Saturday, July 1, 2017

Ricky Rubio Trade a Big Mistake for Timberwolves

After two off-seasons of Ricky Rubio trade rumors, the Minnesota Timberwolves finally pulled the trigger on a trade yesterday that sent the much-hyped Spaniard to the Utah Jazz for a 2018 first round pick.

After garnering a lot of well deserved praise for fleecing the Bulls for superstar Jimmy Butler, Thibs and Co. have made a head scratching move in every way. The draft pick is a very minor asset, because it's top-14 protected and is actually the Oklahoma City Thunder pick. With their recent blockbuster acquisition of Paul George, that pick is likely going to fall at the end of the first round. The Wolves weren't looking to get back fair value for Rubio, of course, because they wanted to shed salary cap space to sign Jeff Teague. Teague will reportedly get a 3-year deal in the $55 million range, which makes him more expensive for a longer period of time than Rubio.

For some reason, fans and "experts" alike have been talking about how Rubio and Butler weren't an ideal backcourt pairing, as neither is a great shooter, and it was no secret the team needed to find some shooting one way or another. What seems to be forgotten is that the Timberwolves offense ranked 10th in the league last season according to most advanced metrics, and replacing Jimmy Butler with Zach Lavine is quite clearly a massive upgrade on both ends of the court.

As I've said multiple times, Lavine is a personal favorite, but as smooth as he looks shooting the ball, he shot 38% on 3's last season. Butler shot just under 37%. Lavine is a higher volume three point shooter, which helps spacing, but factoring in both players entire offensive arsenal and it's clear Butler is a far superior offensive player. Offensive fits were not a major issue last season, as evidenced by them being ranked 10th, and despite public opinion, the team was going to be just fine offensively.

Last season's issues were on the defensive side of the ball, with both Towns and Wiggins being black holes on that end of the floor. Replacing Lavine's porous defense with Butler's elite ability was a massive upgrade, so it was clear just with the Butler trade alone the team was going to be more efficient on both sides of the ball.

Unfortunately, by trading Rubio and reportedly planning to sign Jeff Teague to replace him, the team hasn't really solved their shooting problems. They've signed an older, more expensive point guard who's not a great defender and is clearly declining, while Rubio is improving every year still. In my opinion, Teague is actually a WORSE fit with the current Wolves roster, and he's more expensive/not as good. A Teague-Butler backcourt should be better defensively than a Rubio-Lavine backcourt was last season, but the team clearly under valued the kind of impact a Rubio-Butler backcourt would've had on the team's overall defense.

Players also shoot a much higher percentage playing with Rubio than without, so while Rubio's defense is what makes him so underrated, losing him is going to have an effect on the team's overall shooting percentage. Even with Rubio's own poor shooting, he does enough to improve others percentages with such great passing that it more than makes up for it.

Undoubtedly, Thibs thinks Teague is an upgrade, so he's thinking he not only used the cap space to upgrade his starting point guard, he also got the Wolves a first round pick next season when they will likely send their own first round pick to the Atlanta Hawks for the ill-fated Adrian Payne trade years ago. Thibs is wrong to think Teague is an upgrade, but that's okay because a team with stars like Towns and Butler gives the decision makers more of a cushion to make mistakes as they should win with any above average point guard.

The Timberwolves likely have a few other moves planned to fill  out their roster, and even with the downgrade at point guard yesterday they are still very likely to make the playoffs next season. To be clear, a Teague-Butler-Wiggins-Dieng-Towns starting lineup should be very good, but the organization had a better, cheaper, younger option and decided to move on from him in exchange for a pick that is likely to fall in the late 20's next season. Yuck.