FiveThirtyEight: Ricky Rubio is as good as Kevin Love

The Minnesota Timberwolves are going to sit out another NBA playoff season after last night’s interest-free effort in a loss at Memphis.

It’s been a season of unmet expectations for the team which will have two big questions in the offseason: (1) Should the team trade Kevin Love before he can walk away from Minnesota after next season and (2) is Ricky Rubio the player he was cracked up to be?

Rubio can’t shoot — that much is clear after several seasons in Minnesota. Today, though, the data-driven journalism site FiveThirtyEight suggests that Rubio is as “irreplaceable” as MVP candidate Kevin Love because he ranks second in the NBA in steals per game.

Benjamin Morris calculates that a steal is worth nine points.

For example, a player who averages 16 points and two steals per game is predicted (assuming all else is equal) to have a similar impact on his team’s success as one who averages 25 points but only one steal. If these players were on different teams and were both injured at the same time, we would expect their teams to have similar decreases in performance (on average).

Steals have considerable intrinsic value. Not only do they kill an opponent’s possession, but a team’s ensuing possession — the one that started with the steal — often leads to fast-break scoring opportunities. But though this explains how a steal can be more valuable than a two-point basket, it doesn’t come close to explaining how we get from that to nine points.

“Love’s observable impact has been only marginally better than Rubio’s,” Morris writes. “So far, both are putting up elite numbers. ”

If Morris’ calculations have weight, it’s even more egregious that a team with two MVP-type players can’t make the playoffs.