You’ve seen the YouTube highlights, the behind-the-back, no-look ally-oop passes, and the incredible wizardry with the basketball. If you’re a basketball fan, you’ve been hearing the name ‘Ricky Rubio’ for years now, and undoubtedly know of the incredible amount of hype surrounding him ever since he burst onto the international scene at the age of 14.
With Wednesday’s news that Rubio has finally agreed to terms with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wolves fans finally have something to get truly excited about for the first time since Kevin Garnett was traded.
But will he be able to live up to the hype once he finally sets foot on an NBA court next fall (pending a lockout)?
To me, it depends on how you define living up to the hype, but I believe he will. I think Rubio is going to instantly have an impact at the NBA level and will make the Wolves not only a much better team, but also a more exciting and active team.
Detractors will point to Rubio’s subpar season in Europe this year and say he has regressed as a player and question whether someone who can’t even dominate lesser competition overseas could hope to be an impact player in the NBA.
Well, Brandon Jennings, now with the Milwaukee Bucks made the decision coming out of high school to play in Italy, due to the NBA’s rule requiring rookies to be at least one year removed from high school. During his one season in Italy, Jennings averaged just over 5 points per game, and very limited playing time.
While Jennings’ situation and skill-set are much different than Rubio’s, his situation does prove that Rubio’s struggles this season in Spain don’t necessarily mean his game has regressed and his skills have diminished. His game could still translate to the NBA style of play very well.
And believe it or not, the Wolves do have some talent on their roster. Kevin Love, Darko Milicic, Michael Beasley, Wes Johnson, and Anthony Randolph were all high first-round picks. They all undoubtedly have the pedigree (yes, even Darko is talented).
But their inconsistency and lack of production at times (aside from Love) was partly because the Wolves’ point guard play was so bad last year.
The great teams have good, smart players running their offenses, that see the floor well and have great vision and instincts to get the ball where it needs to be. A position that requires so much of the ball-handling and decision-making responsibilities needs to be played by someone who possesses the necessary vision and basketball “IQ.”
Rubio looks like that player in my opinion. Suddenly, with the quarterback of their team finally in place, you start to see the possibilities with the Wolves. Suddenly, Love and Beasley are finding themselves open much more often for uncontested jump shots off the pick-and-roll. Suddenly, fast break opportunities that used to end with a fumble out of bounds, now end with Rubio ally-oop passes to Johnson. Suddenly, Randolph and Darko are getting a lot more easy dunks down low. Suddenly, many of those games that would have been single-digit-point losses last year, turn into wins with Rubio running the show.
I realize that it’s going to take more than Rubio to turn the Wolves around, but at least he’s a start.
He definitely has things he needs to work on, namely his outside shooting and his strength. But to me, those two attributes are among the easiest to improve upon. Hit the weights and put up a ton of shots in the gym during the summer.
I’d much rather my point guard need improvement on those things, rather than instincts, fearlessness, and vision; those can’t be taught.
I, on the other hand, do not believe Rubio will live up to the hype. Don’t get me wrong, I think he is a spectacular player with loads of potential. And can’t think of any reasons why he wouldn’t be a major help to the Timberwolves. But he, or rather his fans, have set the bar so high for him that it’s going to be nearly impossible for him to live up to the hype.
In 2006, with his junior national team, Rubio registered 3 triple-doubles, 1 quadruple-double, and the gaudy stat-line of 51 points, 24 rebounds, 12 assists, and 7 steals, in an overtime victory over Russia.
Then, in one of the most watched international basketball games of all time, Rubio went toe-to-toe with one of the best point guards in the game, Chris Paul, and even recorded an impressive steal against him.
Rubio’s performance and poise on two of the biggest stages in his young career have earned him comparisons to NBA Hall of Famers, “Pistol” Pete Maravich, and Magic Johnson, along with NBA superstars, Chris Paul and Manu Ginobili. Now, at just 19 years of age, how can Rubio be expected to live up to the hype when coaches, scouts, players and fans alike have begun comparing him to such great players before he’s even stepped foot on an NBA court.
That being said, I hope he has a great career here in the NBA, but fans please, let’s hold off judgement until he’s played at least a couple full-seasons.