It's a sunny day in early fall in Barcelona as a shaggy-haired, wiry 14-year-old sits on the sidelines watching the training session of Spanish League ACB powerhouse Joventut Badalona. Next thing he knows he is borrowing a friend’s pair of shoes and is full speed in the heat of the practice. The legend is born.
“Spanish Pistol Pete” meets “Spanish Justin Bieber.” That is the essence of Ricky Rubio and the folklore he created by becoming the youngest player ever to play in an ACB game. (This would be the equivalent of Coach K at Duke asking a high school freshman to suit up for his team). Rubio had become the idol of every young Spanish player and had etched his name on the future wish lists of NBA GM’s.
Fast-forward nine years to present day Minneapolis, Minnesota. Rubio and his Timberwolves teammates are struggling once again, fighting to stay around .500 and in the playoff race in the West. This was supposed to be the year the T-Wolves took the next step and established themselves as a Western Conference power with All-Star forward Kevin Love and a healthy Ricky Rubio leading the way.
Quickly, all of the promise and hope resting on Rubio’s shoulders of becoming the next great point guard in the NBA has been slipping off target. I’m not saying that he can’t get to that level, as he possesses one of the greatest abilities to see plays before they happen that I have ever witnessed. However, there is one thing that is holding him back: his lack of shooting ability. Just like his potential to be great has been off target, so has his shot. Historically off target.
Rubio is currently on pace to be the worst percentage shooter in NBA history. Yes, you heard that right, worst in history. And if he doesn’t fix his deficiencies in his shot, he won’t ever reach his full potential and the mythical-like legend of Ricky Rubio in Spain will remain just that, a myth.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH RICKY RUBIO'S SHOT?
Rubio is on pace to become the worst shooter in the modern history of the NBA. In a league that has had thousands of players since its inception – including shooting phenoms such as Rajon Rondo, Nikoloz Tskitishvili (look him up) and many two-hand heave pre-jump shot shooters – how could Rubio be the worst ever? Simple, almost every aspect of his shot is flawed. Anytime the label of “worst ever” is attached to a player’s name, it is not to be taken lightly.
And if becoming the “worst ever” wasn’t bad enough, Rubio is also on pace to have one of the worst individual shooting seasons ever as well. Rubio currently ranks 385th in field-goal percentage with a points per possession of 1.07, a lower output than PG Brian Roberts of New Orleans. Who? Exactly my point.
As a professional shooting coach, I could write a novel on Rubio’s shooting flaws and what he needs to do to correct them. However, for the sake of my sanity and yours, I will just cover the main points.
Ideally, a shooter’s catch-and-release should be under one second (Ray Allen: 0.73 seconds). Rubio has been clocked in the 1.5-1.8 range.
You can check the temperature and the barometric pressure in the arena before Rubio is able to get his shot off. With a release this slow, it does not matter how much separation he is able to get, an NBA level defender will be able to close out from almost anywhere on the defensive end. This allows Rubio’s defender to sag off of him to the extent where the defender is becoming similar to a free safety in football, helping where needed and still being able to recover to contest a Rubio jumper.
Not only does the lack of defender’s respect of Rubio’s jump shot hurt his teammates as double team situations are more prominent (just ask Kevin Love), but it also reduces the amount of open area for teammates to cut and operate on the offensive end.
Another main inefficiency that causes Rubio to be a less than desirable shooter, which I find rather surprising given his European upbringing, is his lack of a floater.
Rubio is known for being crafty, witty and smart. As a below average athlete from Europe with a great feel for the game, how has he never developed a floater? He needs to attend the “Tony Parker School of Floaters.” Parker, at a generous 6-foot1, consistently is near the top of the league in points in the paint. In 2013, Parker averaged 10.1 points per game in the paint alone. Rubio’s career points per game average – 10.1.
The need for a floater in Rubio’s game is glaring, as he finishes around the rim at 38.8 percent and even worse in the mid-range at 31 percent. In the zone below the free throw line, where most players will attempt a floater, Rubio has only attempted five shots all season! And, of course, is 0/5 on those attempts.
He is arguably one of the worst finishers in the NBA. And at 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds holding a bag of wrenches, Rubio is not able to absorb the contact needed to finish at the rim. Rubio’s game is based on deception and seeing the play before it happens. The key to possessing a great floater is based on deception and being able to release it before the defender is even able to leave the floor to contest it.
