What is Ricky Rubio worth?
College Contributor Network
When an NBA team re-signs a player in free agency, it never affects just that team. Combo guard Eric Bledsoe signing a five-year, $70 million deal to stay with the Phoenix Suns makes a few contract negotiations around the league a little more interesting. Namely that of a certain Spanish point guard playing in Minnesota facing his contract year and a big payday, and no, it's not J.J. Barea.
In 2012, the Minnesota Timberwolves decided not to lock up star power forward Kevin Love to a five-year, $80 million max extension but instead gave him a four-year deal that included a player option for the final year that Love reluctantly signed. The logic from then-president of basketball operations David Kahn was to save the max extension for point guard Ricky Rubio.
Two years later, Love didn't even get to the opt out clause on his deal before demanding to be traded and having his wish granted via the Cleveland Cavaliers. Most of it had to do with not making the playoffs once in his six years with Minnesota. However, would Love had been so disgruntled, and so trade-able, with three guaranteed years and over $50 million left on his deal as opposed to one year and $15.7 million? Probably not.
What's worse is that Rubio hasn't shown anything that makes him a viable candidate for that max extension that could have been given to Love. For reference, players that have recently signed the five-year max extension include Russell Westbrook, John Wall, and James Harden. Rubio is still quite a few floors down from their level.
This is not to say the 5th overall pick in the 2009 draft has been a bust, far from it in fact. In his first full 82-game season last year, Rubio was fourth in the NBA in assists per game and first in total steals. His strength is his passing, and it's a major strength -- just look at his top 10 plays from last season (spoiler alert: nine of those plays are assists).
Even though he's been a professional basketball player since 2005, starting in Spain's top league, Rubio will be just 24-years-old when next season starts. He's younger than Westbrook, Wall and fellow '09 draftee Stephen Curry.
And it's a good thing he's still so young because he still has a lot of time to correct the glaring holes in his game. The biggest problem Rubio has had so far in the NBA is shooting the ball, from anywhere... literally anywhere. Rubio shot 33 percent on three-point field goals last season and under 40 percent on his two-point field goals.
Point guards who can't shoot threes aren't lost causes, Wall and Rajon Rondo are two clear examples, but they make up for it by being great finishers around the basket. Per basketball-reference.com, Wall and Rondo both average over 60 percent shooting from 0-3 feet within the basket for their careers, Rubio has yet to reach 50 percent in a season.
Rubio seemed to remedy this last season by simply taking less shots, attempting a career-low 8.2 FGs per game. His field goal percentage jumped to a career-high 38.1 percent -- still not a good mark -- and he averaged just 9.5 points per game, the first time in his three-year career he's averaged less than 10 points. Those 9.5 points did come with 8.6 assists and 2.3 steals, but that still won't be good enough for a player and agent reportedly still clamoring for the five-year max deal.
Looking at Rubio's stats to determine his value only makes for a scratchy head. As CBS Sports's Zach Harper wrote, Rubio and Chris Paul were the only two players last season to average at least nine points, eight assists, four rebounds and two steals. Conversely, Rubio and embattled Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings were the only two players last season to play at least 2,600 minutes and shoot 38.1 percent or worse from the floor.
At the same time, Rubio is mentioned in the same breath to a player that makes more than $20 million a year and a player that makes less than $9 million a year. So what is Rubio worth?
Well, he won't get Chris Paul money, that's for sure. However, perhaps the biggest factor in all this is Rubio's agent, Dan Fegan. Fegan represents many NBA players, including five-year max recipient Wall. Fegan also oversaw Chandler Parsons receiving a $46 million payday from the Dallas Mavericks this offseason and DeMarcus Cousins inking a $62 million extension with the Sacramento Kings in 2013.
In short, Fegan knows how to get his players big contracts. In 2010, he even cajoled the Denver Nuggets to sign 30-year-old Al Harrington to a five-year, $34 million deal to be a backup.
So how does the Bledsoe deal tie in with the Rubio negotiations? If you're Fegan, you're asking the Timberwolves how Rubio can be worth anything less than the $14 million a year Bledsoe got when Bledsoe is arguably even less of a known commodity than Rubio is.
Bledsoe has played one more year than Rubio, has never started more than 40 games in any of them and, up until last season, never averaged even nine points a game. Rubio is also the play-making, pass-first style of point guard the Timberwolves need in order to maximize the potential of Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Zach LaVine.
Bledsoe got paid not for what he did in the past, but what he could become in the future. There's no reason to think Rubio doesn't have the same kind of potential. After all, a player can be taught to become a better shooter, just ask Jason Kidd.
Even if Rubio has to look outside of Minnesota for his next contract and enter free agency in 2015, he's in incredible luck. It just so happens that two major market teams in the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks would both be looking for a point guard and have money in spades. The chance to pick between being the franchise point guard for the Lakers or playing with Carmelo Anthony in Madison Square Garden is a dream scenario.
It's important to note that unless Rubio signs an extension by the end of October, he will be a restricted free agent in 2015. This means Minnesota can match any offer given to Rubio, but it's a dangerous tightrope the T-Wolves have to balance between letting Rubio go or potentially overpaying for him. If they do cut their losses and let Rubio walk, they could very well experiment with LaVine, the 13th overall pick in this years' draft, and let him run point.
If Rubio enters this season without an extension, then this automatically becomes the most important year in his young career. How much improvement, or lack thereof, he shows in his contract year will be the difference between getting $8 million a year and getting $14 million a year. However much he signs for, it will make a few more contract negotiations around the league a little more interesting.
Hunter Kossodo is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is a rabid supporter of Boston sports having lived there for most of his life. Follow him on Twitter: @HKossodo