Their games couldn’t be more different and yet one of the last seeds in the Western Conference playoff picture might come down to Jrue Holiday and Ricky Rubio. Both the T-Wolves and Pelicans sit just outside of the conference’s top eight — Minnesota is 13-15 and New Orleans is 11-14 — and with stars like Anthony Davis and Kevin Love patrolling the paint, it’s hard to envision the two ending up in the lottery.
Holiday and Rubio could be the difference-makers.
Holiday has a super smooth pull-up jumper and routinely drops 20-point nights. He’s a scorer first. Rubio is a wizard with the basketball, wrecking havoc on both ends of the floor. He’s one of the game’s very best playmakers. But who’s better right now? We argue. You decide.
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Jrue Holiday and Ricky Rubio are both still very young at 23 years old, but both are exceptional true point guards that have extremely bright futures ahead of them. Holiday was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans from the Philadelphia 76ers this offseason, and while he’s still adjusting to a new team in New Orleans, he’s performing at a high level. One of the most impressive things about Holiday is the fact that he made the Eastern Conference All-Stars on a 34-48 team last season and averaged eight assists per game with a roster full of players that couldn’t crack a rotation in Indiana or Miami. But this is about the right now. So, let’s see how these two wizards stack up when thrown into the ring.
At the tender age of 23, Jrue Holiday is currently playing his fifth season in the NBA. Holiday is still at a young age, but he has years of valuable playing experience under his belt. In order to be an elite floor general, one must have the power to lead his team through situations that they haven’t been through before. In just his fifth season, Holiday has already played in 18 playoff games, including being one game away from an Eastern Conference Finals two seasons ago with the Philadelphia 76ers. Throughout these 18 playoff performances, Holiday has averaged 15.4 PPG and 5.3 APG. Holiday’s numbers are impressive, considering he made a deep playoff run when he was just in his third season. The value of that playoff experience cannot be measured on any scale. From watching Jrue in those playoff games, it was obvious how much he grew up as a player in the span of a few weeks. We all saw how much Paul George grew up in the playoffs last season and how that has impacted his performance this season. Holiday is no different.
I bring this up because Rubio doesn’t have this experience. Actually, Rubio has no experience in the playoffs at all. He’s only in his third season, but Holiday made his first trip to the playoffs in only his second season. When comparing two players, sometimes the biggest thing that separates the two are things that cannot be measured, like playoff experience.
Surprisingly, Holiday and Rubio’s assist numbers are actually similar, with both averaging 8.0 a game this year. But there’s more behind basic assists numbers. Let’s look.
This chart from Nba.com/stats shows Rubio creates more points off assists per 48 minutes than Holiday. However, it also shows that Rubio is getting 71.5 passes per game, compared to Holidays 61.2. Even though the margin is slim, Holiday is averaging just as many dimes while completing about 10 less passes per game. Holiday is also creating virtually the same points from his assists, with less passes and 4.1 less assist opportunities per game. The fact that Holiday’s assist numbers stack up to Rubio’s and Rubio averages 4.1 more assist opportunities per game is a solid argument. Rubio is typically known as a passing god, where Holiday is stereotyped as a scorer first.
The assist category is the only place where Holiday and Rubio deserve to be in the same sentence. To be honest, Rubio might grab some highlight reels with his sweet dishes to Kevin Love, but outside of that he’s a mediocre point guard. Everyone gets caught up in the hype instead of looking at the numbers.
Courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, Rubio is shooting an unimpressive 35 percent from the field. Yes, that’s 35 percent from the field… not his three-point percentage, which is actually higher at 37 percent. Rubio is having major problems converting in the lane, completing 35 percent of his drives this season, per Nba.com/stats. In comparison, Holiday is shooting 45 percent from the field, while completing 49 percent of his drives this season. Holiday is a threat from deep, midrange and while attacking the basket while Rubio really isn’t much a threat from anywhere (Rubio is only 33 percent career from deep). Holiday is just more of a threat than Rubio, point blank. If you want a point guard that is going to put Ws up in the win column, that’s Holiday. If you want someone who is going to be a multi-faceted threat, that’s Holiday.
