This was the guy the Minnesota Timberwolves have been banking on since they drafted him three years ago. Ricky Rubio, the Spanish sensation who has been playing at the highest level of European ball since he was 16. The guy with the rare gift of natural court vision.
He has been a mess through three games of EuroBasket.
Jose Calderon starts for Spain, Rubio comes off the bench. Against Poland Rubio had a line of 0-0-0, and has been just slightly better since. As noted at The Sporting News, through three games now (all Spanish wins against weak opponents) he is averaging 3 points on shooting 28.6 percent and 2 assists per game.
Still feeling good, Wolves fans?
There are reasons for concern, but it is too early to really worry.
That’s because it’s too early to rule on Rubio (maybe we should let him play in the NBA before deciding he’s a bust).
The problems he faces all start with his unsteady jumper — something we saw last season in EuroLeague when he shot 30 percent. You don’t play tight on a guy you don’t fear shooting, and that can impact Rubio’s drives and passing angles. Because Spain likes to run its offense through the Gasol brothers in the post (as they should) it becomes hard to make a good entry pass when your defender lays off you. After that, Rubio is basically non-existent in the half court.
But his shot likely can be fixed (he doesn’t really set his feet well, for one) and if his jumper just gets to respectable he is dangerous because of his speed and passing skills. Also, Minnesota wants to run and as Zach Lowe at Sports Illustrated points out Rubio has looked good in that setting.
The good news is this: When Spain has gotten out in transition, Rubio’s passing has been as advertised. He can toss pinpoint 75-foot outlet passes and run an effective 3-on-2. And when the half-court sets described above don’t produce a good look at first, the ball often ends up back in Rubio’s hands, and it is in those situations where you can see Rubio’s vision and skill. He’ll toss a skip pass a beat before the average point guard would be ready to throw it, and he’s already quite good at driving into the lane, drawing defenders and finding guys at unpredictable angles. If a simple drop-off pass to a guy near the rim isn’t available, Rubio is really good at hitting targets directly behind him on the perimeter or at diagonal angles that aren’t obvious, even to viewers watching on TV.
Which is to say that part of how Rubio does depends on the situation the Wolves put him in — get out in transition, let him create, don’t box him in. The other part is on Rubio, if he can develop a steady jumper his becomes very dangerous.
Rubio is still a risk, there are questions about his game and how it will develop. But he still is just 20, he still has gifts and he’s about to be challenged in a way he has not before. It’s going to take him a couple years to adjust. But it is way too early to give up on the guy, especially before he steps on an NBA court.