Ricky Rubio and the Team-First Performance Review

Posted on January 13, 2012 by Christopher Matthew Jensen.

Timberwolves rookie point guard Ricky Rubio is an everyday discussion topic for basketball fans in Minnesota. Actually, the young Spanish wunderkind has been a hot topic for years, having turned pro over in Europe at the ripe age of 14, later starting in the gold medal game of the Olympics as a wide-eyed 17-year-old and ably holding his own against the ultimately victorious team of U.S. superstars. He’s young, good looking (in a mop-topped early Beatles sort of way), a charming interview (fluent in Spanish, Catalan and English), and he plays with considerable flair, particularly in his passing and ball-handling. But more than anything else, Rubio is a hot topic because his greatest strengths are passing the ball, seeing the floor, facilitating an offense, and generally playing team-oriented basketball, a definite anomaly in the ego-inflated world of the National Basketball Association. Rubio has almost single-handedly made a “pass-first mentality” cool again. Now if only he could fix the performance review.

The other day, in a friendly game of foosball with co-workers, I decided I wanted to be the Ricky Rubio of foosball. In a two-on-two game I was on defense and I made the decision that I wasn’t going to try to score, instead I would focus intently on setting up my partner. Initially, my companions thought I wasn’t playing very well as I seemed to be hitting the ball with about half the force that I usually do and I wasn’t bombing any of my usual long shots careening off the wall and toward the opposing goal (the two-handed Blake Griffin over a Kia monster jam of foosball). But a funny thing happened; we won both of our games. The shift away from individual glory made me think about the way other teams work and how we traditionally measure an individual's performance.

Teamwork, spelled: R-U-B-I-O

In business, we tend to think of high performing employees as those that achieve the greatest results. But what about those around them? Do your high performers elevate the results of the rest on their team?

Consider a sales team where five individuals all averaged $500K worth of sales in 2010. That’s a total of $2.5M. In 2011, one member of the team left, and a new sales person joined the team, perhaps a highly touted top performer recruited over from a competitor organization. In 2011, the new salesperson sold $1.5M in business. Success! Right? Hang on a minute, the other four members of the team averaged a paltry $100K. That’s only $1.9M in business, 76% of what the team did in 2010. Would you say the new guy knocked it out of the park? Obviously such a situation would require a more thorough analysis of why the other sales people had such a tough year, but it could just be that the “high performer” was bad for the team.

The Timberwolves’ starting point guard is Luke Ridnour. Ricky Rubio has come off the bench each game thus far into his young NBA career. While only managing to score a little over 10 points a game, Rubio has the team’s best +/- ratio (the difference in points scored vs. points allowed when he is on the floor) with a mark of positive 52. Ridnour has averaged over 12 points a game, but has the team’s second worst +/- ratio, at negative 48. Sure, there are many other factors in determining how well a player is performing (assists, rebounds, turnovers, etc.), but it’s clear that to this point, the Timberwolves as a team have had much greater success with Rubio on the floor than Ridnour.

As the Spanish sensation continues to make headlines for his team-oriented play, I can’t help but salivate over the effect his popularity might have on young players developing their game. Basketball could use more players that get excited about passing. And business could certainly benefit from a renewed perspective on performance management, looking at individual performance within the context of team success. They say there is no “I” in team, but if you want to perform better as an organization, you’d be wise to look closely at how individuals are impacting the team’s overall performance. Who’s your Ricky Rubio of sales?

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2 Responses to “Ricky Rubio and the Team-First Performance Review”

  1. KD says:

    Viva Rubio!!!!

    Anybody that can have that impact on a game of geek foosball must have a lot of game….

    Nice post, Chris….

    Thanks – KD

  2. Christopher Matthew Jensen Christopher Matthew Jensen says:

    Great post over on The Classical explaining just why Rubio’s passing has galvanized so many.

    “Incredibly, for all of its exotic disruptions, a great pass, like a magic trick or a joke, usually ends with some dumbly obvious result: a dunk; an uncontested layup; a wide-open corner three. This is the real thrill: a great pass only reveals something that (we feel) should have been plainly before our eyes all along.”

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