Photo: Benny Sieu / USA Today Sports
Over the offseason, there were plenty of Cleveland Cavaliers fans and many inside the Cavs organization who were pumped when the team brought back a favorite in Ricky Rubio on a three-year deal for $18.4 million, with the third season partially-guaranteed.
Rubio provided more than a splash for the Wine Golders last season. The former No. 5 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft was a vital piece to Cleveland’s puzzle off the bench. His elite passing, timing, vision, pick-and-roll play and defensive playmaking were crucial in his time on the floor, and that energy fueled the team every time he laced up his sneakers.
No. 9 averaged 13 points, seven assists and four rebounds per contest in his 34 appearances for Cleveland during the 2021-22 season before it was cut short due to a crushing torn ACL injury in Rubio's left knee in late December of 2021, which was the same one he initially tore in 2012 back in his first stint with Minnesota.
By all accounts, Rubio is set to return soon. However, coming off his second torn ACL at 32-years-old, there are questions surrounding the type of player he will be, and the type of impact he will make for the 2022-2023 Cavs.
Not as much pressure will be on Rubio off the bench. The former starter now bench contributor will bring stability to the bench unit and keep them in the flow of the game, as well as more scoring and a veteran voice that can give the dynamic duo of Darius Garland and Donavon Mitchell a break. The hope is Rubio will be able to lead the second unit and help the bench production in order to relieve Garland and Mitchell, so they won’t play as many minutes as they’re now
Although the International star is a potential key bench player, there is going to be times where we see him with some of the starters. Here's some of the potential lineups the Cavaliers can put out on the hardwood when Rubio returns.
Rubio, Mitchell, Caris LeVert, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen
Former teammates in Utah suiting up in Cleveland once again with two anchors in the middle. LeVert and Mitchell are two shot creators, and combined with Rubio and Mobley, there’s a plethora of capable playmakers, with Rubio initiating most of the offense from the point, as well as the threat of the lob to Jarrett Allen.
Cleveland is tied with Dallas for the slowest pace of play per game in the Association. With Rubio, they could look to push the pace more with his lead passing and with the drivers in Mitchell and LeVert being dynamic in transition.
Rubio, Garland, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love and Mobley
Pre-Rubio injury, this lineup turned out to play well together last season. Garland was more of a scoring threat since he was playing off ball more. This backcourt duo is also puts Cleveland’s best passers together.
Love has longtime chemistry with former Minnesota teammate in Rubio, so this is also beneficial to the Cavs with how those two play off each other so well. That relates to handoff scenarios, transition play, and pick-and-pops.
Mobley won’t have a crowded paint with Love stretching in this lineup more often than usual, so Mobley could go work at the elbows and opens the lane up, giving the promising big fella many opportunities to catch lobs for an easy bucket.
Cedi Osman doesn’t have as much pressure on him to produce at the "3" spot, and he can focus on the defensive end, which will ideally ignite his offense.
Rubio, Mitchell, Dean Wade, Mobley, Allen
Lastly, this lineup involves the Rubio-Mitchell backcourt, the Mobley-Allen frontcourt and Dean Wade, when he’s back from an AC joint sprain, would be involved at the "3".
The former Utah Jazz teammates are the kick starters here from the perimeter, which could result in a number of two man games between them and Allen, who has shown growth with his passing in four-on-three situations. Big-to-big passing could be shown even more with this five-man combination on the floor.
Wade has connected on 41.1% of his threes this year thus far, albeit in 17 games, as he’s dealt with multiple injuries, but you can never have enough shooting in today's NBA.
Length will utilized well here in Rubio, Wade, Mobley and Allen, and those players all can thrive in secondary transition, capitalizing on their defense and showing why the Cavs have one of the best defenses in the NBA no matter who’s on the floor.
Coach J.B. Bickerstaff will mix and match when Rubio returns, but with the mix and matching, it’s going to show Cleveland can play many styles. Rubio’s return bring the Cavs balance and stability, which was becoming a glaring need.