Playoff basketball is always a good opportunity to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of a team, and for the Boston Celtics, it’s clear they need an additional ball-handler off the bench.
It’s not that Boston doesn’t have an array of ball-handling talent, because they do, but the decision-making on show has been questionable at best. Throughout the post-season, the Celtics have averaged 14.1 turnovers per game, and have consistently struggled to make the right passes in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.
According to Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report, the Celtics should look to bring in one more playmaking guard during the off-season, allowing White to focus on defense and slashing when on the court. Of course, Boston doesn’t project to be a high cap space team, and that’s where Ricky Rubio comes into the equation.
“It’s clear that better passing and more ball movement are critical to the Celtics being the most dominant version of themselves. Ricky Rubio tore his ACL in December, so he’ll only be a partial-season participant in 2022-23. But everyone knows what he brings. He ranked in the 97th percentile in assist percentage at his position in 2021-22 and has long been one of the best setup men in the league,” Hughes wrote in a recent article.
Rubio, when healthy, would give Boston an additional weapon that can penetrate off the dribble and force defensive rotations before making the right pass to find open shooters or slashers on the perimeter. We’ve seen throughout the current NBA season that Ime Udoka prefers a drive-and-kick predicated offense, and Rubio would be a perfect fit for the team’s current offensive gameplan.
Rubio’s Health is a Concern
If he had remained healthy all season, Rubio would likely be outside of the Celtics’ price range, however, an ACL injury cut his season short, and the recovery phase will likely bleed into the 2022-23 NBA Season. As such, the veteran guard’s next contract is likely to be a one-year minimum deal, which works perfectly for the Celtics.
Even if Rubio doesn’t make his in-season debut until January 2023, he will be a solid veteran presence around the training facility as he ramps up his rehab and will have plenty of time to dive into film so he can learn Boston’s offensive and defensive systems.
Furthermore, playing with elite scorers like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will be incredibly enticing to Rubio, as his style of play could elevate their scoring numbers and give the Celtics’ offense an extra dimension once the post-season arrives and teams trend toward half-court basketball.
Still, even on a short-term deal, Boston should be concerned about what version of Rubio they’ll be getting, after all, he will be entering his age 32 season and coming off the back of a terrible knee injury. Rubio has never been one to rely on athleticism or burst, as he prefers to use his shiftiness to create advantages over the defense, but if his lateral and vertical quickness is hindered, he might struggle to earn consistent minutes from Udoka.
Rubio Isn’t What the Celtics Need
Despite Derrick White’s limitations as a perimeter scorer, he has clearly proven himself throughout the post-season, especially in games where Marcus Smart has sat due to injury. The former San Antonio Spurs guard is a proven ball-handler and playmaker, adept at making quick decisions and locating the best pass available, and after giving up so much to acquire him at the trade deadline, it’s unlikely Brad Stevens makes a move to create additional roadblocks for his playing time next season.
Sure, White isn’t going to give you much scoring gravity on the perimeter, but neither is Rubio and with Boston’s current sixth man being younger and not boasting a serious knee injury, it makes no sense for the front office to sign Rubio – regardless of how short the deal is.
Boston’s biggest need entering the free agency period is an additional wing that can ease some of the scoring and ball-handling burden off of Tatum and Brown, not another guard that can’t create driving lanes due to his limited shooting ability.
Also, if the front office did decide to be bold, an additional rim-running center should also be higher on the priority list than Rubio, as it’s clear Daniel Theis, while serviceable, isn’t capable of playing back-up to the athletically gifted Robert Williams.
Of course, any decisions Brad Stevens makes will be heavily dictated by available cap space and who they decide to retain from this season’s end-of-bench guys, with Sam Hauser looking like a keeper for instance. But, before any reconstruction gets underway, the Celtics have a game seven against the Heat on May 29, with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line, so everybody’s focus should remain on the task at hand.