The Cleveland Cavaliers were both eager and happy to sign Ricky Rubio last offseason.
Getting a true backup point guard behind Darius Garland, especially a stable veteran, was paramount. After all, the Garland-Rubio backcourt was one of the best two-man combinations in the league at the time. Had it not been for a torn ACL, the second of his career, the Cavs may not have floundered in the play-in tournament that season.
Plus, Rubio’s locker room presence was just as important as his on-court performance.
“I really do believe he was the one who encompassed everything that we were about last year,” Kevin Love said last September. “Building the culture here, he was such a big part of that. Even when he wasn’t around, his presence was felt.” The culture-conscience Cavs knew they would be getting not only a capable point guard, but a locker room guy to keep the young core on track.
But once Rubio made his season debut after recovering from the ACL tear, it was quickly apparent that the former lottery pick had lost a step. He looked visibly slower overall and less mobile on defense. His three-point shooting, a respectable 33.9% the year prior, took a huge hit to 25.6%. Really, his entire offensive game was critically poor from shooting near the rim to his assist numbers. The Cavs were a better team with Rubio off the floor, -3.0, versus a +5.4 in 2021-22 per Cleaning the Glass. That 8.4 swing was very noticeable.
Fast forward to the Cavs-Knicks playoff series it was abundantly clear that Rubio was not playable. In 17 playoff minutes he attempted one shot and turned the ball over five times. The Cavs, predictably, lost those minutes heavily. That stretch was a microcosm of the regular season, one in which Rubio was consistently trying to find his footing and then getting benched when it hit crunch time. And in the playoffs, every minute is crunch time.
Rubio has always had a low lift-off on his jumpers, but this past season it looked like he rarely even got off the ground. That resulted in blocked shots and misses off the front iron, which can lead to fastbreak opportunities for opponents (related but not only due to Rubio: the Cavs were 9th in transition defense, but 15% of opponent possessions started via fastbreak per Cleaning the Glass). Even near the rim, Rubio was uncharacteristically poor. He shot 38% near the rim, his lowest rate since the 2014-15 season per Cleaning the Glass.
His one attempt in the playoffs was a near wide-open layup, made especially cruel after deking out Immanuel Quickley and getting a clear lane to the hole. The confidence fell after that.
Putting it lightly, it was a difficult season for Rubio. Undoubtedly, recovery is more difficult now for the 32-year-old Spaniard than it was in 2012 when he tore his ACL on a Kobe Bryan knee knock. But there is some urgency for both sides to get things righted. The Cavs have Rubio under contract for the next two years and limited spending capabilities and assets to try and find another backup point guard. Rubio has a long list of injuries, and his career is winding down. Hopefully a full offseason and a humbling in the playoffs will leave everybody, including Rubio, with a renewed sense of motivation.