I have seen Ricky Rubio play in person almost two dozen times while covering the 2007 Eurobasket in Madrid, the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2010 World Championship in Istanbul, and I have never seen him play a quote-unquote great game.
I have seen him look very good and very mediocre, but never great.
One reason why? He doesn't run with gazelles, much less Wolves.
Rubio has the ability to be one of the greatest passers ever to come to the NBA from Europe, because in the NBA he will be able to throw those passes to athletes who will be able to rise above the rim and flush his feeds unlike anyone on the Spanish National Team or FC Barcelona has the athletic ability to do on a consistent basis.
In Minnesota, at least one of his new teammates is already dreaming about the passes that will soon be coming his way. That player, Kevin Love, was introduced to Rubio by Timberwolves assistant GM Tony Ronzone last summer in Madrid prior to Team USA's friendly match against Spain (a victory in which Derrick Rose took over the starting position from Rajon Rondo, and which was secured when Kevin Durant blocked Spain's final two shot attempts from the field.)
Two things (aside from the Pistol Pete Maravich comparisons, which stem in part from his mop-top haircut and in part from his ballhandling prowess) stick in my conciousness when recalling what I have seen from Rubio.No. 1: He has very, very long arms; No. 2: The majority of his outside shots are set shots, not jump shots.
As noted by colleague Chad Ford earlier today in this blog, Rubio has seemed to regress over the past two seasons playing with Barcelona after spending the early part of his ACB career with DKV Joventut. With the Spanish national team, he has alternated as a starter and a reserve, depending on the day-to-day moods of a few particularly whimsical coaches, including Aito Garcia Reneses, who used three different starters at the point guard position during the 2008 Olympics (the others being Jose Calderon and Raul Lopez). Usually, it was the worst of the three: Lopez.
When Team USA played against Spain twice at the Beijing Olympics, the book on Rubio was that he was a very mature player with no fear, a good open-court player with nice vision and court awareness who looks to set teammates up first but isn't afraid to take big shots, with inborn charisma and a great feel for how to play the game.
Beginning next fall, barring a lockout, we'll see how his game translates to the NBA style of play.
For now, I will end this post with two predictions: Rubio will finish the 2011-12 season in the top five in steals, and his passing will lead to Michael Beasley at least tripling his total of 33 dunks in the 2009-10 season.