Ricky Rubio’s jump shot: A closer look

If trends are any indicator, Ricky Rubio missed this shot.

Over the past week or so, we have seen quite a few people take on the topic of Ricky Rubio’s scoring, a legitimate concern as the extremely talented-but-flawed point guard enters his third season in the league.

Zach Harper, on A Wolf Among Wolves, took a nice look at how Rubio could up his shooting percentage to 40% next season,  which would be a very modest improvement:

Ricky’s finishing in the restricted area has been pretty terrible in his first two seasons. Last year — granted while he was coming back from ACL surgery — Rubio made just 44.3% of his attempts in the restricted area. League average for guards was 56.6%. As stated above, average for point guards of top offenses over the past nine seasons has been 55.5%. If Rubio were to somehow improve to that 55.5% mark in the restricted area while still taking on average the same number of attempts he had the last two seasons, that alone would raise his field goal percentage to 39.1%, putting him right around that mark of 40%.

I highly recommend you go read the entire piece, as it’s chalk full of interesting information and worthwhile details like the paragraph above.

One of Harper’s points — and it’s a solid one — is that asking Rubio to improve to 40% doesn’t mean we are asking him to improve his jumper. All that’s required is he improves his shooting around the rim.

But Rubio’s jump shot, although it hasn’t shown a lot of improvement in his first two years, might not be unfixable. Watching his tape, he seems to have a few bad-but-fixable habits.

Here is Rubio’s shot chart from last season, per NBA.com/stats:

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 9.05.23 PM

Clearly, his shooting isn’t great, or even good. Around the rim, he was abysmal, as Harper wrote in his article. But, interestingly, on long two-point attempts, Rubio shot .404 . That’s not an efficient percentage, but it indicates that he’s actually pretty solid from that range, even though it’s a shot most shouldn’t be taking.

For Rubio, however, shots from that distance are essential. Guards who can come off a screen-and-roll and be a legitimate threat from mid-range find themselves in position to score frequently, and for Rubio, the pick-and-roll was an important play even by point guard standards. According to MySynergySports.com, a staggering 42.8% of Rubio’s scoring plays last year were as a pick-and-roll ball handler, meaning if he felt confident firing away from mid-range, a screen could spring him.

Around the rim, Rubio is frequently off-balance, trying to put too much English on the ball off the backboard and fighting a losing battle. But off a pick-and-roll, Rubio often looked more comfortable getting set and firing up a shot (36% from the field per  MySynergySports.com, 0.71 points per possession).

Let’s be clear: those numbers aren’t good. As a scoring pick-and-roll handler, Rubio was just 122nd in the NBA in points per possession. But going through his shot attempts from last season, there was a noticeable trend: When Rubio is able to square himself toward the hoop and land with his feet facing the basket, he was considerably more likely to knock down the shot. Take a look at a couple of examples:

In the first two clips, Rubio comes off a screen and gets both of his feet lined up immediately. In the third one, he is fading to his left a little bit, but he still lands facing the basket.

This held true pretty well throughout his attempts. Even when Rubio would be kind of off-balance, if his feet went up facing the hoop and came down in the same formation, the shot had a much better chance of going in. This shouldn’t be rocket science. Squaring up is a fundamental skill taught to potential wings at a very early age. But it’s interesting to note how much it helped a mediocre-at-best jump shooter like Rubio.

Rubio’s shooting splits also line up with something else notable: He seems to set himself best by far off the dribble. In spot-up attempts, per MySynergySports.com, Rubio shot 29.6% overall. He was so bad, in fact, that his poor 3-point shooting (31.7%) actually eclipsed his overall percentage, despite the fact that 3-point attempts made up just over half of his spot-up shots: 63 out of 121 spot-up field goal attempts were behind the arc.

It’s not a secret that Rubio is bad at spot-up shooting, and you can see defenses adjusting accordingly (which is part of the reason it’s so critical for him as a developing point guard to get some semblance of a jumper). At times, it got a little embarrassing how willing opponents were to hand the Wolves a good look from 3-point range.

But when you look at the video, Rubio’s form will tell you essentially everything you need to know about his spot-up shot at the moment.

I didn’t bother freezing any of the video in part because the hitch in his shot and his form is more pronounced when the tape is played continuously. Slowed down, Rubio appears to be doing fine on spot-ups. His body is square (in part because defenses give him weeks to set himself), his release is high enough and he gets some leg under his shot. But all of that is precisely the problem: He appears to be running through a mental checklist as he enters his shooting motion. You can sort of see him painfully lining the ball up with the basket and letting it go. It’s very rudimentary form.

The ironic thing is that when Rubio doesn’t seem to think about his spot-up very much (in that he just catches and fires immediately without lining it up beforehand), it looks a lot more natural (check his shot along the right baseline at about 0:57). Meanwhile, when he doesn’t take the time to set himself on his off-the-dribble jumpers…well…

My point is not that Rubio needs to develop his spot-up shot, at least not yet. Rather, it seems plausible that he could be a decent off-the-dribble shooter, and — as Zach Harper’s article pointed out — we aren’t asking for elite shooting. We are simply asking for decent mediocrity.

There’s no cure-all that will turn Ricky Rubio into the greatest point guard of his generation, but there are ways, seemingly, to improve his shooting percentages, which would go a long way towards pushing him into the conversation of elite point guards.

Ricky Rubio, right now, is not one of the 10 best point guards in the league. Minnesota needs him to be if they want to move beyond the designation of “low-rung playoff contender.” Rubio has the offensive awareness, the defensive tenacity and the basketball IQ to move into that list, but he isn’t there yet. We can only hope that, at some point, he figures out how to start making the jumpers fall.

The lay-ups too. If he went ahead and made a few shots around the rim, that would be ideal.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.