It has been a long time coming for the Minnesota Timberwolves. It would appear that this dysfunctional franchise could actually be on the upswing with the contract signing of Ricky Rubio and this upcoming draft (I'm still skeptical about the outcome of the draft).
There's reasonable expectation for Ricky Rubio to become, at the very least, a legit starting PG in the NBA, and there's also expectation for him to be one of the best passers in the game. However, if you consider the likes of Rajon Rondo and Jason Kidd to be "superstar" talents, there are legit reasons to expect that Rubio can acheive the same level of stardom.
Ricky Rubio has All-Star potential written all over him and, as Tony Ronzone says, "The kid is a winner, and anytime you have a kid that has been winning like he has, you take him."
Rubio won't come in as your typical rookie, he will come in with six years of playing professional basketball overseas with grown men and some even past NBA players. He has won virtually every award you can think of. Please consider:
- Spanish King's Cup (1): 2008
- EuroChallenge (1): 2006
- Eurocup (1): 2008
- Catalan Cup Tournament (3): 2005, 2007, 2008
FC Barcelona Basquet
- Spanish League (1): 2010–11
- Spanish King's Cup (2): 2010, 2011
- Euroleague (1): 2010
- Spanish Supercup (2): 2009, 2010
- Catalan Cup Tournament (2): 2009, 2010
Spanish national team
- FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship: Bronze Medal (2005)
- FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship: Gold Medal (2006)
- 2008 Olympics Basketball Tournament: Silver Medal
- 2009 FIBA European Championship: Gold Medal
- MVP of the FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.8 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 6.5 steals. In the final, accumulated 51 points, 24 rebounds, 12 assists and seven steals.
- 2-times led the Spanish ACB League in steals: (2007, 2009)
- Won the Spanish ACB League Rising Star Award: (2007)
- 3-time FIBA European Young Player of the Year: (2007, 2008, 2009)
- 2-time Spanish ACB League's Best Point Guard: (2008, 2010)
- 2-time All-Spanish ACB League Team: (2008, 2010)
- European Player of the Year: Mr. Europa: (2008)
- Spanish ACB League Defensive Player of the Year: (2009)
- Catalan Cup Tournament MVP: (2009)
- Euroleague Rising Star: (2010)
- Won the Spanish ACB League Top 5 Trophy: Most Spectacular Player of the Year (2010)
Unbelievable for a 20-year-old. But that's not the reason as to why he has All-Star written all over him. His stats aren't amazing, but his on-court play is phenomenal. He has the fourth-best plus-minus rating overseas in the last two years. He's played well over 250 games and has well over 4,500 minutes of experience.
Just taking those rough numbers and calculating them with NCAA's minute structure, Rubio has played around 2.8 seasons of college basketball, in which he played all 40 minutes of basketball every single game.
He's as NBA-ready as any other player in the draft is, if not more. For non insiders on ESPN, check out the numbers projected for Ricky Rubio in his rookie season.
8.9 points per game
4.6 rebounds per game
7.3 assists per game
1.8 steals per game
This is assuming that he plays the same amount of minutes that Luke Ridnour played last season. This is also considering if Rubio doesn't improve his shooting, speed, defense or any basketball fundamental, which is highly unlikely. These numbers would put him in the rookie elite category, a very well rounded point guard.
Because these are rookie numbers, there are reasonable expectations that he will get better throughout his career. Would these numbers put him in an All-Star game? Not sure. What will make him an All-Star will be the return of his Pistol Pete flair and the fan's vote. Is it unreasonable to assume that Rubio will average a stat line similar to that of Jason Kidd as a rookie?
Rounded to 12 points, eight assists, five rebounds and two steals per game? Maybe not that many points, but the rest are not far from reach. When you consider that Rubio will be playing with an All-Star in Kevin Love, Wes Johnson, Anthony Randolph, Martell Webster, All-Star talent Michael Beasley (or Derrick Williams/ No. 2 pick), it's hard to imagine that Rubio won't rack up some huge assist numbers.
With Rubio joining the Timberwolves, it's hard to imagine that they won't get on ESPN at least once this season—after all, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio will be very entertaining to watch.
