Karl-Anthony Towns Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM)

POST-FIRST YEAR ASSESSMENT

  • 2,627 minutes
  • -2.4 pace-adjustment plus-minus
  • 22.5 PER

Expectations over what sort of impact a first-year player can have on a team are often overstated. There a very few players who can truly come in, take ownership of a team and turn everything around. Towns is one of the few exceptions.

The 20-year-old just had one of the best offensive seasons a rookie has ever had, posting averages of 23 points on 59% true-shooting and 13.1 rebounds per 36 minutes. More impressive, perhaps, was the way he did it too.

Towns had shown potential at Kentucky for maybe one day developing into a complete player on offense. Then he stepped into the league and was pretty close to that right away.

Despite playing most of his first year as a teenager, Towns proved able to score from the post, charging to the rim or stopping on a dime and hitting step-back jumpers out of face-up drives, on pick-and-pops from mid-range, playing above the rim as a target for lobs on the pick-and-roll, nailing spot-ups from three-point range, crashing the offensive glass for tip-ins and putback dunks, assisting cutters or outside shooters with his back to the basket and playing high-low from the top of the key.

Now, mind you, the Timberwolves won just over a third of their games.

Part of the problem was the context.

Minnesota didn’t know its star was already ready to be a star right away. So it planned according to the expectation that Towns was going to take some time developing into the focal point of an offense. It built a team with four other prospects under the age of 24 and three veterans past the age of 34. Only Ricky Rubio, Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica were in their primes.

The team also didn’t add many three-point shooters to leverage Towns’ presence into even more value. Furthermore, interim coach Sam Mitchell didn’t seem to understand the importance of the three-point shot in today’s game.

It speaks a lot to how good Towns was on offense (and Rubio as an organizer, as well) that the Timberwolves managed to finish the season 11th in scoring per possession while making the second fewest three-point shots in the entire league.

The other part of the problem was defense, and Towns played a role in it.

He showed flashes of dominant play on that end as well but was not any sort of a difference maker.

Towns has the agility and the length to keep pace with smaller players driving at him on the pick-and-roll and shut them down at the rim. But his impact as a rim protector was marginal, as he saved just 1.01 points per 36 minutes according to nyloncalculus.com’s Rim Protection metric.

Towns also allowed 0.90 points per possession on post-ups, one of the dozen or so worst marks in the league among players who guarded at least 100 such possessions.

Many criticized Mitchell when he started pairing Towns and Dieng more often midway through the year, then kept together most of the time after the All-Star break. But he had clearly identified Dieng was needed to stabilize the defense in a way Towns was not yet prepared to do so on his own.

According to nbawowy.com, the Timberwolves allowed 1.184 points per possession in 777 minutes with lineups that had Towns in but none of Dieng, Kevin Garnett, Adreian Payne and Nikola Pekovic out there with him. They went on to allow just 1.103 point per possession in 1,129 minutes with Towns and Dieng together – a mark that will never be confused with the early-2010s Pacers, but a less leaky defense nonetheless.

That’s probably what informed Tom Thibodeau’s decision to spend some money on Cole Aldrich and Jordan Hill, despite the fact they still have Dieng under contract and the right to retain him in restricted free agency in the summer of 2017. Even if Garnett and Pekovic never play another minute, it seems safe to assume Towns will not play many minutes without another prototypical big close to the rim any time soon.

That will be frustrating to watch in the era of smallball. The logical conclusion should be to have Towns playing as a center and stressing opponents from every spot on the floor, regardless of what’s his role in a given play, and opening up the lane for dribble penetrators and cutters.

But Thibodeau prioritizes the defense and the surest way to build the best defense still is by having a fortress barricading the front of the basket. Towns has not yet shown he can be that fortress all on his own.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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Nemanja Bjelica Scouting Report

CONTEXT

Though he wasn’t as good as his first year with Fenerbahçe, Nemanja Bjelica was still one of the best players in Europe for most of last season – leading the Turkish powerhouse to its first Euroleague Final Four appearance and earning league MVP honors along the way.

