Approaching the most important season of his career, Ricky Rubio is out to prove he belongs in the future plans of the Utah Jazz.
When the Jazz traded for Ricky Rubio on July 1 last season, nobody really knew what to expect. It was a move made to replace an outgoing George Hill, who had played the point guard position for the Jazz the prior season and was an excellent fit when healthy. It was a move intended to help convince Gordon Hayward to stay in Utah. Obviously, it didn’t fulfill that mission. Once Hill and Hayward signed with their respective teams elsewhere, the Jazz were left with Rubio as their starting point guard, and nobody really knew how the fit was going to be.
But once Ricky Rubio put on that Jazz jersey, it all seemed to make sense. In his eighth game as a Jazz man, he showed what he was made of and what his true value to the Jazz could be. On November 1st against the Portland Trail Blazers, Rubio led the Jazz to an overtime win against a tough division rival. He scored 30 hard-earned points, including 9 in overtime to ultimately seal the victory.
After this game, Rubio continued to show glimpses of his ceiling throughout the regular season, but struggled with consistency and control as the Jazz starting point guard. He, like most Jazz players last season, hit a low during the winter months, that injected doubt into everyone’s minds. After several poor shooting performances during the months of December and January, Ricky Rubio’s identity and value to the Utah Jazz was foggy. And then something crazy happened.
The Utah Jazz caught fire. They went on a historic run, capping off a 29-7 record to end the season. Rudy Gobert received most of the praise for such a drastic turn of events (deservedly so), but one cannot simply underestimate the impact that Ricky Rubio’s play had on this run. During this stretch to end the regular season, Rubio averaged 15 points per game on 44 percent shooting, including 41 percent from three. Rubio was a plus-345 (!!!!!!!!!!) in the plus-minus during this time, and was part of the Jazz’s best lineup which topped every other 5-man lineup in the league during the same stretch. The Jazz were 13-2 in games that Rubio scored more than 20 points. He put up some crazy performances during this stretch, including stat lines like 34/9/3 (11-14 FG) vs San Antonio on February 3, 31/8/6 on April 3 vs the Clippers, 30/7/10 on March 11 vs the Pelicans.
But aside from the stats he put up, Rubio played inspiring basketball. You could tell in those deep brown spanish eyes that Ricky Rubio wanted nothing more than to win basketball games. He wanted to make the playoffs so bad. He was near the completion of his seventh NBA season and had not yet played a playoff basketball game. As the Jazz battled for a playoff spot, no one wanted to get in more than Rubio. You could just see it every time he was on the floor. Nobody was going to get in the way of his first playoff appearance; not Jeff Teague, not Marquese Chriss, nobody.
It was one of the underrated things from last season, seeing Ricky Rubio fight for his playoff spot, and get it. But he wasn’t quite satisfied with just making the playoffs.
There is regular seasonRicky Rubio, and then there is PLAYOFF-BURN YOUR HOUSE TO THE FREAKING GROUND Ricky Rubio. If you have questions about this, just ask Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
We waited 7 years to see Ricky Rubio in the playoffs, and he did not disappoint one bit with his incredible performance in game three in Salt Lake City. He torched the Thunder for 26 points, and tabbed the first triple-double in the playoffs by a Jazz man in nearly 17 years. He took the game over in the first half, and the atmosphere in the arena was something out a sports movie or something. There was nothing like seeing Rubio play that well in that setting. Working so hard to finally get to the playoffs, getting there, and then playing out of his mind. If you listen carefully, you can still hear the echoes of “RUBIO! RUBIO! RUBIO!” chants from Vivint SmartHome Arena that evening. In that moment, Ricky Rubio was invincible.
Unfortunately, that invincibility did not last long, as Rubio left the court in game six holding his hamstring. Although the Jazz would go on to win the series and advance to the next round, they would not see any more of Ricky Rubio that season. In what was one of the hardest things Ricky Rubio has ever had to go through, he had to sit on the bench and watch his team get defeated by the Houston Rockets. It was a sour end to the incredible story of Ricky Rubio during 2017-18, and a reality check for the Utah Jazz franchise.
That was just over three months ago. The Jazz have advanced quietly through the offseason without making any crazy moves. They re-signed most of the squad, including Derrick Favors and Dante Exum. Dennis Lindsey made it clear that their main priority was keeping guys around as opposed to bringing others in. As the Jazz enter the 2018-19 NBA season, there is one question (among others) that seems to loom: What’s in store for the Utah Jazz and Ricky Rubio?
It is a fairly safe to assume that this season is the most important basketball year of Ricky Rubio’s life. Rubio is entering the final year in his four-year, $55 Million contract. He is set to make just under $15 Million this season, which is the third-highest salary the Jazz will carry. Rubio will turn 28 years old this October, entering his 8th NBA season. Rubio had the best season of his career last year, capping it off with an incredible end to the regular season and high performance in the playoffs before getting injured. Rubio showed that he can be a integral piece of a winning basketball team, but what is his true value? Is he worth throwing $17-20 Million a year at? Rubio will have an entire season to prove to Dennis Lindsey and the rest of the Jazz front office that he is.
Rubio has mentioned before how much he loves it in Utah. He spent time during the All-Star break touring one of Utah’s most beautiful areas in Bryce Canyon. He has said multiple times how much he enjoys being a player on the Utah Jazz, and how much he respects everyone in the organization. When asked where he saw himself in the future, Rubio’s response was perfect.
Ricky obviously wants to be a part of the bright future here in Utah. But can this happen at a reasonable price that benefits both parties? That is the true question at hand. Rubio and the Jazz will have an entire season to think through things and determine their respective futures.
There’s something about the way last season ended that makes me believe Ricky Rubio will be a part of the future here in Utah. Maybe it was that overtime victory against the Portland Trail Blazers, or the playoff heroics in game three vs. OKC. Maybe it was the way he held up his arms to the red and yellow gradient sea like Maximus the gladiator in Vivint Area that playoff night. Maybe it was the way he embraced Quin Snyder following that crucial playoff victory. Maybe it was the way that he and Donovan Mitchell locked arms and raised their hands to the Utah crowd following their first round playoff victory. Ricky Rubio deserves to play on a winning basketball team. He deserves this Jazz fanbase. He deserves to play alongside guys like Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles, and Donovan Mitchell. He deserves the Utah Jazz. But his future in Utah will ultimately be decided by his play this upcoming season, and how much Dennis Lindsey truly believe he ‘deserves’.