Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio should be one of the most intriguing players to enter the NBA in quite some time. Rubio plays with a flair that has had him compared to one of the all-time great showmen, Pete Maravich.
Of course Maravich was also a great player, a five-time NBA all-star who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987.
Whether Rubio lives up to that type of comparison remains to be seen. One reason that Rubio’s entrance to the NBA is so anticipated is because opinion is so divided on the 6-foot-4, 180-pound dynamo who won’t turn 19 until Oct. 21.
Many fans received their first look at Rubio as a member of Spain’s silver medal team in the 2008 Olympics. Rubio, who was 17 at the time, started in place of injured point guard Jose Calderon during Spain’s 118-107 loss to the U.S. in the gold medal game. In that game, Rubio showed great composure, despite suffering an injured right wrist that would later need surgery. During the Olympics he averaged 4.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 18.3 minutes.
We recently talked to front office personnel people from two different NBA teams who have seen Rubio several times. One had an optimistic outlook for Rubio and the other displayed a healthy dose of skepticism.
Each asked not to be identified so they will be referred to as Evaluator No. 1 and Evaluator No. 2.
“I’m a fan and think that people always look for the negative, saying he can’t shoot and is scrawny,” said Evaluator No. 1. “Remember, at 17 he played in the Olympics against the greatest players in the world and when asked who impressed them, the Olympians said Rudy Fernandez and Ricky Rubio.”
Rubio competed in the ACB, which Evaluator No. 1 says is the No. 1 league in the world next to the NBA. This past season, Rubio averaged 10 points, 6.1 assists and 2.2 steals in 22.2 minutes over his first 22 ACB appearances with DKV Joventut Badalona of Spain. He was named the ACB Defensive Player of the Year.
“His basketball IQ is off the chart and he is one of the best greatest passers I have ever seen,” Evaluator No. 1 said. “He has a chance to be special.”
Even Evaluator No. 1, admitted that there are legitimate concerns about Rubio’s athleticism.
“If he only remains a good athlete and he is now a good athlete, not elite, then maybe he won’t be a superstar,” he said. “But I believe you have a starting point guard which in our league has become an elite position.”
Evaluator No. 1 also preached caution in handling Rubio.
“Is he physically there, no, of course not,” he said. “Mentally he is there. But everybody wants instant gratification. There has to be some patience shown.”
Evaluator No. 2 acknowledged that Rubio has talent, but he thinks he has been over-hyped.
“I never saw a guy who has drawn as much varied opinion,” Evaluator No. 2 said. “He is a brain-first, clever and tricky player, but I don’t know if his physical package is built to stand the test of time.”
Evaluator No. 2 says he feels that Rubio is worthy of a first round choice, just not as high as others are suggesting.
“I don’t see him being picked near No. 2 or 3,” he said. “I see him as one of those point guards who has a chance to be OK like a bunch of other players, but I don’t see him as a savior.”
Evaluator No. 2 says he doesn’t feel that Rubio will be able to withstand the constant pounding in the NBA.
“Sometimes you take the bag of tricks away from slight of hand artists and then physicality takes over and that is where I would have a concern,” he said.
Evaluator No. 1 says that Rubio will indeed reward a team for selecting him high in the draft.
“Those deficiencies of not being a great shooter and not being strong, he will fix because he is a gymrat,” Evaluator No. 1 said. “The kid won’t stop working.”
And the speculation won’t stop either. There will be many storylines in the NBA draft, but none more fascinating than whether Rubio becomes an elite point guard, or fails to keep up with the physical nature of the NBA.