The ending wasn’t particularly great, however. Bjelica dealt with a back injury late in the season and was a complete non-factor on Fenerbahçe’s loss to Pinar Karsiyaka (a team with a much shorter budget) in the Turkish league semifinals.

Bjelica is already 27 and looked like he was about done being OK with how often legend Zeljko Obradovic got in his face in that series. But considering how much of an impact player he was in the European game these last two seasons, it’s a bit surprising he agreed to join the Timberwolves on a contract that will earn him just $3.9 million of annual average value.

PERIMETER SKILLS

Despite being six-foot-10, Bjelica used to run point for Red Star Belgrade in his early 20s. As a result, he has better perimeter skills than the average big man.

Bjelica can grab a rebound on the defensive glass, bring the ball up the court and initiate offense. Fenerbahçe wasn’t much of a fast-break team but Bjelica was an asset in semi-transition by attacking while the opponent was still looking to set the defense with the shot clock between 15 and 20 seconds.

Earlier in the season, Fenerbahçe often focused on running Bjelica off down screens. That was not intended to get him open to launch jump-shots on the move but rather to get him attacking the lane off a live dribble. Bjelica is a very good passer on the move for someone his size and this is the sort of set that takes advantage of his skills.

He could also be a tremendous asset on four-on-threes and passing out of the short roll if Ricky Rubio ever develops into the sort of threat that gets doubled beyond the arc. According to RealGM, Bjelica assisted on 11.7% of Fenerbahçe’s scores in his 1,621 minutes on the floor last season.

But towards the end of the year, Fenerbahçe’s offense regressed and turned into a pedestrian spread pick-and-roll attack with the three players off the ball mostly just standing around. Bjelica was one of those spotting up on the weak-side and did get some open looks when the opponent overreacted but lacked confidence in his shot by that point and opted out of them often to put the ball on the floor. He was clearly still fairly stiff, though, and his drives didn’t stress the defense – which made his passing ineffective.

Bjelica is not dynamic dribbling the ball from side-to-side and doesn’t blow by many defenders. He’s a threat off the bounce because he can absorb contact and maintain his motion forward, because he has a good handle and because he uses his body well to protect the ball, keeping his turnover rate average – which is acceptable considering he isn’t able to dribble low due to his height and that should make him susceptible to getting the ball stripped in traffic. Bjelica can attack the rim with some explosiveness on straight line drives but his floor game suffered a lot once he couldn’t move as freely.

SHOOTING

Maybe that physical limitation also explains why he was so hesitant to shoot in that Pinar Karsiyaka series. Bjelica is not one of those stretch-fours who are out there gunning three-pointers in volume but has proven himself consistently able to make open shots off the catch these last two years by converting 39.3% of his 374 three-point shots. Bjelica has a fluid release but needs time to load up and late in the season felt uncomfortable elevating with the mere threat of an opponent running at him.

He is also not any sort of a real threat pulling up off the bounce. According to gigabasket.org, Bjelica missed 33 of his 53 mid-range jump-shots in his 811 Euroleague minutes last season, after missing 24 of his 32 such shots against that same level of competition the season before.

SMALLBALL CENTER

Part of what made Bjelica such an impact player in 2013-2014 was Obradovic playing him at center. (Yes, similarly to what Steve Kerr did with Draymond Green.) Though he can’t play above the rim as a constant shot blocking threat, Bjelica was an asset guarding smaller players on switches. He doesn’t change directions all that smoothly and can get exposed if the opponent forces him to go from side-to-side in a pinch but displayed enough foot agility to stay attached on straight line drives and make plays at the rim. Fenerbahçe was an excellent defensive team with him on the floor that season.

Bjelica is a reasonable option at center because he developed well as a rebounder. He proved himself tough enough to box out bigger players and diligent keeping them from establishing inside position these last two years – collecting 30.5% of opponents’ misses last season and 25.4% the season before.

But in 2014-2015, Obradovic used him there a lot less due to a logjam of serviceable bodies at that position. He kept trying to find minutes for Jan Vesely, Luka Zoric, Oguz Savas and Semih Erden, and as a result they didn’t go small as aggressively. According to gigabasket.org, Bjelica logged less than 20 possessions at center in the Euroleague.

