There are two schools of thought when it comes to Ricky Rubio:
1. HE RULEZ!!!!!111!!!!
2. HE SUCKZ!!!!!111!!!!
And there doesn’t seem to be any common ground in between when it comes to the Spanish phenom with a flair for being full of flair.
He’s either a fantastic playmaker that will change the league in a way Jason Williams (not the shotgun-toting one, not the motorcycle enthusiast either) couldn’t quite grasp or didn’t care to grasp. Or he’s an overrated hype machine that is too soft to play in the NBA and has no chance of ever making a jumpshot. Also, his hair is stupid and he’s too small to play against decent-sized point guards.
What’s insane to me is how polarizing Rubio’s performances are to basketball fans. Watch this extended highlight clip from Sunday’s game against Team USA:
Here are a couple of notes on his performance before we get into what Rubio means in the basketball world:
1. The alley-oop toss to Fran Vazquez early on in the game was a momentum changer in my opinion. This Spanish team was listless and unable to get much going in terms of flow and execution on offense. So Ricky came in and decided to inject a little life into the team. Casually tossing an alley-oop in the lane in a hook shot motion without looking can do that. Even with it not connecting, it showed that he wasn’t afraid of this US team and was ready to have some fun.
2. I have no statistical evidence to back this up but I’ve watched about 20 Rubio games over the past few months through the beauty of illegal internet feeds and I would contend that Rubio is a much better shooter off the dribble and in the moment than when he has time to think about it. His shooting form looks a lot more natural and pure when he doesn’t have time to think about it. I think you can see that when he shot off the dribble for his three and the contrast when he had the open three in the corner.
3. Around 7:20, Ricky drives right past Derrick Rose and instead of going straight up with the layup to get the contact and maybe a trip to the line, he seems to be overly conscious of Rose’s athletic ability and instead tries to stop and let the Bulls’ star fly by. In the process, he takes about six steps. I mention this for two reasons. First, I know it’s just one play but in the NBA he needs to look for that contact. Second, it was funny to watch him justify it after watching the baseline replay.
4. I apologize for not remembering who mentioned this on Twitter but for the last play of the game, if Rubio’s flip over his shoulder to Rudy resulted in the game-winning shot he’d be praised beyond belief. Instead, he flipped it to Rudy, Rudy hesitated and let the longest human being in the history of lankiness recover enough to block his shot at the end of the game. It’s funny how one little hesitation can possibly change the entire outlook on a player’s performance.
In getting back to the Spanish kid, it’s clear he belongs in the NBA. I don’t mean that as an elitist who thinks the NBA is the only place to showcase an amazing talent. But this guy belongs in an up-tempo style of play in which he’s allowed to show off a little flash while being broadcasted to the entire world on every single night. He’s a star in the NBA when he comes here. That doesn’t mean he’s a franchise player because he’s not. But he’s a star in the making with his flair and ability.
The thing to figure out in building this Wolves team is how much that ability and flair turns into wins. I think it’s unrealistic to think Rubio comes over and this turns into a playoff team. And that’s not because the team is SO bad or Rubio isn’t good enough. It’s just nearly impossible to build a team around a point guard and have them be completely legitimate, especially in a conference like the West. The Wolves will need a big time scorer to put with Rubio and company, sort of in the mold of what the Phoenix Suns did with Nash (whether fans like it or not, that’s the proper comparison) and Amare. But the differences between the presence of Nash and the presence of Rubio are big.
Rubio’s inability to shoot at a high clip or even an average clip is going to be a problem. That’s not to say he can’t improve on that. I think his shot is very fixable and it’s more of an understanding on how to get into rhythm than him being able to have a good jumper at all. But it’s hard to build an up-tempo/triangle attack when your ringmaster can’t shoot a lick. Ricky would be superb in a pick-and-roll heavy system because he’s nearly impossible to account for in those situations. But in the triangle, he’d be less of a playmaker and that’s when the jumper will come a lot more into question and prominence.
The other huge difference between Nash and Rubio is defensively. We all know Nash can’t defend a lick. But Rubio has proven to be a really good defender in the international game. Defensively, I’d compare him to Rajon Rondo. Now before any stray Celtics fans get up in arms about it, I simply am comparing their styles of defending. They both have a very solid defensive base while gambling for steals quite a bit. Rondo is quicker, stronger and a better defender but Rubio has the chance to be a very good defender at the NBA level.
Rubio is not some small point guard. He’s 6’4” and this shocks a lot of people because they like to assume he’s some physically overmatched kid out there. He’s also listed around 180 lbs but looks to have put on some muscle over the past year. Rubio’s wingspan also helps him tip a lot of passes to create turnovers. He also uses his body very well to get into offensive players and he plays physical perimeter defense. But with no hand checking allowed in the NBA (it’s allowed in FIBA), you have to wonder how much his defense actually translates when he crosses the pond. If he can’t adjust to a less physical style of perimeter defense, this team will be more exciting but I don’t know how much better they truly get.
However, if he can adapt to the NBA style of perimeter defense, slide his feet and still be able to be aggressive defensively that’s where I get truly excited about the future of this team with Ricky Rubio. Having a solid defensive point guard who is able to galvanize an offense with his creativity and energy instantly turns around a fledgling organization. Add a top pick (Harrison Barnes?!?) who can score the ball and now you’ve got a lot more to work with.
I understand the praise and the criticism that is thrown Rubio’s way. He is not complete. He’s immature at times on the floor in terms of taking chances with passes in key situations. He’s also one of the more gifted passers we’ve seen over the past couple decades and he seems to be fearless in trying to lead his team. His youth is used as a crutch of an excuse and a detriment to what he can do on the court. But the fact that he has so much time to grow as a player before he even hits his prime leaves me hopeful for his inception into the NBA.
I just hope the positive talk is correct and it happens in a Wolves uniform because I think he RULEZ!!!!111!!!