The Impending Rise of Ricky Rubio
Imagine yourself as the general manager for a dreadful NBA team. You are handed the unenviable task of turning it all around; you must bet your reputation, and your job, on identifying the right young talent that can not only serve as your best player, but also as the face of your franchise.
With apologies and acknowledgment to Blake Griffin, Hasheem Thabeet and Jordan Hill, any team in the situation described above that passes on Ricky Rubio, the savant/point guard from Spain, is making a staggering and majestic mistake.
To overlook Rubio would be the sort of egregious error that costs NBA general managers their jobs, whereas signing him might win them a future championship. No other player available in this or next year’s NBA Draft has that kind of potential.
As he showed a global audience last fall during the Olympics, there is no one in the world his age that possesses Rubio’s level of skillfulness. His point guard vision is already among the best in the international ranks, while his general basketball IQ, sense of anticipation, and ability to create for himself and teammates outshone that of his teammate and NBA starter Jose Calderon. He has also been compared favorably to Steve Nash and Bob Cousy.
Not bad praise for a young man that won’t turn 19 until October.
Rubio was the youngest player to ever play in the Spanish ACB League, considered by many to be the premier professional league in the world outside of the NBA. The 6’4″ guard debuted for DKV Joventut when he was just 15 years old, and true to form as the prodigy he seemed, he lead Joventut to the FIBA EuroCup championship that very season.
For comparison sake, imagine if Chris Paul had joined the Hornets as a high-school sophomore and played a key role in their run to a title. The absurdity of such a scenario speaks to how special Rubio’s talent is.
He led the Spanish League in steals the next season en route to winning it’s Rising Star Award and being named FIBA Europe’s Young Player of the Year in 2007 and 2008.
Rubio has shown great maturity and strong floor leadership in continuing his torrent winning pace through Europe’s best club competition: he won the ULEB Cup championship with Joventut in 2008 while being voted the Best Point Guard in the Spanish League.
His scoring ability reminds many of Drazen Petrovic, with whom Rubio’s game is often linked, yet it is his unorthodox style and creative spark that have many comparing the young Spaniard to former LSU legend Pete Maravich.
Comparisons to a Hall of Famer such as Maravich do not come without expectation and Rubio has done his best to live up to any heightened scrutiny such associations create. In the fall of 2006, he led Spain’s Junior National team to the FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship by securing three triple-doubles and one quadruple-double for good measure.
Just how astounding was his dominance against his peer group? In the tournament final he finished with 51 points, 24 rebounds, 12 assists, and seven steals (he lead the tournament in all four categories). That performance has taken on a mythical status among hoop heads the world over after Doug Collins continually fawned over it during the Olympics.
Such starling success on the international stage propelled him to a place on the Spanish National team last fall and the aforementioned spot in the Olympics, where he became the youngest player ever to play in an Olympic Final.
Rubio’s game is not without its faults. He will need to improve his shooting efficiency and must develop more accuracy from long-range to become a feared scoring threat in the NBA.
Other weaknesses in his game include an inflated assist to turnover ratio. While he is unlikely to ever be among the league leaders in this efficiency standing given how improvisational and inventive his style of play is, it will nonetheless improve as he gains experience, control, and wisdom. Also worth noting is that his athleticism is adequate, but not extraordinary, especially in terms of his foot speed.
Someday in the near future, Rubio’s journey to NBA stardom will take its next step. Contract negotiations and potential buy-outs have called into question just when the best point guard in Europe will arrive at the NBA’s shores.
Ultimately though, that arrival and ascension to stardom appears inevitable. Whether it is this spring or next, he will soon be standing in the player green room at Madison Square Garden, wearing the typically horrible suit and an over-styled haircut.
The young wonderkid from Barcelona will then hear his name called by David Stern. It is likely that from then on we too will hear his name, early and often.