After zeroing in on Ricky Rubio competing against one of the worst teams in the league (Washington) and one of the best (Chicago), here’s the scouting report:
The young man is simply an extraordinary passer, whether on the run, feeding the low-post, or in generic half-court sets. He has terrific awareness and anticipation, and delivers the ball right on the money – whether kick-outs to open perimeter shooters, or in-traffic dishes to his bigs. Credit him with 15 assists versus the Wizards and 12 against the Bulls. Moreover, a total of 12 passes found open shooters who missed their subsequent shots.
Since the ball is in his hands so much, it’s entirely understandable that (like Steve Nash) he’s also charged with numerous turnovers – five in each game. Indeed, virtually all of his TOs came on passes that were attempted when the erstwhile recipient was too close (a total of 3 of these), when he forced risky long- or cross-court passes (2), or lobs to players who zigged instead of zagged (2), or made passes behind cutters (2). One change of possession occurred when Rubio was crowded along a sideline and inadvertently stepped out-of-bounds. In all, 27 assists to 10 turns is a totally acceptable ratio.
Rubio is also a deadly one-on-none shooter – 5-14 and 13 points against Washington, 6-11 for 13 points against Chicago. When on the move, he shoots much better pulling right than left, but when crowded going in either direction he’s liable to hoist up a brick or two.
Rubio’s crossovers in both directions are tight, quick and snappy. He’s not afraid to take advantage of an open lane and zip to the hoop, but again he finishes better going right than he does going left.
He exercise his leadership qualities by taking full command of the offense, often using his free hand to direct teammates to where they are supposed to be positioned in any particular set.
Rubio only fakes setting screens, but will occasionally put his 6-foot-4, 180-pound body on the line by attempting to bump cutters in the lane. Courage is not a problem.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Needs better balance when pulling and shooting, especially going left. Has to finish better with his left hand. That’s why defenses are learning to deny him his right hand. Rubio’s on-court communication with his new teammates is sometimes shaky, but this will necessarily improve as the season progresses.
Rubio’s foot- and hand-quickness are top-notch. He threatens passing lanes like a veteran and is also quick enough to challenge passes. Add his long arms, and Rubio can attack the bottom of careless opponents’ dribblings, plus also get a hand upraised to challenge most shots.
He can, however, be beaten on quick power drives – as he variously was by John Wall, Jordan Crawford, John Lucas, Ronnie Brewer and Derrick Rose. Rubio’s lack of sheer strength was illustrated when he tried to derail Wall with a less-than-mighty bump and Wall was absolutely unaffected. Surprisingly, the only opponent who took Rubio into the low-post was Brewer, who had an easy time scoring a layup while also drawing a foul.
When isolated on the perimeter, Rubio does not bite on fakes and maintains excellent defensive balance and position.
He does have somewhat of a problem in defense of screen/rolls. He would rather go under the screen and rely on his nearby big to offer aggressive help – which usually does discourage the ball-handler from turning the corner and penetrating into the lane. Or else, Rubio will overplay the screen and likewise depend on an earnest showing of his big man. Either way, Rubio is quick to scramble back and latch on to his man.
Sometimes, though, he simply gets crushed by a screen and is taken out of the play.
Against Washington, he scored 13 points and yielded 8 in one-on-one confrontations. Against Chicago, his 13 points were more than offset by the 25 that he allowed – most of these coming in the fourth quarter when Rose was in his attack mode.
Remarkable anticipation, quickness, and the cooperation of his teammates are the keys to Rubio’s surviving on defense.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Experience will greatly enhance the things he already does well. But he does need to increase his strength, as finesse will take him only so far against high-octane opponents. However, will any increase in bulk compromise his speed and quickness?
In sum, Rubio gives the Wolves a discernible jolt of energy whenever he enters a game. He keeps his teammates (and the offense as a whole) clicking, makes winning plays and is on his way to being a bonafide franchise player. In other words, Ricky Rubio is a quicker, more athletic, better shooting, twenty-first century version of Bob Cousy.