Holiday is also a better scorer than Rubio. Holiday is averaging 15.1 PPG this season, compared to 9.4 for Rubio. To put this in perspective, Holiday has four games this season where he has scored 20-plus points and Rubio only has one. Also, Holiday has seven double-doubles this season, compared to Rubio’s five. Rubio has 15 games where he’s scored less than 10 points this season. Holiday only has two games this season where he hasn’t score more than 10 points and hasn’t had a game like that since November 12. Holiday gives you that scoring punch that you want from the player bringing the ball up the court. On top of the scoring, Holiday’s usage rate this season is 22.8, compared to Rubio’s 16.8 percent, showing that Holiday is more involved in his team’s offense, whether facilitating or scoring. Holiday is capable of doing it all, which makes him more versatile and lethal.
Plus, in order for a point guard to effective, they have to actually be on the floor. The word “floor general” says it all. Rubio has never played in over 60 games in an NBA season, playing 41 in his rookie season and 57 in his sophomore season. Rubio tore his ACL during his rookie season, which ended his season. Besides his torn ACL, Rubio has also suffered from back and groin injuries. These injuries have made it hard for Rubio to consistently be on the floor for the Timberwolves, which explains why they can’t ever seem to make the playoffs. On the other hand, Holiday has never suffered from a major injury or missed extended time due to an injury. He’s been a dependable point guard that you know is going to suit up and be on the floor every night. Holiday played in 73 games his rookie season, all 82 his sophomore season, 65 his third season (lockout year) and 78 last season. Holiday is just more dependable. You have to be on the floor to be effective and Holiday wins that round, too.
When it comes to being a complete point guard, Holiday KOs Rubio in the first round. Holiday has tasted playoff success as a leading point guard. Holiday is a better shooter than Rubio and without a doubt, a more lethal scorer. With all this said, Holiday is still the better passing point guard, too. The opponent has to respect his shot, whereas with Rubio, an opponent can back off and dare him to shoot (something seen with Rondo a lot). Ricky Rubio is a great young point guard that could blossom into something special if he can develop a jump shot, but right now, Holiday wins.
In his third year in the league, Ricky Rubio still remains a mystery as many ponder how good he can be. We definitely know that he is a stat stuffer, collecting rebounds, assists and steals every night. Sure, his shooting could be better, but it doesn’t get brought up as often because he’s a point guard and makes up for it with many other facets of his game. Rubio can also be exciting to watch with his savvy basketball intellect and ability to pick apart defenses with his “AND1” passes.
But Rubio still hasn’t been talked about as one of the top point guards in the league, mostly because he hasn’t been a winning team and has suffered from injuries the past couple of seasons. This season, I believe he will be rising up the point guard rankings, making himself more known and thrown into many conversations, like this one: Is Ricky Rubio better than Jrue Holiday?
The answer is yes. Holiday is a solid guard, don’t get me wrong. He was an All-Star last season. But Rubio can bring more to a team’s success than Holiday can. Besides scoring they virtually have the same averages this season: 8.0 assists per game and nearly 4.5 rebounds per game (Rubio collects more steals). The main difference is that outside of Kevin Love, Holiday has had a better supporting cast.
The defense for the Minnesota Timberwolves isn’t exactly menacing. Love, J.J. Barea and Nikola Pekovic are subpar defenders and don’t bring much helpside defense when opposing players are attacking the rim. Rubio picks up a lot of the slack, collecting a career-best 2.7 steals per game. As a GM, you definitely want your point guard, the leader of the team, to be able to stop the opposing guards or wings from penetrating the defense and setting shots for open players. You have to be able to rely on your point guard to get stops when you need them and force the opposing team to adjust their gameplan.
Rubio is valuable because, in the Western Conference, elite point guards are thrown at your team every night. From Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook to Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, Rubio is someone I would want to guard these players. No disrespect to Holiday, I just don’t think he can deliver on the defensive end against these types of guards as well as Rubio can.
The main differences that set Rubio and Holiday apart are scoring and defense. Holiday scores more and shoots a better field goal percentage, but Rubio defends better and gets more steals a night. I favor Rubio more for his defensive efforts and his unique court vision — offensively and defensively. I am not as worried about a point guard’s scoring because his job is to set up his players for the best possible shots. I believe Rubio is a strong leader for a team that has little defensive discipline. Although they are close in talent, give me Rubio to lead my team in the right direction.
Who would you take right now?
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