David Kahn has said numerous times that tons of people over-think Rubio's stats, which were abysmal. While you cannot dismiss them completely, there's some logical explanation to explain why Rubio didn't excel the way he could have. ESPN's Kevin Pelton had a few things to say about him:
"So if he can't shoot and turns the ball over, why is Rubio worth the trouble? The answer lies in the rest of his stat line, where Rubio excels. Once we account for European scoring, Rubio's vaunted court vision is easily evident. Just 11 point guards handed out an assist on at least 10 percent of their teams' plays in 2010-11. Eight of the 11 have been All-Stars at some point, and the others are career starters."
Timberwolves fans will be concerned with his shot-making ability. I will say, from a basketball standpoint, one who has practiced with a few college teams before, when a coach doesn't give you the green light to shoot, it's very hard as a point guard to maintain confidence when faced with adversity (i.e bad games). Here's what ESPN's Henry Abbott had to say about his shooting:
"I think that the big question on him—and it's a fair question—is why can’t he make perimeter shots? And I think that part of the reason why is a lack of confidence because he’s never sure when he’s supposed to shoot. And I think that watching tapes of the team and watching [Luke] Ridnour and Jonny Flynn creating shots—I think that he’ll feel like he can do the same thing because he’ll be allowed to. He’s not supposed to be doing that for his team in Spain. [In Minnesota] he’s gonna be encouraged to look for his play. I think he’ll get back to being the player he was years ago when people liked him a lot."
Also, please consider, like a lot of inexperienced point guards in the NBA, their main weakness is their jump shot. Derrick Rose was an abysmal shooter before his breakout MVP season. John Wall's shot is in development. Brandon Jennings can shoot, but is one of the more hot/cold players in the league. Russel Westbrook is still developing his shot, Rajon Rondo (whose a legit All-Star) still cannot shoot the ball confidently. Not to mention that Jason Kidd and Nate McMillan were never considered lights out shooters. The list goes on.
Ideally, Ricky Rubio will develop his jump shot when he gets his confidence going. While he won't light the scoreboard up like Steve Nash, to think that he won't become a decent scorer one day would be insane. The arguments against it are a knock on his speed and athleticism. But the argument against that lies in his basketball I.Q.
If Love was judged based off of him not being able to jump over a phone book, than the Wolves wouldn't have the best rebounder in the NBA. Kevin Love's I.Q is off the charts, and you can make the argument that Rubio's I.Q is greater than some of the upcoming All-Star point guards in the NBA.
The leadership qualities that Rubio possesses at such a young age, coupled with his experience, will almost ensure that his rookie season will be a success, good stats or bad stats.
He will have plenty of offensive weapons to play with. Steve Nash and Amare Stoudeamire had one of the best, if not the best, pick-and-roll tandems ever. I suspect that Rubio and Love can make the same impact with the pick-and-pop. Kevin Love is a great shooter and a great pick setter. Is it really bad that Kevin Love was dreaming of pick and rolls when Rubio was finally inked?
Ronzone said the reaction he's gotten from current Timberwolves has been "very positive" as they comment on their new point guard. "Guys will want to play with him," Ronzone said.
Anthony Randolph: "Tony, I watched video. He passes the ball. I've never played with a point guard that passes the ball."
Ronzone: "Well, Anthony, what are you going to do on the floor?"
Anthony Randolph: "I'm running to the rim."
Ronzone: "That's the mentality. To me, that's positive."
Wesley Johnson, Martell Webster, Lazar Haward, Anthony Tolliver, Darko Milicic and Michael Beasley are going to love playing with Rubio. It's hard to imagine that Rubio doesn't have multiple 10-plus-assists games even with limited minutes. Jonny Flynn had a 14-assist game in 30 minutes against the Detroit Pistons. Luke Ridnour had multiple 11-assists games, and this was all in the midst of running mixes of pick and rolls and the triangle offense.
If Rubio is given the pick-and-roll keys from the start, it wouldn't surprise me if he's averaging more than 10 assists the second half of the season.
Here are your factors in making Ricky Rubio an All-Star:
- Defensive specialists on the sideline
- Running open court offense featuring pick and rolls
- Luke Ridnour and locker room leadership (veteran players)
- A defensive-oriented center who can play significant minutes
- Kevin Love follows up on his All-Star season and Michael Beasley harnesses his inner Carmelo Anthony
Thanks for reading!
Timber Wolf is an Analyst writer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @Timb3r_Wolf