As a power forward, Bjelica is attentive to his responsibilities helping protect the interior. And when healthy, he’s proven mobile enough to crash inside and rotate back to the spot-up shooter well enough. That said, Bjelica doesn’t have much closing speed to consistently run shooters off the three-point line and lacks the length to contest shots effectively or make an impact playing the passing lanes.

GAPS

Bjelica is an open-shot shooter who prefers putting the ball on the floor and forcing the defense to converge to him. That’s how he impacts the game. NBA teams will feel comfortable going small against him, defending him with a wing that is more athletic and longer than those he faced in Europe to limit help and the effectiveness of his passing on the move. The counter to that would be Bjelica posting up these smaller players but this is the biggest gap in his game.

Because of his general skills, Bjelica can be functional in the post. His high vantage point helps him see the court very well from there. But he’s not any sort of a consistent scoring threat with his back to the basket, in part because he hasn’t been asked to play that way very much these last two years. When perimeter players go to the post, they often rely on turnaround jump-shots but, as mentioned above, dribbling into a shot is not something Bjelica does well.

There’s also concern over how well Bjelica’s athleticism will translate. It was an asset in Europe but he’ll be average at best in the NBA. Bjelica does well off the bounce attacking off a live dribble or with the defense moving. If he plays in an offense that fails to generate those opportunities and is forced to take on better athletes in isolation without an advantage, it’s quite probable he won’t bring anything to the table on offense while being a potential liability guarding those sorts of athletes in space on the other end.

FIT

The Timberwolves have a lot of people who command minutes in that frontcourt.

Karl-Anthony Towns was drafted first overall and should get the majority of the playing time at center. Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Garnett didn’t play much last season, but they’ll probably still start the year high in the pecking order and there’s a good chance Flip Saunders will try playing each of those guys with Towns a lot, shortening the minutes available at power forward.

Gorgui Dieng is still in the mix and Saunders wasn’t above playing him and Pekovic together last season some, so it will not be shocking when he tries him and Towns together at some point. Adreian Payne is still in the mix as well, and there’s always that very small chance of Anthony Bennett taking an unexpected leap.

Not every one of those guys will be available at every point this season, but it’s a crowded department nonetheless. It makes me fear Saunders will try Bjelica as a wing early, which doesn’t have much upside; he’ll be just a guy at best, and a liability at worst.

When Bjelica eventually does get on the court as a stretch big, there’s also concern about whether his skill-set will be fully utilized.

Saunders loved having Andrew Wiggins and Shabbaz Muhammed post up last season. Hell, he even ran that baseline flex screen for Chase Budinger, and it just happened that Budinger isn’t about that post-up life, otherwise he would have been another wing operating his back-to-the-basket while the big men stood around the lane, crowding the interior.

Based on how Towns proved a functional post scorer at Kentucky, I think it’s fair to assume Saunders will want him getting the ball in the low block a lot as well, which is also where Pekovic does best when healthy.

I think there’s a good chance Bjelica is mostly deployed as a floor spacer around all these post-ups. Sometimes these guys will force double-teams, Bjelica will get some open looks and he’ll probably be more willing to pull the trigger when healthy. If he continues to hit open shots well, Bjelica will be able to attack some closeouts and create on the move. But the NBA is going away from doubling the post in general. Everyone just fears the open three-point shot more these days.

Rubio’s presence forces Saunders to run a respectable number of high pick-and-rolls per game. Maybe Saunders watched the Finals and noticed what sort of impact screeners who can pass on the move can have to open up the floor, and realizes how perfect Bjelica would be doing that. But I don’t think much creativity should be expected after what we saw last season.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.

Andrew Wiggins Scouting Report

(Originally posted at BBallBreakdown)

Things aren’t going well in Minnesota. The Timberwolves have lost 31 of their 36 games, including the last 15 in a row. Missing Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin due to injury has greatly affected the team’s ability to be competitive for results.

But the one encouraging beacon of hope amid all the losing has been Andrew Wiggins, as the number one overall pick in last year’s draft has scored 151 points over the last seven games. Colleague Kelly Scalleta has written Nikola Mirotic is the deserving front runner for rookie of the year but if Wiggins continues to score in volume, it’s doubtful the old media won’t give him the honors.

