With the fear of losing George Hill in free agency and their cap space set to expire when the NBA league year rolls over on July 1st, the Utah Jazz invested in point guard insurance in case George Hill leaves by trading a first round pick for Ricky Rubio.
Rubio’s reputation around the NBA has unfairly taken a hit as his shooting has never developed, but he’s one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA and remains an extraordinarily gifted passer. Surround Rubio with shooting and the equation is entirely different, such as letting him replace John Wall on the Wizards where he can operate with Bradley Beal and Otto Porter on the wings.
The Wolves were desperate to add shooting from the point guard position and his skill-set is unneeded with their pair of ball dominant wings in Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins, who operate at a deficiency with their own shooting. That lack of shooting at point guard is compounded by Tom Thibodeau’s insistence on playing two traditional bigs.
Rubio still ranked ninth amongst point guards in Real Plus Minus and can be a well above league average point guard with the right surrounding pieces. No matter what happens during Utah’s very uncertain 2017 offseason, Rubio will be a better fit with them than he was ever going to be with the Wolves. Rubio hasn't had an offense capable of maximizing his strengths as much as Quin Snyder's system can.
Rubio is also affordably signed for two more seasons at $14.25 million and $14.95 million. He will remain a tradeable player on a contract that’s about league average for a starter depending on what happens with Hill and Dante Exum. Trading for Rubio instead of reaching an uncomfortable contract with Hill also improves their ability to re-sign Joe Ingles.
When Hill rejected Utah’s renegotiate and extend offer in February, the signal was clear that re-signing him would be difficult. The Jazz were allowed to offer up to a four-year, $88.3 million deal, which computed to a three-year, $74.7 million deal plus an additional $13.6 million for 16-17.
Re-signing Hill has reportedly been a key element of also re-signing Gordon Hayward. Trading for Rubio doesn’t rule out Hill with the Jazz, but it is a clear signal of their pessimism. At the very least, Utah enters those negotiations with Hill with some modicum of leverage. This is a creative use of cap space and excess draft picks to give the team insurance.
Grade for Jazz: A-
Rubio was a talented player that didn’t fit with the Wolves’ personnel due to his lack of perimeter shooting and they had to trade him. Trading Rubio on the eve of July 1st for a first round pick to create enough cap space to pursue a free agent point guard that can operate as a spot-up shooter was the smart play for the Wolves. The free agent point guard market is saturated, which means this trade benefits the Wolves in two ways: Rubio could be less valuable in a week or two when that market settles, and they should be able to sign a free agent point guard for less money than we would have guessed a few months ago now that so many teams drafted point guards.
Any of the free agent point guards (Hill, Kyle Lowry, Jeff Teague or Jrue Holiday) fit far better with Minnesota's roster composition than Rubio. Minnesota has never been a strong free agent destination, but the momentum of trading for Butler on top of their Karl-Anthony Towns and Wiggins core, plus the lack of logical landing spots, should result in a free agent move.
The addition of a first round pick from Utah could also allow the Wolves to unload additional salary such as Cole Aldrich.
Grade for Wolves: A
Rubio has been on the trading block for months and he’ll return to it immediately again if the Jazz re-sign Hill. If Rubio remains with the Jazz, they will have two of the best defensive players in the league at center and point guard. On the other end of the floor, Rubio and Rudy Gobert will be a good pick-and-roll combination if they’re surrounded with shooting.
Rubio figures to have a bigger role with the Jazz for at least a fringe playoff contender and that should help his free agent value for 2019.
Grade for Ricky Rubio: A