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Knicks Should Flip Derrick Rose for Ricky Rubio

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Ricky Rubio is on the block in Minnesota as the Timberwolves look to clear the way for Kris Dunn, their point guard of the future. Interestingly, according to Ian Begley of ESPN, the Knicks and Wolves have explored the possibility of a deal centered around Rubio and Derrick Rose.

Because Minnesota is far enough under the cap, the two players can be swapped for each other, straight up. If they do in fact have the opportunity, the Knicks would be wise to pull the trigger on this deal.

It’s pretty clear at this point that Rose is not the Knicks’ point guard of the future. His stats are have been solid (17.7 points, 4.5 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game) and he has looked impressively spry for much of the season. However, he has been a sieve on the defensive end, constantly dying on screens and allowing opposing point guards into the paint with very little resistance. Furthermore, he is not the type of point guard the Knicks need, considering their roster composition.

Still, holding onto Rose past the deadline has one major benefit: cap relief this summer. Rose is being paid $21.3 million this season. By letting that salary slide off the books, the Knicks would be able to re-invest that money in a free agent point guard this summer.

Ricky Rubio, on the other hand, has two years left on his contract. He is set to make $14.3 million next season and $14.9 million in 2018-19.

So yes, the Knicks would lose cap flexibility if they flipped Rose for Rubio. However, having Rubio locked in at less than $15 million for the next two seasons could be considered a positive. Rubio’s contract could be considered quite the bargain. Before we get to the dollars and cents, let’s talk about how Rubio, the player, suits the Knicks scheme.

Rubio is simply a far better fit for the Knicks than Rose. In fact, it could be argued Rubio is close to an ideal pairing alongside the Knicks’ young foundation pieces, Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez.

Rose is a defensively deficient, ball-dominant point guard who needs the rock in his hands to be effective. Rose’s brand of basketball has not meshed well with Carmelo Anthony and Porzingis, the Knicks’ two top guns.

Rubio’s game is a stark contrast to Rose’s. Rubio is an unreliable shooter but prides himself on being a facilitator and an aggressive defender. He’s far more content setting up his teammates than attempting to finish plays himself.

Consider this: Derrick Rose’s usage rate this season is 26.2 and his assist rate is 23.1. In contrast, Ricky Rubio’s usage rate this season is 14.9 and his assist rate is 36.2.

With Anthony and Porzingis, the Knicks don’t need a high-volume shooter at the point guard position. They need a point guard who can run an offense and, just as importantly, keep opposing point guards from penetrating into the heart of the defense at will.

Rubio is an underrated, aggressive defender. He doesn’t have the quickest feet, but he has active hands, a nuanced understanding of defensive positioning and a willingness to fight through screens.

Defensive Real Plus-Minus (DRPM) is a defensive metric which tracks a player’s estimated on-court impact on team defensive performance, measured in points allowed per 100 offensive possessions and accounts for team and opponent context. This season, Rubio has posted a DRPM of 0.58, which is the eighth-highest mark among point guards. In 2015-16, Rubio was at 1.89, which was the second highest DRPM among qualifying point guards in the league, behind only Chris Paul. In 2014-15, Rubio led NBA point guards in this category.

Derrick Rose, on the other hand, ranks 85th out of 89 qualifying points guards in DRPM this season. In 2015-16, he was also in the bottom 5 percent among qualifying PG’s.

Rose’s days are numbered as Knick, so Rubio being a better fit in New York than Rose is relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. It’s more important to ask whether it makes sense for the Knicks to rely on Rubio as their point guard heading into next season and beyond.

This is where we have to weigh the pros and cons of Rubio being locked in for two more years against shedding Rose’s salary and spending the savings on a different point guard via free agency this summer.

Last year at this time, it appeared that the free agent point crop of 2017 would be magical. However, slowly but surely, the bloom has come off that rose (pun intended).

The first and most devastating blow to Knicks fan fantasies was Russell Westbrook signing an extension last August. At one point, it seemed there was a possibility that Westbrook would consider signing in New York to team up with Porzingis. In February of 2016, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that “the Knicks have a real chance to sell Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in 2017.”

Alas, that dream died the when Westbrook re-upped with OKC. There will be other stud point guards on the open market this July; however, the chances of the Knicks luring one of them to NYC seem to fall by the day. Not only have the Knicks fallen flat on their faces this season (currently 11 games under .500), the organization has been a complete embarrassment off the court as well. From the owner having a former star player dragged out of MSG in handcuffs to the team president insulting the team’s leading scorer over Twitter, this Knicks season has been a nightmare. How many top-tier players that are focused on winning and have a number of appealing options would be willing to join a losing, dysfunctional franchise?

Furthermore, Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler reported yesterday that the cream of the FA crop is expected to re-sign with their current teams. We all knew Steph Curry wasn’t leaving Golden State, but Kyler stated that Chris Paul has also verbally agreed to stay with the Clippers. In addition, the Pelicans are prepared to offer “max or near money” to keep Jrue Holiday and Kyle Lowry is “all in” with the Raptors. There is purportedly also a chance that George Hill signs an extension before even hitting free agency. Thus, there is a strong chance that the Knicks would walk away from this summer’s shopping spree without the new, improved point guard that they so badly need.

And, even if they have an opportunity to sign a premium point guard, they are going to have to pay a pretty penny. Chris Paul, who is 32, is going to sign a five-year deal worth around $200 million. That means he will be making over $36 million annually during his age-35 and age-36 seasons. In order to have a crack at Holiday, the Knicks would probably have to offer a max deal, which would be approximately $132 million over four years. That averages out to $33 million per season for four seasons. Kyle Lowry is going to bank max money as well. Even a mid-tier point guard such as Jeff Teague is going to get over $20 million a year on the open market.

So, with that bit of context, Rubio at $14-plus million is a value. He’d earn far more than that if he hit free agency. In addition, he has just two more years left on his deal, so it’s not as if New York is making a long-term commitment that would cripple their cap indefinitely.

Additionally, with Rubio making less than 15 percent of the cap over the next two seasons, he could even be used as a sixth man if need be. This should quell any fears that trading for Rubio would prevent the Knicks from targeting a “point guard of the future” in the 2017 draft.

Rubio is just 26 years old. Yes, his lack of a jumper is worrisome, but he’s still young enough where there is a possibility he can develop into a decent shooter capable of knocking down corner threes. More importantly, the Knicks need what he has proven he can bring to the table.

Not only does Rubio share a common European/Spanish-league bond with Porzingis, Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas, his style of play is a natural fit. Rubio running pick-and-rolls with Porzingis and Hernangomez would be a welcome sight inside Madison Square Garden.

Rose didn’t bloom in the Garden. Now the Knicks should make a strong effort to pluck Ricky Rubio from the Wolves and watch him flourish alongside KP and Willy in the future.

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About Tommy Beer

Tommy Beer

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.