The Runner Sports

Can Ricky Rubio And Jimmy Butler Work Together Offensively?

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ acquisition of Jimmy Butler means coach Tom Thibodeau will have to figure out if there is enough space for everyone to flourish. This starts with the point guard Ricky Rubio.

The Wolves managed to pull off the most daring draft night moves in franchise history by trading two young players in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn for an established star in Jimmy Butler. Jimmy Butler is a lock-down defender who relishes the opportunity to play one-on-one defense against the opposition’s best wing player. On first glance, the trade seems like a big win but an in-depth analysis of the current Wolves roster as assembled reveals serious spacing issues.

Can Ricky Rubio and Jimmy Butler coexist?

 As of Tuesday, Ricky Rubio is still the starting point guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but things can change quickly in the NBA. Rubio has been the source of trade rumors for several years but a deal with another team has not been reached due to the Rubio’s impact on the defensive end and the value of the remainder of his contract (3 years, $42.3 million). Rubio is a controversial player in Minnesota, with his ardent supporters arguing that he is good enough for the team and they point to his improved his shooting post All-Star break last year. His naysayers put forward the case that a three-month sample does not outweigh the years of shaky shooting Rubio has displayed. The answer, like most things, lies in the middle with neither camp acknowledging each other’s valid points.

Rubio is a gifted passer who can manipulate the ball with spin in such a way that he can deliver passes most people would think are impossible.  In the GIF below, there are several things that have to happen in order for this pass to work. Rubio has to be a credible threat at the rim for the defender to double him. Rubio then has to take a decisive step to left and wrap the ball around in his hand. The ball has to have enough spin on it to allow the center to catch it. All of this processes in Rubio’s mind in a couple of milliseconds. Genius.

However, Rubio’s lack of outside shooting is a frustrating limitation that can’t be overlooked in today’s three-point shooting league. Almost every year the league, as a whole, attempts and makes more three-point shots, and this reached new heights with teams making 10 three-pointers a game. Point guards are no longer limited to just creating, they are now usually the primary scorers and three-point shooters. Rubio is a career 32% three-point shooter, which is well below the league average of 36%; this means that guards can sag off him at the three-point line and instead trap or double other players. What makes his lack of three-point shooting frustrating is that Rubio is an excellent free-throw shooter (89% for his career). His mechanics at the line are solid and do not betray his poor shooting from deep.

Jimmy Butler is many things, but a consistent shooter is not one of his best qualities as his shot is unreliable at best and awful at his very worst. When Butler declared for the draft he was not expected to achieve much as scouts thought his shot was beyond redemption, and whilst they were wrong about his fit in the league they were right about his jump shot. Butler is a career 34% from deep, and when guarding a superstar player like Butler, defenses have to pick their poison as Butler get points regardless. If Butler shoots eleven threes and they go in, you can live with the result, but if he gets layups constantly, then something has gone wrong.

A lineup of Rubio and Butler shrinks the court significantly as the opposing team is willing to pack the paint and dare the duo to beat them with three-pointers. If you throw in Gorgui Dieng, who can’t hit anything from deep, then that leaves the team with two average shooters. Andrew Wiggins and the team’s center, Karl-Anthony Towns. This is not an ideal situation because this will pull Towns away from the rim and reduce the number of rebounds he can get. This benefits the other team as it will allow for them to have more possessions so they will have more chances to score, making it harder for the Wolves to win games.

Rubio and Butler won’t work

Ricky Rubio has been a joy to watch in Minnesota and his infectious personality combined with his mind-boggling passes have made him a firm fan favorite at Target Center. Yet, if the Wolves are to unlock the true potential of their roster, they need to move Rubio and acquire some serious three-point shooting. One player they should target in free agency is backup point guard for the San Antonio Spurs Patty Mills, who is a career 40% shooter from deep. The Wolves have the cap space to pay Mills and he would be a great addition as he comes from a winning team whose name is synonymous with culture. This is something the Wolves badly need after 13 straight years of missing the playoffs. Rubio has been nothing short of a consummate professional during his time in Minnesota despite trade rumors swirling during his tenure in Minneapolis. It’s the difficult choice but the right decision to make.

Mustafa Noor

Mustafa Noor

Writer at Runner sports
London based writer covering the Minnesota Timberwolves for the runner sports. Mustafa is well aware that the Timberwolves have not made the playoffs for 13 straight years
Mustafa Noor