Rubio is only 23 years old, he’s still too young and too talented to write off and claim he has plateaued and hit his peak as a player. However, as a shooting coach, what frightens me the most with players and their overall development is when their confidence is visually shaken. From studying film on Rubio, this is clearly the case.
The majority of the shots that Rubio shoots he is heavily aiming the shot and in a sense just hoping it goes in. When a shooter’s mindset is ‘hope it goes in’ as opposed to ‘know it goes in,’ this has a drastic effect on the shooter’s confidence. Players begin to aim their shot instead of trusting the process of their stroke.
Confidence is not an analytical statistic that can be measured but it is visible and illuminated though Rubio’s percentages. Rubio ranks in the bottom half of the league in five of the six main shooting situations (Pick-and-roll, spot up, transition, hand off, isolation). The only one he doesn’t is off-screen situations which he has only attempted 2.7 percent of his total shots.
A glaring stat that reflects Rubio’s lack of confidence in his own shot is his clutch statistics (fourth quarter or overtime stats). Rubio is shooting 22.2 percent and his Timberwolves are -12.9 points per 48 minutes with him on the floor in clutch situations.
WHAT SHOULD RICKY RUBIO DO TO REMEDY THE PROBLEM?
Like I had previously mentioned, the good news is Rubio is only 23 and he possesses one of the greatest natural feels for the game as any player in the league. It’s been questioned that Rubio is a system PG and that he isn’t in the right system in Minnesota, a franchise notoriously known for acquiring PG’s and not developing any of them (Jonny Flynn, Ramon Sessions, Sebastian Telfair, JJ Barea).
However, if a player is going to be a transcendent talent (which I believe Rubio can be), it doesn’t matter what system they are playing in.
All of Rubio’s inefficiencies are able to be fixed, but for a player that has built in his habits playing professionally since age 14, it will not be an overnight cure and will quite possibly take a couple offseasons of extensive work to fix.
There is no question that Rubio has to develop a much quicker release to become a viable threat so that defenders are not able to leave Rubio on an island and still have the time to recover and contest his shot.
Shot preparation, both mentally and physically, is extremely important for Rubio. Also, increased foot speed and making his move into receiving the ball when it is in flight as opposed to waiting for the catch to enter his pre-shot motion will shave off at least 0.5 seconds on his release time.
The second factor Rubio needs to implement to increase release time is exploding into his shot with the power he generated in the first phase of the pre-shot motion and implementing what I call snapping up into his shot.
Everything needs to finish in ‘triple-extension’ – ankles, hips, arm. At the optimal release point of a player’s shot (slightly before the peak of their jump) ankles are locked in full extension, hips are locked forward, and shooting elbow is locked straight out directly above the ear.
Rubio’s ability to add a consistent floater in his repertoire will depend on his ability and desire to become more of a student of the game. Similar to LeBron James developing a low-post game by studying the greats and relentlessly working on the craft during the offseason, Rubio will need to do the same in order to master the floater. When I teach the floater, I make my players watch film on Tony Parker.
Study the best, mimic the best.
Rubio needs to realize that finishing at the rim in the NBA is notches above finishing at the rim in Spain. Creating for teammates and distributing is Rubio’s obvious strong point. With a newly added floater in his arsenal, defenders will now have to respect his scoring ability, which will only open up more direct scoring opportunities for teammates.
Confidence is the feeling or belief that one can succeed and rely on their abilities with firm trust in themselves. Without Rubio being able to trust his shot, he will never have the overall confidence in his game that is needed to continue to develop into a top-tier PG. Look at a couple other young PG’s, Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, and tell me they don’t have confidence oozing from them. They know that no matter what position they are in on the court; scoring, playmaking, shooting, they will always be able to succeed at a high level.
Rubio does not have that same confidence in himself. Confidence is built through repetition and experiencing yourself succeed in situations that you previously failed in. As a shooter, confidence grows every time you see the ball go through the net. It’s about trusting the process and expecting the results every single time. ‘Hoping it goes in’ becomes ‘knowing it goes in.”
Rubio has the intangibles to become one of the greatest playmaking PG’s of all-time. His ability to see plays develop before they happen is second to none in the league. However, if he doesn’t improve his shooting ability, increase his shot release speed, add a reliable floater to his game, and gain more confidence shooting the basketball he will never become the player he has potential to become; possibly the best European-born player of all-time.
The hopes and dreams of his native homeland of Spain rest on his shoulders. Trust me, I know. When I played professionally in Spain, everyone I encountered had their own story and legend of Rubio. He was already an icon, he was the chosen one. Now, on the world’s greatest stage, he must prove why he was chosen.