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Remembering Ricky Rubio: How the Point Guard Changed the Trajectory of Devin Booker’s Career in His Lone Season in the Valley

© Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It is very rare to make such a big impact on a team and player in a singular losing season in the NBA, but that is exactly what Ricky Rubio did for the Phoenix Suns and Devin Booker in the 2019-20 season.

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Last week on Jan. 4, Rubio, who has been known as a pioneer for international basketball in the NBA, announced his intention to retire from the league after being bought out by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 33-year-old Rubio cited mental health in his decision to step away from basketball.

“July 30th was one of the toughest nights of my life,” Rubio wrote in a message on social media. “My mind went to a dark place. I kind of knew I was going on that direction, but I’ve never thought I wasn’t under control of the situation. The next day, I decided to stop my professional career.”


Rubio had long been scouted as a prodigy from Spain from the time he was 14 years old. He won an Olympic silver medal with Spain in 2008, a bronze in 2012 and was named FIBA World Cup MVP in 2019.

Rubio was selected in the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves and went onto play seven seasons in Minnesota and two with the Utah Jazz before landing in Phoenix. He was eventually dealt in the Chris Paul trade playing only one season with the Suns. Rubio would go onto finish his career by playing one season in Minnesota and two with the Cavaliers, suffering an ACL injury that affected his playstyle and that he had been rehabbing in his time in Cleveland.

He finished his 12-year NBA career playing in 698 regular season games, averaging 10.8 points, 7.4 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals.

So how exactly did Rubio alter the trajectory of Booker and the Phoenix Suns’ franchise in his singular season in the Valley?

Rubio’s Effect on Phoenix and Devin Booker

In July of 2019, the Suns finally got Booker a true point guard by signing Rubio to a three-year, $51 million deal. They were coming off a 19-63 season and had finished in last place in the Western Conference for three straight years. This 2019-20 season was also the first of four under head coach Monty Williams.

The Suns ended the 2019-20 campaign at 34-39 and 10th place in the Western Conference, despite having Deandre Ayton suspended for the first 25 games.

They capped off the COVID-affected year by just making the 22-team invite list to the NBA Bubble in Orlando. Even thought they barely qualified, Phoenix ended up being the only team to go an undefeated 8-0 in the regular season games in the bubble. Rubio played in all eight of these bubble games, as the Suns just missed out on the playoffs. This would have been their first playoff appearance since the 2009-10 season.

In total, Rubio played and started in 65 of the Suns’ 73 games and nearly averaged a career-high with 13.0 points per game. For the season, he was fourth in the NBA averaging 8.8 assists per game and shot a career-high 36% from deep.

“He competed,” Booker said of Rubio. “Not only is he a point guard that keeps everybody involved. He (has) a knack to him, he has a chip on his shoulder, and he brought the intensity every night too. He’s somebody that you love on your team, but hate when he’s on the other team. Just annoying, getting his hands on a lot of balls and being able to just control the game without shooting it. And that’s really impressive.”

This season set up the future for the Suns, who would gone onto realize the value of a point guard alongside Booker, including Rubio in the package for Paul just a few months after the bubble run.

Rubio was not happy when he got traded away from Phoenix, believing the Suns had a legitimate chance to make the playoffs the following year.

“It is not a dish of good taste that when you are involved in a project, you leave your skin and see that you are working, at the first change you have to go,” Rubio said in a article followin the trade.

However, this one season ended up immediately catapulting the Suns to being one of the top teams in the NBA,

Phoenix made the 2021 NBA Finals in the first season after Rubio left. The next season (2021-22), they would go onto win a franchise-record 64 games. Now, they bolster a modern-day superteam that features Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal alongside Devin Booker.

When reminiscing on Rubio after Friday’s 113-97 win over the Miami Heat, Booker was very candid in talking about what his former point guard brought to the court.

“I could be up here all day (talking about Rubio),” Booker said. “Even though it was just one year, it was so impactful to my career. And just his veteran leadership and his IQ, his approach, his brotherhood too. He’s always somebody that would check in on you when he was on the team, and even when he left too.

“An amazing career. Someone that we’ve all been following since he was 15-16 years old in Spain. And he’s gained respect from everybody over here … I wish he would play longer, but everybody makes that decision. I’m gonna miss him on the court, but he’s a friend forever.”

Two Former Phoenix Suns Guards Retire from NBA

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Brendan Mau is a senior writer covering the Phoenix Suns and more for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on X via @Brendan_Mau

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