Ricky Rubio: An Enigma

I paused my TV and rubbed my eyes. For a split second, it seemed like Rubio could actually shoot. His off-balance fadeaways, crosscourt heaves to Donovan Mitchell, and defensive defiance against Russ; discerned a career game for La Pistola. This was the young Spaniard prospect that had coaches around the league salivating for. But it didn’t start out this way. We need to reimagine Rubio’s scenic route to this point. He has taken the road that is “the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

Elegantly slashing toward the rim, with his hair flopping up and down, the teenage sensation had Coach K raving about his maturity and potential to be the next Steve Nash. For 30 minutes, I sat in Coach K’s office watching the USA v. Spain game where I witnessed a play by play breakdown from Coach K of the game. Rubio’s best play came in the 1st half, where he called for a screen up top but darted the ball behind his back instead. As a 35-year-old Jason Kidd got into his grill as if to say “It’s still my time” Rubio calmly backed up and slithered his way toward the rim. He then scooped up the ball and hop-stepped toward the rim with flair and finger rolled the ball smoothly into the bottom of the net.

Rubio was a revelation for international basketball and he had the opportunity to showcase his skill against the top players as a teen. That was 2008.

His fundamental predicament that every scout noticed during his tenure with Barcelona was his robotic jump shot. He had trouble bending his knees and released the ball at differing vantage points.

In 2007-08 with Barcelona, he shot 48.5% on 2 pointers and 30.2% on three-pointers, respectable numbers, especially for Rubio. The next year, his 2 point percentage diminished to 37.7% while his 3 point percentage rose to 42.9 %. The following year his 3 point percentage stayed around the same at 38 points and 2-pointers ascended to 42.2%. Seemingly, Rubio had trouble scoring around the rim and on mid-range shots but was slowly becoming a tactician from behind the arc. He was on his way to fulfilling the Steve Nash prophecy. If only had that prophecy endured.

In the 2010-11 season, La Pistola took a major step back, firing 25.2% on 3 point shots and 38.3% from 2. His talent seemed to have stagnated but it worried few cross-country. Mock drafts were still high on Rubio. NBAdraft.net had him 5th on the big board, Chad Ford had Ricky 4th on ESPN, and Bleacher Report placed him 3rd.

He wound up finding himself on a dysfunctional Timberwolves team who picked Rubio and Flynn in succession, as Curry and DeRozan fell to the seventh and ninth pick. Clearly, there were breathtaking expectations put on Rubio as he entered the league.

When Rubio was selected in the 2009 draft by the Timberwolves, substantial drama ensued. Then Timberwolves GM wanted to meet with Rubio’s parents in Paris to discuss Rubio’s NBA plans. Newsday reported, “Apparently, The Rubios aren’t interested in having dinner with Taylor and the T-Wolves.” A senior member of Rubio’s camp stated, “The bottom line is, why would he want to play in Minnesota?” New York reportedly proposed trade proposals for Rubio, as his parents yearned to live in a coastal area. Rubio’s life was that of the lead singer in a teenage rock band.

On June 1, 2011, the drama curtailed. Rubio declared that he would join the Timberwolves team that had finished 15-67 the year prior. Johnny Flynn had a notable rookie year and it looked like Rubio would have to play his way into the rotation. In his NBA debut, passes startled his teammates and hallucinated fans. He let the game come to him like Minneapolis was the mecca of Spain. Drama barring, the wonder boy had superficially materialized. Unfortunately, a collision with Kobe Bryant ended his rookie season early as he suffered an ACL injury that would carry into his sophomore season.

He received his chance to redeem himself in the 25th game. His numbers hovered around the same as his rookie year, shooting 36% from the field while losing confidence in his three-point shot. He put up 0.7 fewer threes a game but still delivered pinpoint passes to unsuspecting teammates.

The subsequent season he had career highs with the T-Wolves, averaging his most assists, games played, and best shooting percentages. The Timberwolves, with late great Flip Saunders at the helm, had their best season since 2003-04, winning 40 games and competing for the playoffs. Kevin Love and Rubio were destined to be the future of the Wolves. At last, his injury streak looked to be in the rearview, but that proved only erroneous.

The arrival of Lebron James back in his hometown Cleveland would spell great dividends for Rubio. He would lose his pick and roll partner, Love and would be introduced to the raw athletic wing from Kansas, Andrew Wiggins. The arrival of Wiggins meant more spacing and faster pace for the reinvigorated Timberwolves. Rubio and Wiggins seemed like a match made in heaven, transitions would end with Rubio tossing a lob (or bad shot) toward the rim and Wiggins would throw it down with vigorous ferocity. Instead, teams forced the Wolves to play in half-court sets and dared Rubio to shoot the ball and gave him enough room to do whatever he please. Rubio withered against this defense, this time shooting under 36% from the field and a scant 25.5% from behind the arc. In a vacuum, the Timberwolves had to contemplate whether they drafted the next Beno Udrih rather than Steve Nash.

The next season was an ultimate make-or-break year. Questions lingered on fans’ minds: Is Rubio who we thought he was? Was Rubio the guy? Why isn’t Rubio improving from his rookie year? Had we seen the best of him?

Alas, these questions went unanswered. Rubio would right ship, doing more of the same for a 31-51 rebuilding T-Wolves team. Again, Ricky could not prove the naysayers fallacious. The team was built of random ball-dominant guards like Shabazz Muhammad, Wiggins, Zach Lavine, and Kevin Martin. It was an unfavorable situation and even my grandma could tell that the once youthful Rubio yearned for a change of scenery.

Finally, Rubio would manifest himself as a top point guard. His stats ameliorated and his love for the game resurfaced. But once more, Rubio found himself in a sticky situation. Trade rumors transpired incessantly since Rubio did not fit the “small point guard who shoots with no regard” that Thibodeau was infatuated by. He was not Derrick Rose, Nate Robinson, or DJ Augustin. He was a different beast but that didn’t stop Rubio’s demeanor as a pass-first floor general. Nonetheless, Rubio was shipped to Utah for a 2018 first round pick (OKC’s first rounder originally). Soon we would see Rubio in a different uniform and rejoice, as he never truly settled in Minneapolis.

Considerable rumination and culling his spots at the right time has led Rubio to have his best season to this point. His scraggly beard and man bun have emulated his contemporary playing style. He has a newfound confidence from behind the line, sniping more than 1 three a game for the first time in his career. He has actually finished shots at the rim, finishing bunnies at 54.1% within 10 feet of the rim. He has put up an all-around stat line of 13 PPG, 5 RPG, and 5 APG. His assists are down but his hockey assists are through the roof, his teammates (namely Donovan Mitchell) dominate the ball in most possessions.

The road less traveled has allegorized to Rubio’s affinity.

Last game he dropped a triple-double against a sluggish Russ. It led Russ to become utterly heated, “I’m going to shut that shit off next game.” Angering a top point guard in the league while thoroughly outplaying him is what Rubio specializes in.

I resumed watching the Jazz game and witnessed Rubio drop a triple-double. And thought to myself, now that’s the Ricky Rubio I know.

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