Your eyes don’t deceive you. The old Ricky Rubio is back. The defensive plus/minus wolf that ruled the Arctic North in Minnesota seems to have finally found his natural habitat in the Wasatch Front. In January, Ricky Rubio looks every bit the point guard that Dennis Lindsey bragged about becoming a Jason Kidd-lite in preseason.
In Rubio’s past five games he has averaged 12.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 1.2 steals while shooting 37.5% from three. More importantly, his plus/minus numbers look, well, more Rubio like at +8.4. Why the sudden improvement? It’s two-fold.
Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News reported that Rubio relies upon a familiar Utah Jazz point guard from yesteryear as a mentor. It’s not John Stockton; it’s Raul Lopez. For those who don’t remember Raul Lopez, he was selected by the Utah Jazz before Tony Parker, but due to injuries—and a bad fit in the NBA—he went back to Europe. He still had a stellar career in Europe and remains one of the big ifs of the post-Stockton/Malone era.
A few weeks back, Rubio called in a favor from Raul Lopez and had the Jazz alum meet him in Utah. Eric Woodyard reports that Rubio and Lopez have been working out since last summer.
“Yeah, he came last week,” Rubio said. “I’ve been working out with him the last summer. He gives me a lot of confidence.”
Lopez, now retired, is largely identified with Jazz fans for being drafted ahead of San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker with the 24th pick in 2001.
However, Rubio’s fellow Spaniard serves as a big influence for his career.
“We worked out last summer and then he came in the beginning of the season and he came last week,” Rubio said.
The other reason for Rubio’s improvement? Pace. Prior to January, here’s how the Utah Jazz ranked in terms of pace.
October - 30th
November - 25th
December - 24th
But then in January, something changed. The Utah Jazz for the first time in the Rudy Gobert era, are not one of the 10 slowest teams in the league. Their league ranking in pace over the last 7 games in January? 11th. They went from 96 possessions a game in October to 100 possessions a game by the end of January. The result has been Rubio being able to display his unique skillset in transition. This is the Rubio that was worth trading a late 1st round draft pick for. Whether he stays with Utah past the NBA Trade Deadline is unsure, but if these are the last days of Ricky Rubio in Utah, he’s going out in style.