How Ricky Rubio Became Elite At Drawing Free Throws

By Matt Esposito

Here’s a list of things we take for granted:

  • Getting a gift basket at a friend’s birthday during ages 4-10
  • Complimentary garlic knots at Italian restaurants
  • Hotel air conditioners that turn your room into a slumber tundra
  • Ricky Rubio’s ability to get to the free throw line

Did you see that last one? Up there next to Jonas Valanciunas and JaMychal Green, Ricky Rubio remains one of the more underrated players in the NBA. Although his shooting numbers have only recently become passable, Rubio has long worked wonders as a facilitator and defender.

But there’s a specific skill of his that remains under-discussed: Rubio is among the game’s best at drawing shooting fouls. Outside of a couple years in Utah in which he had a lesser role next to Donovan Mitchell, Rubio’s shooting-fouled percentages have been awesome.

Courtesy of Cleaning The Glass

So, how is Rubio currently in the top-25 for free throw rate (FTr) for all backcourt players and top-50 for all players who logged more than 1000 minutes?) The devil is in the details; let’s exorcise those demons by reviewing the tape.

Ripping Thru Arms In The Midrange

Throughout his career, Rubio has been a poor midrange shooter. In spite of this, he continues to place in above average percentiles for midrange shot attempts. This makes my Nancy Drew senses tingle—there must be a reason.

Rubio doesn’t shy away from midrange looks because he knows he can get fouled in that area. Fouled shot attempts don’t count as field goal attempts, but this gives insight into his approach. What does he do in particular to draw fouls there?

Normally, players seek out trips to the line by banging bodies at the hoop. For instance, Jayson Tatum changed his shot chart this season by bulking up in preparation of more paint attempts. Rubio tries a totally unique approach. The second he sees the opportunity, he swings his shot attempt through the outstretched arms of his opponent. It’s fascinating to watch because, without the foul, you’d probably never expect Rubio to take that shot.

Selling The Bump

There’s something about this subheading that doesn’t quite sit well with me, but this is why god gave us editors. (Editor’s note: nice.) Rubio relies on midrange fouls, but he’s no stranger to driving when the chance arises. This is one way he demonstrates his immaculate feel for the game.

Call it “acting”—or maybe you’d prefer the term “flopping”—but nevertheless, Rubio is a Harden-level master at selling fouls. He pays the price, too. Hitting the floor is part of the process. Watch Rubio explode off of defenders once he feels that they are (quite literally) on his hip. Kudos to you, our Spanish amigo.

Deceleration

Ah yes, another Harden favorite. Unfortunately for Ricky, the 6-foot-3 point guard can’t boast dozens of YouTube videos highlighting gravity-defying dunks. Aware of his athletic limitations, Rubio uses craftiness around the rim.

To create contact from unwitting defenders, he often stops short during hard drives. Frustrated defenders often crash right into his rear end or land somewhere on his back. All that’s left for Rubio to do is flip the ball up towards the rim to draw the foul.

Unless they’re one of my exes, I’m not one who takes joy in seeing other people frustrated. Watching these videos changed my mind—Rubio’s cleverness is a pleasure to watch. Usually, the mob takes out their pitchforks for perceived floppers, but he’s somehow managed to avoid the hate from #NBATwitter, too. But where you see flopping, I see art, and we should all enjoy this artist.

Published by Matt Esposito

Founder/Writer for Theplaygrounder.com and contributor to Red’s Army Twitter: @Mattesposito_

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