Thursday, January 12, 2012

My European scouting report: I was wrong on Ricky Rubio

ricky rubio, timberwolves, photoshoot"I'm ready for my close-up"

I was way off on Ricky Rubio.
I had the privilege of seeing Rubio a few times in 2011, for Barcelona in Euroleague action against eventual champs Panathinaikos and representing the Spanish National team as they dominated the EuroBasket Championships.

Its worth noting I described the opportunity as a privilege rather than a pleasure as quite frankly it was an underwhelming and aggravating experience.

I first noticed Rubio in the Beijing Olympics as a prodigy pickpocketing the Chinese backcourt mercilessly. I was giddy at being able to scout him in Barcelona. Despite being a nailbiter Rubio was a non-entity, I don't recall him being used at all in the second half. In Eurobasket action he seemed to be third in the PG rotation behind Sergio Lull and starter Jose Calerdon and rarely featured in the closing minutes.

From this sample and through conversations with Spanish fans I got the impression Rubio didn't have a natural killer instinct. He had a shaky jumpshot, seemingly content just to hit the rim.

In his first month in the NBA... oooh boy has he been a revelation! Mirroring the type of electricity Blake Griffin generated for his own belated NBA arrival last year.

I was in Vegas for the NBA Summer League featuring Rubio's 2009 Draft Class. Whilst that rookie crop boasted the likes of ROY Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, Steph Curry and [also ROY] Blake Griffin, the only rooks I witnessed were Jonny Flynn and Hasheem Thabeet. Not exactly a flattering sample. Such was my low assessment of Rubio that I didn't see him besting the underwhelming Flynn.

The frustration caused by the lockout seemingly conspired to welcome its newest sensation, the 2yrs of NBA limbo eroded the anticipation into apathy. The collective eagerness to return to business as usual softened the pressure on the much hyped rook, the Spaniard delivering bigger than anyone could have imagined under muted expectations.

The Wolves' arrival as the feel good team of the season is a convergence of a few things:
  • Shipping out fellow 2009 draftee Jonny Flynn
  • Abandoning Coach Rambis and his quixotic scheme to transplant a triangle offense synonymous with Dynasties (helmed by GOAT players) to - uh - the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Introducing Coach Adelman's flowing offense to compliment the Wolves' young core
  • The emergence of Kevin Love as an Elite Top15 player
The Wolves are consistently mentioned as a must-watch team with many in the Press corps admitting they flick to Wolves games' on NBA League Pass awaiting Rubio's insertion on the court (Ridnour is tipped to lose his Starting spot sooner rather than later).

Magic Johnson had this to say of Rubio after his scoreless, 3 assist showing for Barcelona against the Lakers in the Champion VS Champion exhibition game in 2010:
Getting schooled by Ricky Rubio
"You're going to be wrong. Listen to me on this kid. He'll be better in the NBA than he is in Europe because our guys are more athletic and they run to the rim. In Europe, guys don't really run the break; they fan out around the 3-point line, they pump-fake, they look to score in other ways. Our guys are going to see a dude who can pass it like Rubio and run like hell to the rim. Trust me."
- Magic Johnson
The game's most dominant floor leader was right. I was wrong.
At least I can take comfort in seeing Rubio before he became a bonafide star. My goal now is to see him live again, this time in NBA action.

ricky rubio, jason kiddThe old guard

ricky rubio, derrick roseThe new guard

ricky rubio, jose calderon, spanishSpanish guards

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