Why PG Ricky Rubio Is Destined to Be a Disappointment
Two years ago, we witnessed an classic love story unfold right in front of our eyes.
A young ambitious executive searching for completion falls head over heels for a precocious 17-year-old from a foreign land. Intrigued by stories of grandeur, the young executive vigorously pursues the youthful brunette.
Alas, the neophyte spurns the advances.
Two years of courtship ensues with little success. The executive lavishes in despair, trying hopelessly to find something that can approximate what he longs for overseas, only to be met with disappointment.
Finally, the youth is unshackled by commitments abroad and finally decides to join the executive who always had faith that they would have a long, fruitful future together.
Heart-warming, but this is definitely not a love story.
In the summer of 2009, Minnesota Timberwolves GM David Kahn made Spanish guard Ricard "Ricky" Rubio Vives, widely known as Ricky Rubio, the fifth pick in the 2009 NBA draft. The pick was a controversial one in that due to contractual obligations in Spain, there was no telling when the young star would be able to get to the states.
Kahn decided Rubio was worth the gamble and selected him anyway. He was widely touted as the Timberwolves point guard of the future. After two seasons of waiting and working with stop-gaps at lead guard, Rubio finally signed to play for the T-wolves in 2011.
So they are to live happily ever after now, right? Not so fast...
In 2009, Rubio was a 17-year-old prodigy who had been playing professionally since age 14. He dominated his competition at a young age. That was two years ago, however, and much has changed.
Has Rubio Peaked?
In the time leading up to the 2009 NBA Draft, Ricky Rubio generated an incredible amount of momentum. Touted by some as the best European point guard prospect ever, the Rubio bandwagon was overflowing. A gifted passer with a 6'4" frame and a 6'9" wingspan, Rubio entertained the masses with flashy passes and endeared coaches with pesky defense.
His play for the Spanish ACB league's Joventut Badalona was seen as promising. He averaged a career high 10.2 ppg and added 3.9 apg for the Spanish club in 2007-08. He followed that effort up with 9.8 ppg and a career high 5.8 apg in 2008-09.
A closer look, however, shows that when the competition switched to Euroleague play, he was much less effective. Widely viewed as the second best league in the world, Rubio average 2.8 ppg and 2.4 apg in the 2008-09 season.
That's fine, he still so young.
Well, after being drafted by Minnesota and deciding to return to Spain, Rubio was traded to the Spanish powerhouse FC Barcelona. While starting 39 games, Rubio put up a pedestrian 6.7 ppg and 3.8 apg in just under 22 minutes. While not terrible, they are hardly the result you would have expected when he was drafted in 2009.
What has been terrible is Rubio's field goal percentage. In 2011, Rubio shot an atrocious 31%. While quick and shifty, Rubio is not a great athlete. Without a reliable jump shot, it is extremely difficult to see how NBA defenses would not exploit those obvious weaknesses.
Steve Nash and Jose Calderon, two players Rubio is often compared to, overcome their relative lack of athleticism with a deft shooting touch. Rajon Rondo, another PG that Rubio is compared to, is a poor shooter, but is supremely athletic and is a clever finisher at the basket.
At this point, Rubio appears to be neither.
Many of the shine that gleaned from Rubio came from his early professional days. He dominated the FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship in 2006, but this is 2011 and he has failed to stand out against the augmented competition. The key in being a athletic phenom so young is that you get better with age.
In many ways, Rubio does not appear to have gotten any better since being drafted. His game seems to have leveled off in many aspects and there is wonder if he would have been so highly thought of if he came out in this summer's draft as a 20-year-old.
While it is a fact that the NBA is a different game, can you really have confidence in a player who has been so ordinary for the last two seasons?
Worth the Wait?
David Kahn decided to take Rubio in 2009 with the knowledge that he may not be able to sign him for a significant period of time. With a combined 111-267 record since 2005, the Timberwolves were an NBA doormat and needed players to contribute to the rebuilding project.
Instead, Kahn took the risk and accepted the challenge of getting Rubio to the states.
It is not uncommon for NBA franchises to draft players with knowledge that they would be unable to make the jump for some time. In fact, many NBA teams have great success "stashing" players overseas. It is a wise practice as you can watch the player develop without the financial commitment and send for them when they are ready to contribute.
The San Antonio Spurs have had great success with the practice, with future Hall of Fame guard Manu Ginobili serving as their best example.
The common method, however, is to use a lower draft choice to acquire the rights to that player. Ginobilli was selected with the 57th pick in 1999 and did not join the Spurs until 2002.
