The Fascinating Defensive Upside of Miles Rubin
Miles Rubin has historically impressive defensive numbers so far, and the tape suggests that it could be very real.
It is exceedingly rare for freshmen centers to be dominant defenders. The leap in speed, physicality, and schemes is a drastic one from high school to college. Most freshmen centers are dominant high school defenders because of their far superior physical tools. In college, though, everything tends to level out and only the rare exceptions are the ones who consistently impact defense at a high level. Miles Rubin from Loyola Chicago is rapidly showing that he could be one of these rare exceptions.
Rubin is a 6’10” 205-pound freshman who attended Simeon High School in Chicago. Unlike some of the rare freshman defensive savants that we’ve seen in recent years, Rubin wasn’t a highly touted recruit out of high school. He was just a three-star recruit per 247Sports, wasn’t on ESPN’s top 100, and didn’t appear in the RSCI top 100. Despite that, Rubin is posting some of the most impressive rim protection numbers we’ve seen from a freshman in the last 15 years.
This season, Rubin currently has a block rate of 15.3, which is the fifth-best in the country, per Barttorvik. The next closest freshman is Justin Bodo Bodo of High Point at 11.7. Rubin’s block rate of 15.3 would be the seventh-highest block rate for a freshman and the 29th-highest block rate for any college player since 2008. Only 35 total players since 2008 have recorded a block rate of at least 15 with the highest being 18.8 achieved by Larry Sanders and Walker Kessler. Additionally, Rubin has been terrific at ending defensive possessions with his rebounding. His defensive rebounding rate of 20.4 is very good, and if maintained, would make him one of 12 players overall and one of four freshmen to record a defensive rebounding rate of at least 20 and a block rate of at least 15 in the same season.
While these queries are impressive, they don’t necessarily guarantee anything as the NBA success has been hit or miss, at best, for Rubin’s peers. Block rate has generally been a strong indicator of a translatable skill to the NBA, so instead let’s lower it a little to 12%, which is still outstanding, along with the 20% threshold for defensive rebounding. When we look at the draft picks over the last 15 years, we get an output that isn’t too dissimilar from what Rubin is currently producing.
There isn’t a surefire number or combination of numbers that will guarantee a prospect’s success. However, there is a proven track record of college players who produced similarly to Rubin who carved out solid careers at worst. The tricky part about blocks, though, is that they aren’t all created equal. Far too many players over-aggressively chase blocks to pad their stats while leaving their man open for a rebound or dump-off pass. Others are complete statues and would immediately get exposed in the NBA. That’s where the tape comes in. When we combine Rubin’s tape with his impressive numbers, that’s where the intrigue really starts to grow. Rubin is incredibly athletic, moves well in space, and isn’t afraid of protecting the rim.
Defending post-ups isn’t as common in the NBA as it used to be, but it is still a baseline skill that all centers must be somewhat capable of. So far this season, Rubin is allowing opponents to shoot just 37.5% on post-ups, per Synergy. Here, we see Rubin matched up on Ryan Kalkbrenner, who has a couple of inches on Rubin and ranks in the 98th percentile in post-up scoring shooting 69.6%. Kalkbrenner doesn’t exactly break out the Dream Shake here, but he does try to impose himself on Rubin and fails. Rubin holds his ground, times his block to perfection, and swats away the shot before it even leaves Kalkbrenner’s hand. For what it’s worth, Kalkbrenner has only missed seven out of 23 post-up shots this season and three of them were against Rubin.
This time, Rubin yet again does a great job of holding his ground and being patient. After the crab dribble to the middle of the lane fails, the ball handler tries to dislodge Rubin with a strong drop step and elbow. Rubin doesn’t yield an inch and swats away the sorry attempt.
Admittedly, post-up defense isn’t always the most electrifying, but it is important. Just as important, and infinitely more prone to the highlight reel, is weak side rim protection. Here, Rubin is guarding Kalkbrenner on the opposite elbow as Trey Alexander makes a strong drive. Rubin slowly begins to rotate, which puts him in prime position, but doesn’t commit too early. Instead, he waits until Alexander has beaten his defender before fully collapsing to the rim. As Alexander tries to elevate after his elongated strides, Rubin comes out of nowhere, swats the layup away but not into the stands, and has the presence of mind to save it to a teammate.
This time, Rubin yet again meets Alexander at the rim. As Alexander drives, Rubin is already in the lane. This positioning allows him to wall up and invite the contact instead of collapsing from the side and having to overly worry about a foul. Rubin times his leap with Alexander’s but stays perfectly vertical. Rubin eliminates any possibility for Alexander to get a shot off, stays patient, and swats away the shot once Alexander presents the ball.
Rubin’s athleticism and awareness aren’t solely limited to weak side rim protection. He’s consistently proving that he’s capable of defending in space and anticipating rotations. Here, Rubin begins the play by communicating multiple switches as Boston College runs a series of screens. Rubin follows his man to the free throw line before immediately collapsing to the opposite block as his teammates double the ball right away.
As the ball is kicked out and swung around the perimeter, Rubin decisively closes out under control. The key here is that Rubin didn’t recklessly fly by the shooter. Instead, he ran him off his spot and was under control enough to recover enough to get a moderate contest on the shot. The opposing center just beats Rubin to the rebound and somehow sets up what should be a good look at the rim. Instead, Rubin continues his pursuit and provides additional aid to his teammate at the rim with yet another contest to force the miss.
Rubin’s ground coverage, agility, and footwork are regularly on display. This time, Rubin shows off his quick feet and hip mobility. As his man receives the pass, the ball handler immediately attacks Rubin’s high foot. Rubin does a perfect job of switching his stance and sliding his feet to his left. As he cuts off the drive, the ball handler shows off some nifty footwork of his own and spins back to his left. Rubin yet again fluidly flips his hips and mirrors the ball handler’s movement, allowing him to swat away the layup attempt.
Switching Rubin in space is proving to be a losing strategy as he’s more than agile enough and has relentless pursuit. Here, Rubin switches the handoff and does a great job of forcing the ball handler’s drive outside of the lane. The ball handler makes a beautiful dump-off pass, but Rubin isn’t impressed. His teammates delay the shooter for a fraction of a second, Rubin continues his pursuit of the ball, times his block to perfection, and turns away the shot.
Rubin is proving by the game that he could be one of the most impactful and versatile rim protectors in the country. His blocks aren’t solely limited to post-ups or help side rotations. He switches in space, communicates, makes the proper rotations, and has impeccable leaping ability. Rubin is averaging 1.9 fouls per game, which he must clean up, but almost a quarter of them are offensive and only a handful have come actually challenging a shot.
Aside from the fouls, the offensive end is the big question mark for Rubin. He isn’t going to be an offensive hub or floor spacer, but he has plenty of tools and upside to be an excellent play finisher. For the majority of centers in the NBA, that’s enough.
Currently, Rubin is finding his points off of cuts and out of the roll. He’s shooting 70% on cuts, 88.9% out of the roll, and 71.4% overall at the rim. Rubin’s footwork aids him well as he navigates traffic and probes the baseline to find open pockets.
Miles Rubin may be more of a next year guy, but his athletic tools, defensive versatility, and defensive production are impossible to ignore. His offensive outlook feels pretty clear, but it’s his defense that should engender a lot of excitement. Centers who move and protect the rim like he does end up at least getting a cup of coffee in the NBA.