As many of you have no doubt seen and discussed, the Detroit Pistons have, according to Marc Stein and his slew of unnamed sauces, have been in contact with the Minnesota Timberwolves about swapping Reggie Jackson for Ricky Rubio.
Story going online now with @ChrisBHaynes: ESPN sources say Minnesota and Detroit have discussed a PG swap of Ricky Rubio and Reggie Jackson— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) January 21, 2017
Stein expands in his piece which you can read here that any deal would likely include an assortment of interlocking prospects and whatnot to make this deal work, including
55 24 year old Shabazz Muhammad, but for the point of this analysis lets simply focus on the grand pieces of this trade.
Base Numbers 2016/17
Jackson: 23 gm (23 starts), 16.7 pts, 5.3 ast, 2.3 reb, .436/.374/.863, 29.0 min
Rubio: 38 gm (38 starts), 7.7 pts, 7.9 ast, 3.9 reb, .371/.241/.877, 31.6 min
Just by running a cursory eye over these numbers, clear styles of play emerge, even if you didn’t watch any film of the two players. Jackson, as everyone knows, is an attacking, score-first point guard who is a good-not-great distributor, while Rubio is at the other end of the spectrum, someone willing to look for teammates, coaches and fans before himself, evidenced by his higher assist numbers and shocking shooting percentages.
It’s all well and good to just glance at the raw counting stats and make assumptions but lets take a deeper dive into why I believe this trade would be a terrible mistake.
And to be brutally honest, there really only needs to be one major observation made as to why a Jackson-for-Rubio swap would hinder the Pistons offense.
Pick and Roll Efficiency
Any point guard being inserted into the Detroit Pistons as currently constructed needs to have the ability to play the pick and roll effectively on the offensive end. With such a dangerous roll man in Andre Drummond and a plethora of decent, if not underperforming, shooters surrounding the action, the point guard needs to be a threat as both a playmaker and scorer.
Reggie Jackson has proven to be a lethal asset when operating in the pick and roll for Detroit during his tenure. Since returning from injury this season, Jackson has operated in the pick and roll as the ball handler on 59.9 percent of his possessions, using 10.4 of these possessions per game, which places Jackson at 6th in the league in PNR possessions per game (behind Kemba Walker, Russell Westbrook, John Wall, James Harden and DeMar DeRozan). In fact, his 59.9 percent frequency ranks him at 3rd in the league, although the two ahead of him are Detroit third-stringer Beno Udrih (#FreeBeno) and Houston benchwarmer Tyler Ennis.
Basically, Jackson runs a metric f**kton of pick-and-roll offense, but he also does it at a pretty decent level of efficiency. Bearing in mind that the league has shifted heavily to a pick-and roll-offense over the past couple of years, as last season, Jackson’s 0.88 points per possession (PPP) in the PNR was in the 77th percentile among qualified players. This season so far, Jackson is generating a very similar amount of PPP at 0.86 but is only in the 63rd percentile. His rank as a scorer this season compares favourably with John Wall (0.88, 67th percentile) and Russell Westbrook (0.85, 63rd percentile).
Jackson’s PNR numbers are decent for a lead guard in a PNR-heavy league, but could be better. However, have in mind the PNR relies heavily on the players surrounding the action. When comparing to Ricky Rubio, Jackson looks like a pick and roll wizard.
Ricky Rubio has one of the NBA’s most lethal young big men at his disposal in stretch phenom Karl-Anthony Towns, a threat to roll aggressively for a dunk and also spot up and sink a 3-pointer. Yet it appears that Rubio isn’t even the Wolves top PNR option as the ball handler, as he only uses 2.6 PNR possessions per game, a frequency of 29.2 percent. Meanwhile, both Andrew Wiggins (7.2) and Zach Lavine (4.4) use more possessions than Rubio, which is understandable given their athleticism. The disturbing part is the PPP that each of these players generates. Wiggins, in his 7.2 PNR possessions, generates 0.77 PPP (45th percentile), Zach Lavine, MIP candidate, operates at a 0.88 PPP (66th percentile). Ricky Rubio, meanwhile, generates a measly 0.62 PPP in the pick and roll (18th percentile), a mark that rates him as marginally better than Dion Waiters, and worse than Jeff Green, Marcus Smart and Matthew Dellavedova (sorry, Delly). The Wolves also turn it over 31.2 percent of the time in a Rubio PNR, compared to a 16.2 percent turnover rate in Jackson-led pick and rolls.
