The Phoenix Suns’ greatest weakness the past few years was their lack of a point guard. Now they’ve got one, and aside from the nagging injuries, he is playing really, really well.
The Phoenix Suns are a franchise well-known for their point guards throughout their history:
Gail Goodrich – Hall of Fame.
Charlie Scott – Hall of Fame.
Paul Westphal – Hall of Fame.
Dennis Johnson – Hall of Fame.
Kevin Johnson – 17.9 points, 9.1 assists career-averages, averaged 20.4 points and 12.2 assists in 1988-89. How is he NOT in the Hall of Fame.
Jason Kidd – Hall of Fame.
Steve Nash – Hall of Fame.
That’s why the last few years in which the best they could muster was two decent seasons of Goran Dragic (7.4 assists in 2012-13 and 20.3 points in 2013-14), and…Eric Bledsoe, who missed 107 games in four seasons with Phoenix before he decided he didn’t want to be here any longer, a score-first point guard who has never averaged more than 6.3 assists per game.
Ricky Rubio has a long way to become a Hall of Famer himself, although if his early season statistics hold out for this season, as well as the next three or four at least, and the Phoenix Suns find a way to be deep playoff participants throughout his time with the franchise, you never know.
Then again: Kevin Johnson.
Through 18 games played, Rubio is playing some stellar ball. Averaging 12.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 9.2 assists (his career-high), Rubio is one of only three players in the entire league averaging at least 12 points, 9 assists, and 4 rebounds per game.
Okay, okay. So they’re having MONSTER seasons and Rubio is really only holding his own against them by averaging the same number of assists per game as Luka and 1.6 fewer per than LeBron. But still – anyone you can mention a member of the Phoenix Suns with those two in any logical capacity, you should.
Rubio is having a very good start to his season, and the product is showing on the floor every game.
There is no doubt the role that he has played in the team’s rise in 3-point shooting per game (they are currently 9th in the league in percentage at 36.5%, after being the league worst at 32.9% last season), the team’s scoring average per game (115.7 up from 107.5), their record (11-12, they were 4-19 last year at this point in the season) and place in the Western Conference standings (8th).
Obviously James Jones‘ roster and Monty Williams‘ game plan has played a role in it to large degrees, but at some point the players on the court have to actually play to the levels they are capable of, and this season, Rubio is doing it.
Of course Rubio’s shooting would make him that much more a lethal player, and potentially even an All-Star candidate. After and incredible 40.0% stretch over his first nine games to start the season, the wheels have basically fallen off and he is shooting 23.5% since (and that includes a 4-6 night against Dallas and 2-2 versus the Timberwolves. Take those two games out and he is actually shooting 7.7% in those seven games).
But aside from shooting (even his 2-point FG % is a meager 41.5%), he is turning the ball over a career-low 1.9 times per game. And not to rely too much on comparisons, but he is one of only three players in the league averaging at least 9 assists per game (Luka and LeBron), and the only one of the three who average fewer than 2 turnovers per games as well (Luka – 4.6 and LeBron – 3.7).
Unless some unforeseen event holds up his debut, Deandre Ayton‘s return will further bolster Rubio’s assist opportunities as he will be able to do what everyone in the whole of the Valley of the Suns knew what held Ayton back the most last season, a point guard who could accurately and timely get the center the ball in the post.
In the only game the two played together this season, opening night, in which Rubio dished out 11 assists, six of Ayton’s nine field goals were assisted on, and only two from Ricky (three by Devin Booker, who finished with 10 assists).
However, one has to imagine that in the the course of the entire team both learning one another and Monty Williams’ offense that such possessions in which Ayton is dished the ball in an easy spot to score will come fairly frequently. Thus, there is no reason to believe that Rubio’s assist average won’t just hover at about the same 9 per game that he is at now, but even bump up into the 10’s.
The only players to average at least 9 assists per game for a season?
Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, and Kevin Johnson.
Ricky Rubio is having a quiet but very solid start to the regular season. He is playing the kind of game that fans have been clamoring for since Nash left in 2012, and the kind of play that winning team’s need from the position of point guard.
Already this season he is raking up with some of the best in the league in assists per game and some of the best in franchise history. If his play continues, he will absolutely help carry the Phoenix Suns to the playoffs.