Wiggins is doing most of his work out of the post. The Timberwolves run a pet set on every other possession, in which a wing will set a baseline screen for the wing cutting from the weak-side to establish deep position. They do it not just for Wiggins, but also for Shabazz Muhammad and Chase Budinger, and Muhammad too was thriving prior to injury (although Budinger isn’t interested in that post-up life).

Flip Saunders is heavily invested in seeing his young players develop a back-to-the-basket game, even if modern basketball is going away from that. Wiggins is encouraged to create his own shot out of the post regardless of who is defending him, whether it is point guards like Kyrie Irving and Tony Parker, or wings of prototypical size such as LeBron James, Rudy Gay and Danny Green.

On occasion, Wiggins has flashed great footwork working his defender for layups, as well as some passing instincts. Mostly, however, he looks to take turnaround jump-shots because the lane is always crowded. Minnesota is one of the worst teams in the league generating spacing, despite the fact they still have several half-decent shooters healthy. Thaddeus Young in particular rarely ever knows where to stand when he doesn’t have the ball.

This has also hurt Wiggins when he is forced to create against a set defense. He’s not been in position to use his explosive first step by attacking closeouts very often, because the Timberwolves rarely force the defense out of position by swinging the ball even a couple of times in a given possession.

The one creative thing Saunders has done is having Wiggins screen on pick-and-rolls, and those have often led to good results. But most of his 94 drives have been one-on-ones, and this is not something Wiggins excels at right now. He remains unable to create much separation off the bounce, still relying on his go-to spin move a little too much to get to the rim. I believe he has improved his ability to maintain his balance through contact, but his handle is still loose and he continues to struggle with his touch finishing in a crowd, shooting just 41.5% on those drives according to NBA.com’s SportVU tracking technology.

Minnesota’s unhealthy offensive ecosystem has gotten Wiggins open on just 35.5% of his shots, although he shares some responsibility in this. Sometimes Wiggins won’t pull the trigger on a potentially contested look off the catch, instead opting to put the ball on the floor, only to realize there’s no path to the rim with at least a couple of opponents in the lane and pulling up for a mid-range shot. Wiggins looks like a decent shooter off the bounce, getting pretty good elevation to shoot over defenders and doing so in balance. Yet a hand in his face affects his accuracy a lot, as he’s converted just 29.6% of his 137 pull-up attempts and 33% of his 194 mid-range shots. Thankfully, as detailed by ‘Eric in Madison’ at Canis Hoopus, his long-two point jumpshot attempts rate has declined over the last couple of weeks, signaling Wiggins and the team understand the need to clean up this shot out of his game.

Wiggins is probably better served being more aggressive taking the looks created for him off the catch, as he’s hit 45.7% of his catch-and-shoot three-point attempts. Right now he seems only to be confident taking these shots with no defender within four feet of him (with such shots accounting for 49 of his 60 three-point attempts), but opportunities figure to increase once (if ever) Rubio and his playmaking return. It would be great if the Timberwolves started getting Wiggins some shots off pin-down screens or running him off baseline screens for catches above the foul line, because his floor game is limited at this point and those sort of actions would allow him better opportunities to attack off a live dribble.

Things are different on the defensive end, where Saunders has absolutely stretched Wiggins, having him guard the opponent’s best perimeter player on a nightly basis. It matters little what position they play. He’s started games guarding point guards like Tony Parker, wings of a similar physical profile like Rudy Gay and Gerald Green, and bigger wings like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokuompo.

As projected, Wiggins has been a plus-defender right away at the pro level, though not necessarily a difference-making one. He hustles back in transition, gets on his stance, has great lateral quickness to stay attached to his man in isolation and exhibits good closing speed to contest spot-up shots effectively. But he’s unable to contain dribble penetration through contact and struggles navigating screens. Wiggins either leans into the opposing big man or goes under slowly, though he’s shown able to recover very quickly and use his length to contest mid-range shots.

