I’m falling in love with Ricky Rubio.

If you have been paying attention to this blog you’d probably have no idea that I love sports, especially basketball. I’ve played point guard my entire life and love when some one comes a long that makes a whole team better simply by passing the ball. In high school I was obsessed with Steve Nash. During study breaks I’d sit on the computer watching his highlights, trying to learn as much as I possibly could. He had incredible court vision and made passes no one else would ever consider. Lately I’ve loved what Rajon Rondo does with the Celtics. If it wasn’t for Chris Paul, he’d be the best point guard in the NBA (Sorry folks, Derrick Rose is not a point guard. Russell Westbrook is not a point guard. These players are scoring machines that are so talented they have to try and play point guard the best interest of their teams). A few years ago my excitement was through the roof because of this video:

This is Ricky Rubio. This highlight reel is made up of games when he was 17 years old. As you may or may not know Rubio started playing professional basketball at age 14! To put that in perspective, he would have been in middle school. When I was in 8th grade I was 5 feet tall and weighed probably 85 pounds. Can you imagine playing 25-35 year old men when you’re a little kid? Oh, he also started for the Spanish national team in the Olympic Gold Medal game against the U.S. in 2008 at age 17… with a broken wrist and played very very well. Needless to say, I could not wait for Ricky Rubio to come to the NBA.

I expected him to become my favorite player. A lot of people doubted him. His shot looked awful. He wouldn’t be athletic enough for the NBA, but he was still drafted 5th in the 2009 draft by the Timberwolves. Ouch… The Timberwolves don’t exactly have the greatest reputation. Ultimately, he decided to stay in Spain a couple more years to improve his game and prepare for the NBA. He was signed by the best team in Spain and something happened that his detractors must have loved. He really struggled. Last year while playing 22.7 minutes per game he averaged 6.5 points per game and 3.5 assists per game while shooting about 31% from the field and 22% from 3 pointers. Like any logical person who didn’t have access to watching his game I looked at those stats and said, “Oh, I guess I was wrong about Rubio.” All of a sudden all the nit picky critiques looked like legitimate concerns. Was Rubio a child star who was destined to burn out? When news arrived he’d be playing in the NBA this year I didn’t even think about it. But then something happened:

Those are highlights from his first two games in the NBA. From the moment I saw Rubio wind up and put english on a pass (something maybe two or three players in the NBA do) I remembered why I was once so excited about Ricky Rubio. But this was just a couple games. How much can that really say about a player. Maybe it was a fluke. Then this happened:

and this:

Whoa. I watched that Heat game. He was ripping them apart. Something you don’t see in that Heat highlight is Lebron James was guarding Rubio for the last 3 to 4 minutes of the game. Yes, Ricky Rubio received Derrick Rose treatment from the Heat. This kid has incredible vision. Like Nash he sees things no one else sees. He makes passes that surprise defenders. He’s so smart he’s capable of looking at another player and instantly figure out what that player is probably thinking in that situation and take advantage of it. He’s long, way more athletic than he was given credit for, and ultra competitive. Sure his shot looks pretty funny, but you know what? He’s already making shots Rajon Rondo couldn’t dream of making (yes this depresses me). Derrick Rose couldn’t shoot for his life the first year he played in the NBA, and he’s playing with Kevin Love. A perfect example of someone who was by no means a great shooter and now shoots the freaking lights out. I’m convinced Rubio will have coaches around him to make him at least a good shooter, and if he ever becomes a great shooter? Who knows.

So, I have to ask. What was going on in Spain? Why did he stink? People completely underestimate this, but when you play the way Rubio does the players around you are more important than anything. He needs good players around him to hit the open shots he makes for them. He needs players willing to move because if they move they will get open. He can’t be the number one or even two scoring option. A player like Rubio can score well because the defenders are so concerned with their passing, but if they get to concentrate on just your scoring it becomes much more difficult.

I don’t want to sound like an arrogant jerk, but I know this because it is exactly the kind of player I am (obviously no where near that kind of level). When I was in college I played pick up ball all the time and a lot of the time those players stunk. They wanted to play hero basketball or couldn’t hit open shots. When I played with those players I looked pretty bad. I was forcing shots I didn’t want to because I had to, but when I got to play with Team Oblivion (my intramural team) I was surrounded by very good players and I would rack up assists.

