Oklahoma City • Long after his teammates left the floor at the Toyota Center following Monday morning’s shootaround in Houston, Ricky Rubio stayed behind to get shots up with Utah Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov.
It was tedious work, featuring countless 3-pointers, runners and floaters from different depths and angles. Occasionally, Kokoskov would stop Rubio and offer Utah’s starting point guard words of advice. But mostly, Rubio was in consistent motion, trying to fix the shot that has come and gone during his entire NBA career.
Rubio’s first season with the Utah Jazz hasn’t been a smooth one. He’s averaging 3.1 turnovers per game, something he hasn’t done since his 2011-2012 rookie season. He’s averaging 4.9 assists per game, which is far and away a career-low. He’s shooting 29 percent from 3-point range and he’s shooting 39 percent from the field overall.
His adjustment has been difficult, and he’s the first to admit it. Transitioning to the Jazz, their offense and personnel is all new to him after playing six years with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“It’s been a different type of game,” Rubio said. “It’s something I have to get used to and it’s taken more time than we thought. But at some point, it’s all going to click and we’re going to get the chemistry down. It has to be a balance between individual and team work.”
Ricky Rubio update<br>• Was acquired last summer from the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for a protected future first-round pick from Oklahoma City.<br>• Has scored in double-figures in five of his last six games.<br>• Scored 14 points, handed out four assists and grabbed three rebounds in Monday night’s loss to the Houston Rockets.
Rubio’s strength is his passing, his ability to fit passes into tight windows and his fearlessness. He’s annually been one of the NBA’s assist leaders because he’s never been afraid to take a chance. He’ll whip a pass behind his back, or behind his head or over his shoulder without much of a thought.
That mentality worked in Minnesota, when he played with Kevin Love and Karl-Anthony Towns. But those two bigs have some of the best hands in the league. More importantly, they could shoot the ball from the perimeter, which added a pick-and-pop component to the Timberwolves’ offense.
“The spacing there was different,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “It wasn’t necessarily more spacing, but it was different.”
With the Jazz, Rudy Gobert is a big man in the mold of DeAndre Jordan. He scores by throwing alley-oops with him catching and dunking. And Gobert’s spent much of the season battling various injuries, limiting the time the two have had on the floor together.
As a result, Rubio has looked disjointed and out of place for long stretches. He’s scoring well, averaging 12 points per game, which would be a career-high if it holds up. And he’s showed flashes of being one of the better point guards in the league.
In a win over the Boston Celtics last Friday, Rubio scored 22 points, while grabbing seven rebounds and handing out five assists. He shot 10 of 15 from the field. He went 1 of 2 from 3-point range and he was the best player on the floor for much of the third quarter.
After a brutal stretch which included an 0-of-7 performance against the New Orleans Pelicans, Rubio has scored in double-figures in four of his last five games. And who can forget his 30-point night against the Portland Trail Blazers on November 1?
But those high points have been countered with some disturbing lows. He had seven turnovers in a loss to the Phoenix Suns. He had six in a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, and five last week in a loss to the Chicago Bulls. For a point guard, that’s way too many.
“The system is different, and that takes some getting used to,” Rubio said. “But more than the system is the type of players in the system. It’s more about IQ than physicality. In this system, everyone tries to make the right play at every time. I like it here.”
Even through some of his struggles, Rubio is making strides in some areas. His defense, leaky early in the season, has improved of late. He’s also finishing at the rim more, at Snyder’s behest.
But in many ways, the key to Utah’s season will hang on Rubio’s ability to mesh with Gobert and Derrick Favors, a trio that hasn’t worked well together as of yet. And that’s the adjustment Rubio has to make along with the coaching staff. He’s entrenched as Utah’s starting point guard. He also has yet to be on a team that’s qualified for the postseason.
If that’s going to change, the Jazz need Rubio to adjust and improve. You can be sure that he and Kokoskov will continue their tedious work.
Jazz at Thunder<br>At Chesapeake Arena, Oklahoma City<br>Tipoff • Wednesday, 6 p.m. MST<br>TV • ATTSN<br>Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM<br>Records • Jazz 14-17, Thunder 15-15<br>Last Meeting • Thunder 100, Jazz 94 (Dec. 5)<br>About the Jazz • Starting forward Derrick Favors has missed two consecutive games with a concussion. … The Jazz and the Thunder have split their season series 1-1 and will face each other on Saturday in Utah. … The Jazz have lost six of their last seven games. … This will be the final game of Utah’s season-long, six game road trip. … Jazz guard Rodney Hood is averaging 17.3 points in his last four games.<br>About the Thunder • OKC has won three of its last four games. … The Thunder have won their last seven games by a combined 22 points. …Russell Westbrook scored a season-high 38 points in OKC’s win over Denver. … Thunder center Steven Adams has missed three consecutive games, while in the NBA’s concussion protocol. … The Thunder are in the eighth spot in the Western Conference.