Ricky Rubio signing a contract to play with the Timberwolves next season is phenomenally good news for the fans. No other way around it. I first got word that he might have signed around 10:00 PM on Tuesday night and like the rube I am, I stayed up until almost 1:00 AM reading a number of news articles, blogs and Twitter accounts on the development. I did the same thing this morning.
What I found, not surprisingly, is that there is a lot of negativity out there. In what should be a really positive moment for the organization and its fan base there are those who feel the need to quickly bring us all back to Earth. Most of the criticism is based around his subpar stats in Euro leagues. The individuals who speak this sort of criticism are quick to forget the ancient history that was a 17 year old Rubio going head-to-head against Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Jason Kidd in the 2008 Beijing Olympic and in many ways, outplaying them.
If we’ve learned anything at all about the transition from Euro to NBA ball, and vice versa, it’s that the two styles of play are very different and what works in one does not necessarily work in the other. As a result, the statistics do not necessarily translate.
First and foremost, the games are 8 minutes shorter in Europe. That alone deflates the numbers. Euro leagues also tend to play a more all-inclusive style of basketball. There is much less focus on individual stat stuffing and more of a commitment to team play. For example, everyone talks about how Rubio only averaged 3.5 assists this season. That was good enough for 11th best in the league. The leader averaged 6.2 assists. Only 3 players averaged above 5 assists. The league leader in points averaged 17.2 a game (fun fact: it was former Timberwolf, Igor Rakocevic). Him and one other guy in the whole league were the only players to average over 15 points. Compare those two tidbits to the NBA this season in which 31 players averaged 5 or more assists and 62 players averaged 15 or more points. The games are very, very different and if you simply read a box score and think that x points here equals x points there, you are sorely mistaken.
So if in spite of all that if you can manage to overlook the previous paragraph and instead focus on some less than eye popping statistics then I suppose I can admit some skepticism is deserved. Personally, I just choose to enjoy the moment for a while before getting back to basking in the negative. Are we embattled Timberwolves fans not allowed to be excited about something for even a few minutes? Is good news a phenomena that must evade us completely? Is the thought of a star caliber player voluntarily agreeing to play in the state of Minnesota such an abomination that we must immediately degrade the potential (and sanity) of the player? If being a Wolves fan is to live in a state of gloom and disappointment, can signing Ricky Rubio not serve as a little dose of Prozac?
I really am okay to let the haters hate and watch the money pile up, but where I will interject and argue is on the basis of expectations. A lot of the detractors are essentially saying that Rubio won’t be able to score a lot or single handedly take over games the way a LeBron or Kobe do and so he basically amounts to much ado about nothing. These individuals, I am afraid, are the victims of a poor imagination. They are looking at Rubio all wrong. He is not LeBron or Kobe or Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook. If we’re insistent on putting a current player comparison on him I’d say he probably most resembles Jason Kidd. A plus defender, good size, floor general, elite passer, questionable jump shot, etc… Rubio also shows glimpses of being a truly transformational player in his ability to conduct an offense in an uptempo-fast break offense. In that regard, an eventual progression to a Steve Nash type is probably his best case ceiling.
That stuff covers his skill set. If you just look at his physical projections I can see why he wouldn’t look all that different from other top prospects. Where Rubio sets himself apart, however, is in his intangibles. If you saw the Olympics in 08, if you’ve watched any of the plethora of Rubio highlight videos on Youtube, if you’ve followed the guys career closely and what some of the top players and coaches in the world say about him, then you know that there are things about Rubio’s game that do not translate to paper. The guy simply has a feel for the game that appears unnaturally natural, made all the more impressive when you consider he is still only 20 years olds.
Does his jump shot need a lot of work? Yes. Will he need to add muscle mass in order to stand up to the grind of a NBA season? Without question. Could he ultimately fail to live up to expectations? Considering the expectations by many fall right around ‘franchise savior’, yes, I would say there is a decent chance he could fail to live up to some expectations.
At the present, none of that really matters. What matters is that this is a win for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Whether it puts the team back on the right track, energizes the fan base, sells some tickets, earns the team a little more national attention, makes Minnesota more attractive to free agents, plants the seeds of a big T-Wolves following in Spain or all of the above, Rubio’s arrival is a good thing.
And now, let me leave you with some quotes about the newest Timberwolf…
"He's an amazing defender, that's one thing that stood out to me is how well he pressured the ball and disrupted our offense…He's flashy, he's crafty as well and the passes he did...were kind of amazing." – Kevin Durant
"It's crazy what he's already done. I am 23 and I think of the things I've done, but he is only 17, it's crazy! He has already been in the Olympics. I've played 3 years in college and 3 years in the NBA before going to the Olympics. He will come to the NBA to steal my job." – Chris Paul
"This is my third time playing against him, and he is definitely ready to play in the NBA. The kid can play. I felt like in the Olympics he played very well and showed a lot of poise and he reads a lot of things that average players don't." – Kobe Bryant
“He’s gotten bigger and he plays outstanding defense, and because he’s a pass-first guard—he’s going to be liked by everybody who plays with him.” - Mike Krzyzewski
“It was great just to test him. He’s a young player and he played great. He really runs the offense well … I think he’s ready for the NBA.” – Derrick Rose
"We're very high on him. If they (Minnesota) want to give him up, we're very interested. We would do that in a heartbeat…We tried to trade up to get Rubio. But we weren't close. We would have loved to draft him” – Mark Cuban