Rubio went from playing with players in Spain who could never play in the NBA to playing in the NBA. He’s surrounded by the most athletic people in the world and he is racking up the assists. He’s not even starting and he’s averaging 9 points per game and 7 assists while only playing 27 minutes. Playing in Spain took away what made him very good. He wasn’t playing the right style of basketball. Maybe the people around him didn’t like his young celebrity. Spain wasn’t the place for him. Ricky Rubio was always meant to play in the NBA, and now he’s here and he’s shocking people. He’s the real deal and a lot of people are being forced reconsider their thoughts. I’m so excited to see how he evolves and I hope the Timberwolves can keep this team together. Because Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio could be a duo for the ages, and you know what? I think you’re better off being a T-Wolves fan in the future than a Celtics fan because Rondo’s going to be stuck being that guy that wants to pass but has nothing around him. Excuse me while cry myself to sleep.

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About Sean Temple

Filmmaker, Progressive, Feminist, Emerson MFA Student, Director of HUNT. I use film to critique our society and reveal the struggles real people deal with every day. View all posts by Sean Temple

10 responses to “I’m falling in love with Ricky Rubio.

  • fmprdwg

    T-Wolves have not done much of anything correctly, whether it be managers, drafting, keeping good players, winning games or just plain good fan appeal. Finally with the newest Manager and a decent draft could it be there might be a faint element of success? We’ll see.

    • Sean Temple

      Some how they got lucky and ended up with all these young talented players, and Kevin Love has become incredible. But will they be able to keep it together like OKC? I really don’t think so. Love will bail, and god do I hope the Celtics get him.

  • Sam

    Nice post Sean. And I agree with Rose/Westbrook being point guards only in name. They’re essentially 2’s that bring the ball up and slash.

    Also, digging the Team O shoutout! Woooo

  • electr0naut

    The post was going well until the end.

    Ricky didn’t play with ‘that’ kind of players at Barcelona, have you checked at all? There are a couple of them who actually prefer Europe. Have a look at the case of Juan Carlos Navarro, if he were in the NBA, still his max cap doesn’t match what he currently earns at Barcelona, and he is 31!!!. Others just don’t go to the NBA to be part of the 25% waterboys who fill the squads of each and every team while getting paid less than in Europe. Compare the bottom earners in NBA and the top ones at Europe.

    These are the NBA-drafted players Ricky shared locker room with in his 2 years playing with Barça:

    Terence Morris (3 seasons in NBA), Boniface N’Dong (23 games with the Clippers) Erazem Lorbek (Pacers), Fran Vazquez (Magic), Pete Mickeal (Rockets), Kosta Perovic (GSW).

    Not to forget, with european basketball legend, Gianluca Basile

    While in Euroleague, the most prestigious basketball competition after the NBA, he played about 50 games against some players the NBA would be excited to have, already have been there or went there just before Ricky, Diamantidis, Spanoulis, Teodosic, Ibaka, Jaric, McCalebb, Khryapa, Childress, Jennings, Kleiza, Jasikevicious, Splitter, Borousis, Papaloukas, Ilyasova, Scola… and I stop because im getting tired, lots left behind.

    NBA salary arrangements allow Euroleague teams to match or exceed the money they can offer to a certain number of quality players. The rosters are smaller, because of shorter seasons. I am not saying we have LeBron hiding out here, but enough NBA-centrism.

    The cherry on top, check out Ricky’ stats in one of the only five defeats a NBA team has suffered versus an Euroleague team out of the countless matches they have played over 40 years.

    http://www.nba.com/games/20101007/LALBAR/gameinfo.html?ls=gt2hp0011000024

    • Sean Temple

      I’ll start by saying I made a stupid generalization when I said he played with players who’d never play in the NBA. I didn’t mean to say there are no good players from Europe. Obviously great players have came from Europe, but it seems like they typically come to the NBA. I believe if you take the five best players in Europe and have them play the best 5 players from the U.S. Europe could definitely win a best of 7 series (Spain almost beat the US in the Olympics as we know), but when you separate them into a lot of different professional teams you have to fill up teams with people who aren’t nearly as good). For example, you named people from his team in Spain who were in the NBA. Well these are their career stats in the NBA.

      Terence Morris 3 ppg 3 rpg
      Boniface N’Dong 2 ppg 1.5 rpg
      Erazem Lorbek hasn’t played
      Fran Vazquez hasn’t played
      Pete Mickeal hasn’t played
      Kosta Perovic 1.5 ppg 2 rpg

      That’s the best team in Spain… The Timberwolves are one of the worst teams in the NBA and they have Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams, Anthony Randolf. So I still believe my point that he is now playing with better players is true. I’m sure there a lot of other reasons he’s currently playing better here, but I wouldn’t know because I have no access to European league games.