Despite a slow start, then, Wiggins continues to improve. He has started looking like a vague form of the star he’s expected to become in time, despite the fact the Timberwolves have not put him in a good position for what his skill-set is at the moment. With the returns of others, better talent around him and better cohesion, Wiggins should continue to develop his all-around efficiency, which right now is his biggest weakness. With it, he could be a two way star.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.

Andrew Wiggins Scouting Report

(Originally posted at BballBreakdown)

Andrew Wiggins is not the perfect prospect. He was not a dominant scorer in his one year at Kansas, the Jayhawks were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and most statistical models project him as a middle of the pack prospect in his own draft class. Wiggins is a victim of expectations that are impossibly difficult to reach. The idea that an 18-year-old who has logged just barely over 1,000 minutes of truly competitive basketball should be a complete player is extremely misguided.

Nevertheless, Wiggins enters the NBA as an incredible athlete who already translates his physical profile into production on defense, and possesses the traits of a multidimensional but unpolished skill-set on offense.

The perception is Wiggins is a poor scorer, who struggled as a jump-shooter and was disappointing at the rim despite his tremendous athletic ability. In reality, however, Wiggins is a solid shooter when shooting off of the catch. He has a quick enough trigger and good mechanics, consistently keeping the off-hand pointed up and following through. Most importantly, when he gets his feet set, the arc in his shot is beautiful. The statistics back this up: according to research by draftexpress.com, Wiggins averaged a slightly above average 1.1 points per catch-and-shoot attempt.

Wiggins is not as effective when shooting off of the bounce, as his balance is not the same when he is stepping back and shooting over contesting defenders. According to hoop-math.com, Wiggins took a third of his shots from the mid-range area and yet hit them only at a putrid 33.8 percent clip. Many of those shots were taken in isolation possessions, which raise valid concerns regarding his shot selection. If Wiggins often settled for low percentage attempts against opponents who normally could not match his athleticism, why assume that tendency will simply go away now that he will face more athletes of his caliber?

That is not to say he failed to attack the rim at all, however. According to Upside & Motor’s Austin Clemens, Wiggins took 39 percent of his attempts from within five feet of the basket, and hit them at a good 65 percent clip. Wiggins has a loose handle dribbling from side to side and often dribbles the ball too high, which makes him susceptible to being stripped, but he is quite fast on straight line drives, thanks to an explosive first step, long strides and a very smooth go-to spin move.

His attacking the basket game is far from complete, though. Wiggins leaps off the ground in an instant, a lightning fast leaper, but he does not dunk all that often on dribble drives, simply not as comfortable rising through traffic when he is crowded. He hangs in the air very impressively, but does not have great touch to finish at rim level, and cannot yet consistently score through contact which results in an underwhelming shooting percentage when contested. At the collegiate level, however, the speed of his moves often overwhelmed defenders and resulted in 7.9 free throw attempts per 40 minutes, which he hit at a 77.5 percent clip.

There is a narrative that Wiggins was not assertive enough of a scorer at Kansas, a theory that completely ignores the structure of Kansas’s offense. As Grantland’s Brett Koremenos explained here, the Jayhawks emphasized feeding their post scorers as often as possible, a fact already evident to those who watched them play regularly. Had Kansas isolated Wiggins a handful more times per game, he would have scored enough to have rendered that perception different. But Wiggins does not necessarily enter the league a versatile enough player in facets of the offensive game other than scoring yet to be able to assuage the doubts about his scoring. The pick-and-rolls he ran were merely a different way for him to attack to score individually, as he did not show much in the way instincts when passing the ball out of dribble penetration. Playmaking for others in general was not a strong suit; Wiggins used on average 20.7 possessions per 40 minutes, yet recorded only 1.9 assists.

Wiggins’ efficiency in his first NBA season will likely largely depend on the level of Ricky Rubio’s play and what kind of system Flip Saunders installs. With his physical tools, he would surely thrive on a fast-paced attack, one that is transition-oriented and emphasizes early offense in the half-court. Wiggins is tremendous on fast-breaks, sprinting up the court with great speed. His long strides are also an asset here, as he can go from the top of key to the basket in two steps, and as has already been mentioned, he is a far better finisher when uncontested, exploding off the ground when running with momentum.

