When the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted Ricky Rubio with the fifth pick in the 2009 draft, there was a split in opinion on whether Minnesota just got a steal or if they had just wasted a high draft pick on someone who will never play for them.
Everyone agreed that Rubio had talent, but there were questions on how that talent would transition to the NBA and whether or not Rubio would ever play for the Timberwolves.
Well, the latter question has been answered, albeit two full years later. Ricky Rubio will make his NBA debut on Saturday, when the Timberwolves take on the Milwaukee Bucks in the first game of this year's preseason. Now the question remains: How will Rubio's game transition to the NBA?
Rubio, 21, has been playing professional basketball for seven years already in Europe. He was drafted into the Spanish ACB League at 14 years old, making him the youngest player ever in the league. He led his U-16 team to the FIBA championship the following year, earning the tournament MVP award. Two years after that, Rubio was the youngest player to ever play in a gold medal game in Olympic basketball, when Spain lost to the USA 118-107.
This experience should make the transition to the NBA easier for Rubio. Unlike most college draftees, Rubio has already played against the best of the NBA in the Olympics, and at a professional level in Europe.
Getting into his talents, Rubio is ready for the NBA. He is quick off the dribble, he possesses incredible vision and court awareness and his ball-handling skills are elite. He has a good frame at 6'4" and 180 lbs, and could bulk up if needed. He is not afraid of contact and that can be seen in many highlight videos on YouTube.
How will Rubio fare in his rookie season?
He is an old school pass-first point guard. Working in Rick Adelman's offense, this should match up with Rubio's strengths perfectly. After only a couple practices, Rubio has raved about the offensive scheme that they have worked on.
"I love it," Rubio told the StarTribune after practice Sunday "We can call a system, but in that system you have freedom to see which is the best option for us, not like robots. Or not like, 'Only these two guys are going to play and the other three aren't going to be in the play.'
"This way, all five players can score, all five can be in the play. I love the way that we are playing right now."
Offensively, Rubio does need to work on developing his jump shot and does not have a great skill in driving to the basket one-on-one. Additionally, due to his pass-first mentality, he may pass up some good open looks. NBA rules should help Rubio offensively, though, as the NBA is much stricter when it comes to hand-checking.
Conversely, one of Rubio's strengths may be tested for that exact same reason. The stricter rules in the NBA will test Rubio defensively and force him to use positioning more than his physicality. Adelman does not believe that this will be a problem, though.
"He just has to be careful not to put his hands on the guy too much, because they let that happen in Europe, but they're not going to let a rookie do that here," Adelman said. "But he's really a smart player and he'll make that adjustment."
Coaches and teammates alike have raved about Rubio in the short amount of time the Timberwolves have been in camp. It is easy to see that his teammates are very excited to play with him. In response to a question about Rubio's ability to get the ball to his teammates, forward Kevin Love stated: "(Rubio) can pass the s--- out of the basketball." That seems to be pretty high praise.
"He (Williams) saw everything on the court and that's what this kid (Rubio) does. He sees things. Everybody talks about his shooting. We'll find out, we'll find out what he can do. But I know he's a very talented kid, he's young."
With the recent signing of JJ Barea, Rubio has gained a teammate that will help ease the transition into the English-speaking world of Coach Adelman. Adelman has a rule that no matter what the nationality of the players on the team, English is the only language to be spoken on the court.
“I’m trying to deny them speaking anything but English,” Adelman joked after practice. “I want to know what they’re saying. Same with Darko (and Pekovic). I had to do that with Vlade and Peja. You speak English out here. I know we had them talking behind my back or whatever.”
Barea and Rubio will split time on the court much in the same fashion that Barea shared time with Jason Kidd in Dallas. This is something that Barea is very comfortable with. "I like to play with point guards at the same time," he said at his introduction on Wednesday.
"I think I like to shoot the ball, too," he said, smiling. "I get my rest and wait for the ball to come to me. Sometimes I can bring it down, sometimes he can bring it down. It makes our job a lot easier. I see us playing at the same time, especially at the end of games. I think it's always good to have two good point guards on the floor."
Adelman has a history of utilizing two small guards in the backcourt: (Current assistant coach) Terry Porter and Danny Ainge in Portland, Mike Bibby and Bobby Jackson in Sacramento and Kyle Lowry and Aaron Brooks in Houston.
"I've got to put the best players I have out on the floor and our three point guards are all good players," Adelman explained.
Considering all this, Rubio should see a good amount of success in his rookie season with the Timberwolves. It will take a while for his scoring offense to come around, but with his court vision and passing ability, he should be able to set up his teammates and help open up the Wolves' offense.
His defense is already at a high level and with what will hopefully be a mentor-type relationship with Barea, and a respected, veteran coach in Adelman, Rubio should be able to quickly develop into a top NBA point guard.