Lets take a look at this one example here from a recent Wolves game against Utah. Now, remember that Utah is a stellar defensive team, but look at how they defend this PNR between Rubio and Gorgui Dieng. To be fair to Rubio, it’s more of a slip screen that fails to make any contact to Rubio’s defender, George Hill, but Hill is able to navigate fairly easily by going under and cutting off the baseline angle while Rudy Gobert can freely backtrack to maintain Dieng. Meanwhile, weakside defenders Gordon Hayward and Joe Ingles have no need to abandon their men, meaning passing lanes to Wiggins or Lavine are closed. The right play would be a swing to Towns up top as Derrick Favors inexplicably digs down to help contain the Dieng roll, but Rubio forces a bad pass into the corner and throws it out of bounds.
Here’s another example of Rubio getting trapped and being forced into a bad pass. Again, running a PNR with the man being defended by Giannis probably isn’t optimal offense but lets go with it. Rubio decides to pick up his dribble after being forced towards the sideline by noted defensive stalwart Jason Terry and an aggressive hedge by Giannis, and Milwaukee’s rotation is textbook. Rubio doesn’t have the athleticism and driving ability to split or scoot around a PNR defender so he tries to force a pass in to Dieng which sails over his head. Dieng is rotated to by the weakside corner defender in Tony Snell, while both Greg Monroe (Gurg Munrow for the hardcore) and Michael Beasley stay at home. The only available pass is a long cross-court pass to Zach Lavine in the opposite corner (Snell’s man) that would have likely resulted in either a turnover or at the very best Lavine being stuck in the corner with defensive rotations.
It’s not like Rubio doesn’t have weapons at his disposal. He has a lethal big man in Towns, a reliable midrange pick and pop guy in Dieng and a hyperathletic wing in Wiggins. Unfortunately, his lack of athleticism and jumpshot allow defenders to sag off onto his options and limit his effectiveness.
Now lets see how Jackson is so effective in the PNR.
Now, strictly speaking it’s not a true PNR because there isn’t really a screen set but the action points to that being the designed play so we’ll roll with it. Drummond motions to come up and set the screen for Jackson. Malcolm Delaney, noticing this, shuffles to his right to prepare to fight the screen. Jackson notices counters by accelerating down the lane and blowing by Kris Humphries in the process. The difference between Jackson and Rubio is that Jackson is a legitimate threat to finish inside and has the necessary athleticism to do so. Therefore, the entire Atlanta defence collapses inside to stop him, including Stanley Johnson’s man, Tim Hardaway Jr. Jackson makes the right read, whipping the cross court pass for the Stanley three.
This time there is an actual screen set by Andre for the Reggie drive. This time, though, Reggie will take it himself to the basket. Kemba Walker is run off the play early and as a result is always trailing as Jackson attacks a retreating Spencer Hawes. As he penetrates, a passing lane to KCP in the nearside corner becomes available as Ramon Sessions collapses to help, but Reggie demonstrates body control and finishing to flip it around Hawes and draw the and-one opportunity.
As we can see, for the system the Pistons run, and given the two options of Ricky Rubio and Reggie Jackson, it becomes clear that Jackson is the far better option. With an offense heavily reliant on the PNR like the Pistons utilize, adding a point like Rubio, who is in the bottom quarter of the league, makes little to no sense. Reggie may not be the perfect point guard for the system, but his ability to attack off the dribble, find open shooters and hit the three when a defender ducks under the screen are all valuable attributes that Rubio does not possess. Sure, Rubio can playmake, but the same passing lanes that are available to Jackson won’t be for Rubio because of his status as a nonfactor shooting the ball and his inability to attack off the dribble.
For any Wolves fans that stumble onto this piece, this is not a hateful barrage of slander against Ricky Rubio. He is a fantastic player, one who defends the position well and has a deserved reputation as someone who can set up teammates. However, from a Pistons perspective, for the PNR-heavy system the team runs, Reggie Jackson is a far better point guard for the team than Rubio, and an already struggling offense would go further downhill. This would be a panic move by SVG and Bower, and a pretty shoddy one at that.
What do you think? Have your say below.
All stats taken from Basketball-Reference and NBA.com. Video sourced from 3ball.io.