The teenage phenom from Spain has finally arrived on American shores after being drafted in '09. I, for one, am excited. That tired old stigma of international players not being able to adjust to the NBA game has gone the way of Blockbuster and dial-up internet. Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, and Dirk Nowitzki all have rings (Dirk may not get an actual ring if Mark Cuban has his way, but that's a whole other story) and all were crucial to their respective teams' championship runs. The NBA has truly become an international sport and Rubio may be the next in a growing number of top flight European imports.
After a somewhat subpar season in Barcelona, some wonder if Rubio will take the NBA by storm as previously predicted. I remain firmly on his bandwagon. With all of the new rules regarding hand checking and blocking, this has become a point guard's league and the kid appears to have all of the tools to succeed at the NBA level. First of all, let us ignore the comparisons between Ricky Rubio and Pete Maravich. These absurd comparisons have more to do with the two athletes' hair styles rather than their styles of play. Pistol Pete was a pure scorer who dropped 40 or more points in a game 35 different times. It was not unusual for Pistol Pete to shoot the ball 30+ times a game. Pistol Pete had a flair for showmanship and entertained crowds with his flashy dribbling and Globetrotter-like moves.
Ricky, on the other hand, is a point guard's point guard. A pass-first type of player with unreal court vision. Watching him run the fast break reminds me of Steve Nash or Magic Johnson. At 6'3" with long arms and deceptive quickness, Rubio plays the passing lanes well. He amasses lots of steals and loves to get out in transition. The one glaring weakness in his game has to be his jump shot, but that has apparently been the focus of his practice for the last year. While Rubio is a flashy player, most of his flash comes in the form of great dribbling and slick no-look passes to teammates. Rubio takes over games the way John Stockton used to.
Rubio will be playing his rookie year with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The downside is that he won't be surrounded by a surplus of talent or veteran leadership. That and the fact that he wil be leaving Barcelona to move to Minneapolis. The upside is that he will most likely see quite a bit of playing time on a rebuilding team during a shortened season. Let us not forget that there are some intriguing pieces on this Timberwolves squad. He'll have a great shooter in Michael Beasley on the perimeter. He'll have Kevin Love setting screens, knocking down 3 pointers, and grabbing tons of rebounds. He'll also have young, athletic, and talented players like Derrick Williams, Anthony Randolph, and Wes Johnson running the floor at every opportunity.
While taking home Rookie of the Year honors may be a bit of a stretch, (Kemba Walker or Kyrie Irving winning it is more likely) I predict that Rubio will have a very solid rookie season. Him leading all rookies in assists and/or steals is quite possible. Look to see him plenty of times on Sportscenter this year and plenty of times in All Star games down the road.