Ricky Rubio’s debut in the NBA has been highly anticipated since he signed his first pro contract at the age of 14. His reputation preceeds him, his talent is undeniable, and his star potential has been speculated by many.
In Olympic competition and the World Championships this past summer, Rubio showed the World what all the talk was about with flashes of pure brilliance.
But his stat line and his jump shot make a completely different argument on his behalf. Many NBA fans look as his lackluster performances from previous years in Europe, and on Spain’s national team, and wonder what all the fuss is about. He makes spectacular plays here and there, but where are the meat and potatoes that should show up in the box score?
Rubio supporters maintain that he is still very young, and European stats do not translate to the often inflated ones of the NBA.
Rubio finally played his first game against an NBA opponent this past week. His team scored 92 points in an impressive win over the NBA Champion Lakers (notice how I didn’t say World Champions), but Rubio put up a bagel in the point column. He had three assists and four turnovers to go along with his 0-5 shooting day.
What’s the excuse now? Still too young? Possibly.
But is there another explanation for Rubio’s statistics, or rather, lack thereof? And is there cause for concern?
I have a theory: Ricky Rubio started playing professional basketball too early.
Some readers may be thinking, “How could playing against professional competition at a young age be a bad thing?
Just hear me out.
Growing up with an older brother, I would find myself playing with older kids who physically dominated me. In those games, I was forced to play a very limited role: defending, passing, ball-handling, and very little shooting.
When I played with guys my own age, I could play my game, which allowed me to shoot the ball when I wanted to and create for my teammates. I learned a lot playing against older competition, but I still needed to play against guys my own age to develop other skills.
Now, I was playing against kids two years older in suburban Minnesota. Ricky Rubio has been playing against grown men who also happen to be professional basketball players.
Unlike most rising stars going through high school and playing AAU ball, Ricky was never allowed to go out and chuck up 20 shots in a game. As a young player trying to develop, you need to be in an environment where you can afford to make mistakes and get better.
When you are playing professional basketball, you are under a lot pressure to perform and win ball games. Ricky’s role on his team was to defend, dribble up the court, and distribute the basketball. And now, that’s all he knows how to do.
Ricky is a phenomenal defender, ball-handler, and distributor, but the top NBA point guards these days need to be threats to pass and score. The elite point guards can shoot from the perimeter, or at least spring themselves for mid-range jump shots. So far, Ricky has shown no signs of being able to shoot consistently from any spot on the floor.
So, will Rubio ever develop a good outside shot or mid-range jumper like Steve Nash or Chris Paul? Unlikely. Though Magic Johnson was able to become a much better shooter after he left college. He was never a great shooter, but became solid.
Can Rubio still be very good in the NBA as a one-dimensional player? Yes, because he is extremely good at that one dimension. I expect Rubio to have a very similar style of play to Jason Kidd and Rajon Rondo (which isn't that bad).
Finally, would Ricky have benefited from playing against a little lesser competition through his teens? Decide for yourself.