      • electr0naut

        Fran Vazquez is actually an 11th overall draft pick. Has been repeatedly lured into taking an offer from Orlando but refused them all. He pockets 1.8M€ a year. 11th 2005 draft overall and even so, in his 4th NBA season he wouldn’t have been close to his current salary. Now is older and grown weird, unlikely to settle in another country.

        Kosta Perovic was made an offer of 3.3M€ in 2008 by construction tycoon owned Pamesa Valencia, which exchange rate at the time was 1.4 EUR per $. $5M in three years which no NBA team could match, the limit for a 3rd year from 38th pick was about $800k. You can imagine why a Serbian born would prefer Valencia and get payed better than live in the other side of the world for less money, less play time and less recognition.

        Erazem Lorbek is also a second round pick, which currently makes 1.3M€. He is already 27, which makes more likely to end up accepting an NBA offer sooner or later, now that he could make more there.

        Boniface N’Dong pockets 1.5M€ a year. Lots of NBA teams dream of this kind of player as support, but would be making less money

        Pete Mickeal was a high number draft with injury problems at the beginning of his career. He had to make it all around the world to start from scratch and end up being MVP in ACB, pocketing 2M€ a year. Why would you know about him? Even NBA scout’s have troubles placing. He also was contacted by several NBA teams in his last contract renewal. Again, money was key. He is a better player than some of Ricky’s current teammates.

        I honestly don’t know Morris’ story but I think a trend can be seen.

        The point i am trying to make is Ricky’s early struggles are by no means because of lack of quality around him. He was a kid surrounded by more complete/experienced players, with better shotting, dribbling, timing, endurance, mental strenght, defence. Everything but passing, stealing, speed, there, he exceled for years.

        His struggles are in his mind. Believe it or not, Barcelona is a big deal. There is a lot of pressure, media coverage. He was a local fan phenomenon, then Barcelona amplifies it by 100 when he signed 2 years ago. That is not easy to handle. He had a rougher time at Barcelona being asked to be a key player, surrounded by a 30M€/11 man roster (Timber spends 44M€/15 man roster) than playing with Joventut at the top of the european level since 16 years old with much worse players.

        I think the quality around him theory at Barcelona doesn’t add up.

      • electr0naut

        He is certainly playing with better players now. It is also true that the potential develops faster and in full when surrounded by the best. I think the very best is currently playing in the NBA so it is almost undeniable that he is better off now for the sake of his career. I wasn’t discusing any of that. Just the seemingly gratuitous belittlement of Barcelona and european basket at club level.

      • Sean Temple

        This makes sense. It’s hard. I was trying to find some reasonable explanation based on assumptions. I heard a lot of people question things like this and I ran with it with out any knowledge of the players he played with the theory made sense. Whatever the reason he’s playing better I’m just glad I get to watch him. He’s really fun to watch.

  • electr0naut

    If i were to take a turn trying a theory open to be refuted, i would say he has some of the work cut out for him in his mind/confidence problems. Minnesota is quite smaller than Barcelona, Timberwolves mean much less to their fans than Barcelona means to theirs. He had huge expectations because his trade was the most expensive in the history, Barça paid 3.7M€ to his original team to sign him over Real Madrid’s attempts. I don’t need to tell you whatever happens between these two teams goes beyond sports rivalry. For that reason, he had 2 years to get his skin hard with heavy criticism about his performance. On top of that, his debut season in the NBA, he gets to start without haste. Need a couple of extra month to acclimate and train? You got it. Call a lockout.

    I sure hope he doesn’t turn to be a blowout anytime soon. We Barça fans get heat from R.Madrid friends for having faith in a flashy justinbiebery-airballer, as we make fan of them with the god-awful Sergio Rodríguez or Raúl López, who terrorized the nachos of the first row fans of NBA courts with their turnovers for lots of seasons.

  • N

    Rubio is one of the few players who is much more suited to playing in the NBA vs FIBA.

    With the 3 point line being further, the defensive 3 second rule, and the lack of physical play allowed compared to FIBA rules, the NBA game is much more open and gives Rubio and cutters more room to operate. Rubio has made comments alluding to this in interviews after his first few games.

    Also, with FC Barcelona, they did not allow Rubio to handle the ball nearly as much as he does now with the T’Wolves. This was smart as Barcelona had one of the best players in Juan Carlos Navarro to handle the ball more than Rubio.

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