Though his open court prowess is the most aesthetically pleasing aspect of his game, it is Wiggins’s defense that is the most exciting part of his game. It is very hard to find plays in which he is not locked in.

The combination of his natural interest in providing full effort when the opponent has the ball, and his physical profile (six-foot-eight height, seven-foot wingspan, quick feet, explosive leaping ability) provides Wiggins the potential to become one of the very best defenders in the pro game right away. And nowhere on defense is this more evident than in his ability to contest shots. The clips below highlight how, even when Wiggins crashes inside to provide help packing the lane or when he gambles for a steal, his recovery is consistently outstanding and he makes it very difficult for his man to get the catch-and-shoot out cleanly.

Defending in isolation is another area where he excels impressively. Wiggins is not necessarily unbeatable off the dribble – Florida’s Scott Wilbekin and Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim did manage to enjoy some success in individual matchups. But he was undoubtedly a dominant one-on-one defender at the college level, and, with his projectable physical profile, also projects to make an immediate impact in the NBA. Wiggins possesses great lateral mobility and is hardly ever blown past; notice in the clips below how disciplined he is with the use of his hips to slow down the momentum of the driver, while also extending his arms in anticipation of a pull-up attempt. He demonstrated a good understanding of Kansas’s defensive principles, consistently sending opponents towards the help defense. His athleticism helped him overwhelm smaller opponents, so much so that Bill Self asked him to defend point guards on several occasions during the season.

Wiggins also displayed good instincts on help-defense, though he was not as impactful as he is capable of, at times being too hesitant to leave his man and more actively seal the edge of the lane. Due to Joel Embiid and Jamari Traylor’s presence inside, Kansas did not need Wiggins to be an overaggressive help-defender outside of the principles of their scheme to make up for a shortage of interior protection from big men. But now in the NBA, Wiggins has been traded to a team that allowed 63.1 percent shooting within five feet last season (worst in the league) and where more will likely be asked of him in this department. With his long arms and explosive leaping, Wiggins has the ceiling of becoming more of a true force in weak-side shot blocking than we saw in college.

The one aspect of Wiggins’ defense that is sub-par thus far is his navigation through screens. In a pick-and-roll heavy league like the NBA, he will be quite exposed in this department if he does not start fighting through those picks harder than he did at Kansas. He consistently went under the screen, which makes it fair to assume that is how he was coached to defend them. But with his quickness, Wiggins should have been able to go around the big and recover to contain dribble penetration a lot better than the clips below demonstrate. He often got caught on picks, and even when the opponent did not attack off the screen right away, Wiggins became a less effective isolation defender after getting screened. New Mexico and Oklahoma State noticed that and enjoyed good success exploiting it, essentially erasing the best perimeter defender in college basketball on several possessions.

Because he is such a smooth athlete, Wiggins’s defensive effort does not pop out of the screen like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s, for example, However, it is evident when watching him more closely.
The ceiling of becoming a force that impacts every single play around him, potentially on both ends of the floor, is very much there for Andrew Wiggins in a way it is for few others. In the early going, he is farther along defensively, and the skillset he brings on that end is rarer. But in time, with good coaching and patience, Wiggins has the potential to emerge as a star in all facets and both halves of the game.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.

Ricky Rubio Scouting Report

Eric Bledsoe recently signed a five-year, $70 million contract with the Phoenix Suns and someone brought up on twitter that deal could be a barometer for the talks between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Ricard Rubio I Vives, who is eligible for an extension until this year’s Halloween deadline. It’s been speculated agent Dan Fegan will push for Rubio’s five-year max, a thought most have considered ridiculous. Three years into his NBA career, Rubio has become sort of a polarizing figure; his passing is idolized, his defense is underrated and his shooting numbers are laughed at. With his play as a part of why the Timberwolves failed to reach expectations of playoff contention last season, Rubio’s true impact remains in doubt.

It is evident his top skill is shot creation for others. Rubio is an incredible passer, not just off dribble penetration but especially passing ahead in transition. He is great in the open court, hitting running targets in stride, especially on lobs. In the half-court, Rubio has played his entire NBA career on Rick Adelman’s corner offense where he has exhibited good speed attacking off down screens to get to the middle of the lane and draw help-defense, which he takes advantage off by unexpectedly dumping the ball off to big men floating around the basket area or hitting baseline cutters. He sees passing lanes one second ahead than most people. His ability to hit shooters on target remains underrated.