Much like Rubio, Manu was a pro at a young age. He climbed the ladders in the lesser leagues and left as one of the most decorated players during his time in the Euroleague.
Rubio, on the other hand, was selected fifth, a position counted on in most situations to contribute immediately. The pick had a domino effect as well, as the T-Wolves selected Syracuse point guard Johnny Flynn to man the position until Rubio arrived. Flynn had a promising rookie campaign, but soon fell out of favor in Minnesota.
The point guard position in Minnesota has been in flux over the last two seasons. Flynn, Luke Ridnour, Ramon Sessions, Wayne Ellington, Sebastian Telfair and Sundiata Gaines have all filled in at the helm since 2009. The development of the point guard position is key to the success on a NBA franchise.
To basically put that progression on hold for two full seasons, while spending two valuable draft picks on it in two seasons, is questionable. It was even more perplexing when there were some many viable options available, which will be covered shortly.
Kahn was in love. However, you know what they say, "Love can make you do silly things."
What Did We Miss?
Acquiring a quality point guard goes a long way in putting a franchise on the road to success. The allure of Rubio in 2009 was obviously tempting, but the contract issues, along with a perceived reluctance to join the club (there were rumors that Rubio did not want to play for Minnesota and refused to attend the introductory press conference after the draft), would make any GM contemplate other options.
The pick could have definitely been traded, as other teams may have taken the gamble on Rubio. Let us assume, however, that the T-Wolves were set on filling the point guard position. Who could they have selected?
Well, it turns out there were plenty of viable options.
Stephen Curry, the sharp-shooting point guard from Davidson, was still on the board. While size was a bit of an issue (he stands a slender 6'3"), Curry was a proven player over his three seasons at Davidson.
Possessing a high basketball I.Q. and a deadly jump shot, Steph transitioned into a point guard admirably in his junior season, dishing out 5.6 apg while still augmenting his scoring output.
Curry has continued that success in the NBA. He earned First Team All-Rookie selection in 2009 and has averaged 18 ppg and 6 apg in his two seasons, while becoming one of the NBA's most efficient scorers.
That production could have gone a long way in changing the fortunes of the dreadful Timberwolves, who suffered through a dismal 17 win season in 2011. All teams miss, however, and maybe Curry was not the player Minnesota wanted. Who else was there?
Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Darren Collison, Eric Maynor, Roddy Beaubois and Toney Douglas all went in the first round of the 2009 draft. While Douglas and Beaubois look more like small shooting guards, it was clear that there were multiple options at the point guard position.
Of the nine point guards chosen after Rubio, seven have made at least one playoff appearance over the last two seasons. All have made significant contributions on those teams and six appear to be entrenched at the point guard position by the teams that choose them. How much better would the T-Wolves be with one of these players steering the ship?
While it is easy to see why Kahn was intrigued, there was plenty of talent to go around. With two consecutive picks, the Timberwolves had options, but went with the guy they had their eyes fixed on.
That decision cost two full seasons of development in one of the richest point guard drafts in recent history.
How Good Must Ricky Be?
A lot changes in two years, but not everything. Some things that were true then are still true today.
Ricky Rubio is a talented basketball player who can excite a crowd with a spectacular play at any moment. He has a prototypical basketball body with an impressive wingspan that can pluck away a basketball quicker than the blink of an eye. Rubio seems to have that classic swagger that will endear him to the fans and could carry him to prominence.
That is, if he can be the player they need him to be. Those expectations over the last couple of years have changed.
The Wolves need Rubio to produce right away.
The team's prime cogs, all-star Kevin Love, mercurial forward Michael Beasley and emerging force Anthony Randolph are all restricted free agents after next season, and can all walk after the 2012-2013 season. Minnesota has historically had a difficult time attracting free agents to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, so it is very important to retain as much talent as possible and cultivate that talent.
Many think Rubio has the talent to be a star. Others think he is bound to be a bust.
The question is, what if he's just ok? What if he's never an all-star? What if he can't hold down a starting gig in Minnesota? What if he is just a rotation player? Will it have been worth the time?
In recent history, four teams have selected players who were not playing for them immediately with such high selections. One team, the Boston Celtics, took Larry Bird, who returned to school for his senior season. Another, the San Antonio Spurs, took David Robinson number one despite a Naval commitment.
Safe to say, Rubio will probably fall somewhere in the middle.
Will Rubio and Kahn get to walk off together into the sunset? Who knows, but it will definitely be an interesting season in Minny.