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Ricky Rubio and the Utah Jazz: A Match in Heaven

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The Utah Jazz for the second year in a row found a hand in glove fit for their defensive identity.

Last year George Hill came over with his Indy and San Antonio bred grit and took Utah to another level. This year? Newly acquired Ricky Rubio is stepping up to the plate. Ricky Rubio is not only going to fill George Hill’s shoes he’s going to create a more lasting legacy.

The Utah Jazz is a team that prides itself in its defensive identity. They play slow and grind out wins. They turn the court into a minefield. You want to drive to the paint? Meet Rudy Gobert. You want to sneak a pass through the perimeter? Meet Joe Ingles and George Hill. You want to grab a rebound? Meet Derrick Favors. You want to outsmart your competition? Meet Gordon Hayward. With Rubio they doubled down on the ability flashed by Hill last year to destroy pick and rolls on defense and ballhawk passing lanes.

Defense

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

George Hill last year in the pick in roll allowed 0.87 points per possession. Compare that to Rubio who allowed 0.85. Rubio is just a hair better, but he’s not going to be slowing down due to age. Rubio just turned 26 compared to George Hill who just turned 31. In addition, Rubio’s opponents decided to test his defensive prowess less only attempting 4.4 shots per game against vs George Hill’s 5.3. Even more promising is Rubio’s opponents only scored 38.7% of the time vs Hill whose opponents scored 39.9% of the time. Once again, Hill will drop off as he gets older. Rubio is hitting his prime.

Rubio is a ballhawk. George Hill throughout his entire career has averaged about a steal a game. That’s not bad. With Rubio the Jazz are getting a disruptor. Rubio has averaged 2.1 steals a game his entire career. It’s only going to get better, too. With Rudy Gobert protecting his six, Rubio can gamble even more on defense and know that Utah’s disciplined defense will react, recover, and allow him to make the play. With Rudy Gobert in the paint, Ricky Rubio could be poised to set a career high in steals next season.

Offense

Transition

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret the Utah Jazz like to play slow, but many look at their season totals and forget they like to play in transition. In fact they were the best team in transition. WHAT? BUT THE JAZZ HAD THE FEWEST POINTS IN TRANSITION. Just because they were slow like a lumbering elephant doesn’t mean they weren’t elegant in transition. They averaged a league best 1.22 points per possession in transition. Watch as Ricky Rubio does something very few Jazz point guards have been able to do since Deron Williams left. Execute the 3 on 1 fastbreak without trying to hero ball it to the rim.

Rubio is fantastic in the open court. He’s a monster in transition. Add Utah’s weapons of Hayward, Gobert, Ingles, Hood, Exum, and Mitchell into this mix and Utah becomes a scary transition team. Watch as Rubio has the presence of mind to know who is running trailer. Instead of having a shot blocked from behind he throws up this highlight reel pass. This will be Rudy Gobert or Gordon Hayward next year instead of Shabazz.

Halfcourt

It’s no secret that Utah likes to play slow. That won’t change next year. But the speed in which they execute their sets will increase with Rubio. Rubio will no doubt find the open man. He sees the floor like none other and thrives in the halfcourt. The Utah Jazz’s halfcourt offense will soon be thriving. Marvel at how Rubio turns Darko Milicic into a serviceable big man. Now think at how that will be Rudy Gobert and not a bust who doesn’t care about basketball.

Ricky Rubio has an assist percentage of 38.5%. While Utah will miss George Hill’s hot shooting, they were sorely missing a distributor who could get others going. Rubio will allow Hayward to not work as hard on offense and take the pressure of Hayward to create for himself.

Watch in this play as the opposing team tries to trap Rubio in the pick and roll and Rubio is able to use his size to get the ball to a wide open Karl Anthony-Towns.

You will also notice that he passes players open. He doesn’t just find players, he pushes the play forward with his passes. Imagine that Gordon Hayward lop to an alley oop next year. It’ll be on steroids with Rubio directing the action.

Roster Fit

Most importantly Ricky Rubio matches Utah’s potential core of Hayward, Gobert, Hood, Mitchell, and Exum in age. He’s 26. He’s also playing for his next contract. George Hill could have been returning to Utah after getting his final big money contract. While the guy works his tail off, the incentive to outperform his contract wouldn’t be the same. Rubio is working for his next big payday over the next two years.

Quin Snyder is also great with international players. Look at the development of Dante Exum, Joe Ingles, and, most importantly, Rudy Gobert. Quin is great at maximizing his player’s skills. George Hill had a career year in Utah last year under Snyder. Just imagine what Quin can do with Ricky Rubio who’s entering his prime.

The Utah Jazz hit pay dirt with the trade for Ricky Rubio. He fits them defensively and offensively like a glove. He’s going to make Utah a very dangerous team. Now Utah just has to get its star back in Gordon Hayward.