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2023-2024 Cleveland Cavaliers season preview: Ricky Rubio

It is up in the air as to what Rubio will be able to provide the Cavs this season. 

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

It was a trying year for Ricky Rubio. One of the most important players for the Cavs just two years ago, Rubio regressed last season as he recovered from ACL surgery. When he did return to the court, Rubio was not at full strength. He looked visibly slower, less agile, and still while getting comfortable on the floor. In August, Rubio decided to step away from professional basketball (both NBA and internationally) to focus on his mental health. With no clear return date, Rubio can only be considered an unknown for the upcoming season.

Name: Ricky Rubio

Position: PG

Age: 33

Height: 6’2’

Weight: 190

2022-23 stats: 33 games played, 17.2 minutes per game, 5.2 points per game, 2.1 rebounds per game, 3.5 assists per game, 34.8% shooting percentage

It is challenging to gauge what Rubio will be able to provide this upcoming season. While the Cleveland Cavaliers have supported Rubio and indicated they will be patient with him, there is still a hole at backup point guard. And it’s not clear if he’ll be around to fill it.

As of now, it appears that a committee of Caris LeVert and Ty Jerome will be utilized for the ball-handler duties. If/when Rubio returns and, if he looks healthy, Jerome will likely be relegated to the role formerly filled by Raul Neto. But that caveat of “if healthy” is doing some heavy lifting.

In watching just a few games of Rubio last season, it was quite clear that he was still getting up to game speed. He looked much slower on the floor, particularly on offense, and appeared a step or two off defensively. Rubio got to the rim only 20% of the time, tied for a career-low, and was in the first percentile in efficiency from there per Cleaning the Glass. That could be an indication he was hesitant going to the rim due to the knee injury, or he was getting cut off by defenders easily.

The result of the low frequency of shots at the rim was more three-point shots, which led to a career-worst 26% from deep (fifth percentile for guards per Cleaning the Glass). His assist rate stayed quite high, as expected with the Cavs’ top-ten offense, and the turnovers remained low. Rubio remains a gifted passer, but his net zero on offense in everything else bogs down the flow. Pair Rubio’s poor offensive showing with a bench devoid of spacing and it was a recipe for disaster. For the first time since 2012, a team with Rubio on it was a net negative with him on the floor (-3.0, -7 expected wins per Cleaning the Glass).

Notice in the series of clips above that all of Rubio’s shots hit the front iron, an indication that he is not getting lift on his shots.

There is no way to evaluate Rubio for this upcoming season given the Cavs do not know when, or if, he will return to the team. There is a non-zero chance that he does not come back, leaving the Cavs with a hole at backup point guard that may need to be addressed during the season. The most important thing, however, is that Rubio’s mental health gets to a point where he is happy with it. Putting basketball to the side is not easy for a professional, especially an international phenom like Rubio was out of Spain. Hopefully, he can return to the organization in a better space mentally. If he is, and his health is in good order, there is no doubt that a return to the 2021-2022 version of Rubio would be a huge boost for the Cavs. Remember, in 2021-22 lineups with Rubio and Darius Garland on the floor together had a net rating of +16.2 — one of the best in the league per Cleaning the Glass. It was not long ago that Rubio was essential to the Cavs’ success, and his knee injury that season hampered the team after that. Hopefully, he will be able to return to the team healthy and happy. But until then, the Cavs will have to navigate their backup guard roles without him.