, it would be a huge gamble to break up a very promising core, for someone who might just be a one-year rental, considering that he is an unrestricted free agent next season.
And for the 100th time, NO.
LaVine is not a viable option to play at point guard while Dunn gets more experience. He is a wing player, he plays his best basketball when he is running and gunning—not orchestrating the offense. You can review my thoughts on him playing point guard more in depth here.
This tweet by a fellow educated Timberwolves fan sums up the overall feeling about LaVine being mentioned as a point guard by the media.
If Rubio is traded before the 2016-2017 NBA season, handing the keys to the car to a rookie without him fully proving that he is able to keep up with the current NBA standard, could definitely be a major mistake.
There are a lot of various factors which could happen if this were the case.
- Dunn might not adjust to the NBA game as fast as people anticipate
- He could be very turnover prone (a lot of young players are)
- He could end up being a worse shooter than Rubio is currently
- What if he gets injured and is out for a significant amount of time?
All of these factors could come into play and directly affect the outcome of the season if the Timberwolves trade their only reliable point guard (at the moment) without a clear plan to replace his intangibles.
In Dunn’s two games played, he has averaged 24 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block while playing 34 minutes per game.
*Note: Dunn is currently being held out for concussion protocol. He sustained the injury against the Toronto Raptors in the second game on Sunday, July 10th.
Here is a summer league efficiency chart for the lottery picks (1-14) selected in the 2016 NBA Draft.
It is very impressive and I can see why Wolves’ fans are excited about his potential and ability.
But get a grip people, it’s summer league.
This is a league that is filled with rookies, D-Leaguers, end-of-the-bench NBA players and has-beens. This is definitely not the cream of the crop playing basketball. It’s the type of league you should definitely not hang onto to overall evaluate how a player will fair in actual NBA game play.
Cripes, if Marco Belinelli was once the “MVP” of the Las Vegas Summer League, a person should definitely not put too much stock into how they evaluate a player until they actually prove themselves in practice with their team and perform well during games that matter.
*Note: Belinelli has been an ok NBA player, a journeyman to say the least. There is nothing wrong with his career, but he was getting a lot off hype during summer league in ’07 for putting up huge numbers. This should be a clear indicator that summer league is not the best way to evaluate if a player will be good in the NBA or not.
Yes, Dunn is a very nice prospect. And yes, you can see the skill set he obtains. He looks like he will fill in very well within the new Thibodeau system. He has the length, athleticism, explosiveness, court vision, defensive tenacity and the ability to create his own shot.
In the two games he has played during summer league, he has looked amazing—I will definitely not deny that. I’m a really big fan of the pick and I am happy that he dropped to the Timberwolves in the draft. With that being said, he has done nothing yet to prove that he is better than Rubio.
The Benefits of Having Two Reliable Point Guards
Finally, why do we have to trade one or the other right away in the first place? What is wrong with having Dunn learn the ropes from Rubio for awhile, and learn how to dominate the game within the second unit? There will be plenty of opportunity to see him play with Towns, Wiggins and LaVine—and to possibly close out tight games for defensive purposes as well.
Take a look at these 2015-2016 playoff teams. In no particular order, what do you notice about Cleveland, Atlanta, Charlotte, Golden State, Dallas and San Antonio? That’s right, all these teams had two talented point guards on their rosters.
- Cleveland: Kyrie Irving and Matthew Dellavedova
- Atlanta: Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder
- Charlotte: Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin
- Golden State: Stephen Curry and Shaun Livingston
- Dallas: Deron Williams and Devin Harris/JJ Barea
- San Antonio: Tony Parker and Patty Mills
*Note: Although a few of the other playoffs teams had superstar level talent playing at point guard as well, teams such as OKC with Westbrook, Los Angeles Clippers with Chris Paul, and Portland with Damian Lillard—they did not have that much help within their second units to consider for my argument. So no disrespect was intended to those teams.
This list goes to show that it’s O.K., and probably even smart to have multiple talented point guards on the same team. Cleveland and Golden State both got to the NBA Finals with the help of two talented point guards on their rosters.
To go along with having that criteria, obtaining really Dunn brings up some serious competition for Rubio. He hasn’t had any real competition for the starting point guard position since he came into the league during the 2011-2012 season.
Even then, that was against career backup, Luke Ridnour. During his rookie season, Rubio eventually usurped the position from Ridnour, which was expected by everyone anyway.
With the addition of Dunn, the Timberwolves will definitely see a great positional battle, until ultimately someone is traded. Like Rubio, Dunn is a great defender and suspect shooter. Dunn, however, has a “future edge” because he has the ability to create his own shot, he is athletic enough to attack the rim at will, and he is three years younger than Rubio.
The two of them will be battling it out all the time which will greatly benefit both of them respectively against other competition around the NBA.
With both Rubio and Dunn on the team, the Timberwolves will finally feel comfortable knowing that when they take Rubio off the floor, a sizable lead will not be lost and epic collapses will be virtually non-existent.
There will be confidence that Dunn will be able to come in, continue to lead a strong and consistent offense, and he will continue to anchor the defense just as Rubio does.
Change on the horizon is inevitable, but the exact question is when? Could it be before the start of 2016-2017 season, or could it be two years from now? For now, the Timberwolves should continue to evaluate the players they have on hand.
Rubio still has a few years remaining on his contract, and a trade is definitely not needed at the moment. His and Dunn’s value will still be high if and when the time to make a decision between the two will be.
Having two talented point guard prospects is a wonderful problem to have. There is not one team who has ever complained about having too much talent on their hands. Let’s let Dunn prove he is better than Rubio before we crown him the victor.
He has a long journey ahead of him.
*All statistics used within this article have been pulled from NBA.com/stats and basketball-reference.com