Rubio is best suited for a fast-paced system, one that is transition-oriented and emphasizes early offense in the halfcourt. He will be fantastic if he ever plays for Mike D’Antoni. His quick first step helps him get good separation off the ballscreen and he has shown impressive patience if forced away from the lane, always keeping his dribble alive if the window for the pocket pass isn’t there. Turning it over on almost 22 percent of Minnesota’s possessions when he’s on the floor is not ideal but comes with the territory for players who are risk takers looking to put teammates in scoring position. Bad passes accounted for 79 percent of his 221 turnovers.

Even though playing in a system that didn’t maximize his talents, Rubio ranked sixth in assist rate and Minnesota averaged 109.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and 98 when he hit the bench, the difference between the best and the second-worst teams in offensive efficiency. That’s particularly impressive when you consider Rubio is as poor a scorer as advertised. According to basketball-reference’s Player Season Finder tool, no player in the three-point Era with as many attempts has shot worst over their first three seasons in the league. Rubio has hit only 36.8 percent of his 1573 shots in 5733 minutes.

The biggest issue is his finishing against length. Though a good athlete, Rubio elevates very little off the ground and doesn’t hang in the air much. He attacks with good speed on straight line drives and has a tight handle when forced to dribble from side to side, proving himself able to get to the basket at a very high rate; 43.5 percent of his shots were taken in the restricted area, the fifth highest among point guards last season. But Rubio has done very poorly converting the greatest look in basketball when challenged by quality rim protection, hitting only 48 percent. He struggles in particular when forced to finish with his left hand against any sort of contest. 10 percent of his total shots were blocked.

Rubio scores terribly at the rim but not significantly worse than other notoriously poor finishers like Damian Lillard and Dion Waiters. But the difference is those two players are great jump-shooters, especially off the bounce, while Rubio is also bad off the dribble and merely capable off the catch. He hit just 28.8% of his 205 pull-up attempts last season, often shooting on his way down. When you watch Rubio shoot off the catch, it is noticeable how his mechanics and elevating are two separate motions in his release rather one smooth action. He hit just 35.4 percent of his approximately 139 catch-and-shoot attempts. While players like Derrick Rose, Andrew Wiggins and Caris LeVert struggle with their shots by elevating too much, it seems that Rubio does better when he leaps the higher he can in rhythm, as he gets a higher arc on his shot.

But even as a really limited scorer, Rubio remains a far more positive presence to Minnesota’s offense than otherwise. It’s important to contextualize his on-off splits by remembering JJ Barea and Alexey Shved didn’t play well last season but most of that 11-point differential is Rubio elevating his team’s play in a manner maybe only 10 other guys in the league could do better. He, himself, could do better if he started hitting layups and open shots at an average rate but he has not yet failed to consistently engage the help defense when he drives to the rim, so the passing lanes are still being created.

Rubio started to get more recognition for his above average defense last season, to a point where he is a bit overrated now. He was great in isolation, holding opponents to 33 percent shooting, which was a top 35 mark. Rubio is a big player for his position (six-foot-four height, 180 pounds, long wingspan) but most importantly, has great lateral agility that permits him to stay attached and give up little separation to most opponents.

He is very iffy defending the pick-and-roll, though. Rubio was either coached to or strongly preferred going under the pick consistently, too often wanting to rely on his speed to cover ground, which didn’t yield many positive results as he ranked outside the top 150 in scoring allowed per possession off pick-and-rolls. He was very active playing the passing lane to manufacture turnovers, leading the league in steal percentage, but many felt Rubio was overaggressive and gambled an awful lot chasing those steals.

The Timberwolves prevented scoring only marginally better when he was on the floor in comparison to when he sat, though context is also important here; Rubio shared the vast majority of his minutes with Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, perhaps one of the five worst duos in rim protection.

Editor’s Note: Statistical data for this post was researched on basketball-reference, NBA.com/stats/, 82games.com and My Synergy Sports.

Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.