Saturday, December 17, 2011

BQ#12 - Who is Ricky Rubio?

Trust is earned. If you plop into a cab at 3am, smelling like a person who needs a cab at 3am, then you can't trust the cabbie to take the most direct route to your destination. If you take a leisurely stroll in a suspect neighborhood, you can't trust the cretins to display a friendly smile. And if you weren't born in this fantastic country, then you can't trust hoopheads like myself to give you an objective rooting interest.

There have been too many cab drivers who show you the scenic route, there is too much crime in scary places, and there have been too many instances of Euros getting posterized.

It took a Finals tour-de-force performance from Dirk Nowitzki to earn our trust. It took a couple of deep playoff runs for Pau Gasol to earn our trust (although, he may have just 360ed us after this past year). So who is Ricky Rubio and what has he done?
Why is this a question?

Well, he commandeered the Spanish Under-16 squad to the Eurocup championship, racking up a stat line of 51 points, 24 rebounds, 12 assists, and 7 steals in the title game. In his first Euroleague season, he averaged 3.1 thefts in just 18 minutes per game. That's all fine and good...only that it's not. The guys he played against are probably bagging groceries, cleaning bathrooms, or even worse...they still play basketball in Europe. (The Euro game has stepped up in the last decade. But ask me if I care.)

I turned the tube on at some ungodly hour to witness the Redeem Team face Spain in the gold medal game of the 2008 Olympics. As I shed my personal grievances against some of our countrymen to root for Lady Liberty, I, along with the rest of the world, could not take my eyes off of the 18-year-old phenom who played backup point guard for the other team. The final box score will tell you that Rubio's production was borderline non-existent, but my trained eye fired synapses to my mouth to start salivating.

The kid stood toe-to-toe with the best point guards that America had to offer in Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams. Didn't crumble, didn't flinch, didn't care. Killer crossovers, Magic Johnson-esque passes, and the moxy of a grizzled vet. His performance was so full of potential that I forgave him for not being American.

Post-Olympics? Different story. In the summer of 2010, "The Future of Spanish Basketball" went retro-Euro on us, shooting 28% from the field, including 2 for 17 from distance. He did score 36 points...but reached that total after 9 games. This past season, his Euroleague team accumulated more losses after 28 games than it did during the entire season before.

In a couple weeks, Ricky Rubio will bring his mixed bag to the NBA and debut for the Minnesota Timberwolves. We can only wait to see which kid shows up.

How will this play out?

Brandon Jennings withdrew a commitment to the University of Arizona in order to better prepare himself make more money before entering the NBA Draft. His numbers were poor and his attitude was worse. But after a year, he returned stateside and has given Milwaukee Bucks fans some glimmer of hope (well, at least until he leaves for a bigger market). Granted, he hasn't been as impressive as the other players from his draft class (Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry), but he's proved that Euro numbers still don't mean a thang. Ricky Rubio will erase his below-average numbers and silence his critics with an effective rookie season.

However, I, with all my glorious roundball IQ, still can't project the success or failure of the Ricky Rubio Experiment. I can't decide whether it's to his benefit that Sota's roster is full of young, inexperienced names, instead of the game-tested Gasol brothers who also represented Spain in 2008. The one thing that is surely in Rubio's favor, despite all the negatives, is that his coach will put him in the best position to succeed. Rick Adelman was the architect behind those blitzing Sacramento Kings offenses of the past decade. Adelman will allow Rubio to play on the fly, and before we know it, Derrick Williams could be on the receiving end of some gorgeous lobs near the rim, and Kevin Love could be getting wide open looks on the perimeter. But then again, it's just as likely that Rubio builds a house of bricks whenever he elevates, and even more likely that he fails to grasp the philosophy behind a professional defensive scheme.

It's probably better that way. Because if Ricky Rubio plays well, we may just have to trust him.

Like this series? Check out the other Burning Questions leading up to the 2011-12 NBA season:

NBA Season Preview: Burning Questions for teams you don't care about
#20: Can Sacramento keep their Kings?
#19: Will the Rockets finally make a blockbuster trade?
#18 - Will we be able to see Mark Jackson make “Hand Down, Man Down” pantomimes in the Warriors’ huddle this year?
#17 - When Will Joe Dumars be Fired?
#16 - Dwight, Deron, CP3: Who gets traded?
#15 - Did the Cavs take the right guy with the number one pick?
#14 - Where do the Blazers go from here?
#13: Will the Mavericks title defense resemble that of the 2006 Miami Heat?

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