Box? What Box - or "I hope Ricky didn't get Darko'd"

Hey party people,

It's that time again. I've been thinking about the Wolves, bummed out by how big of a mess they are, and all in all seeking to look at my views of them in different lights that challenge what I think I know.

Today's edition: Why do we think Ricky will have any success at all in the NBA?

I used to be a Ricky apologist. I'll admit, I drank the Kool-Aid gleefully when he fell to us. After what has transpired the past two years, however, I'm beginning to wonder if Ricky got Darko'd in Barca. I'm getting ahead of myself...

In short, I started analyzing my perceptions (and expectations) for Rubio by attempting to place him somewhere on the great PG spectrum (hears words echoing...). Again, a pretty topical analysis but here are some of the different high level points I came up:

- the scoring point (Iverson)

- the high efficiency point (Nash, Ty Lawson?)

- the flashy point (Starbury? Stevie Franchise? I'm think guys with more swagger and machismo)

- the defensive point (The Glove, Rondo)

- the effective point (John Stockton)

- the anomalous point (Magic)

- the all-everything point (Kidd, CP3?)

- the insane athlete point (Rose)

Compared to these historic levels, Ricky doesn't. At least not in most meaningful ways. He could become a crafty defensive player, but ultimately he's too slow and unathletic. He's never going to be a great scorer - dude can't shoot. Flashy? Yes, but when has a flashy point ever been meaningful to championship teams? Efficient? Maybe...not, at least not with his passing style and shooting mechanics. Effective? Probably, but not at epic levels. At least he has good size and length.

Topically surveying these players, a general statistical view also emerges: around 15+ ppg, 7-8+ apg, 3-4 rebs and steals per game, and good free throw shooters. Some are better are getting to the line, others at draining threes. Most excel at either driving to the basket or knocking down open shots.

It seem to me as if they all generally fall into two categories: those with 'self' vision and those with 'others' vision. In a nutshell, 'self' vision guys predominantly see the game with themselves as the triggering event, the trigger of the cascade of action around them. Guys like Rose, Westbrook, Deron Williams perhaps, Brandon Jennings definitely.

The 'others' vision guys see the game in its entirety, with themselves simply as one of many moving pieces. Think guys like Magic, Kidd, or Lebron. These guys, despite their often prodigious other talents (size, athletic ability, or otherwise), often seek to enable others as much or more than seeking their own shot. Lebron is a great example of this - no one doubts he could score however much he wants whenever he wants. It just appears as though he'd rather play a more complete game, setting up others and using his scoring ability as a tool in his toolbox in key moments instead of as an overarching playing identity.

So where is Rubio within this? Enter The Problem with Ricky.

Rubio is not a scorer, and most likely never will be. He does, however, have exceedingly good court vision. Check out this writeup on him from last year, courtesy The Painted Area. It does a good job of talking about what most other scouting reports on Rubio talk about:

I do find it uniquely challenging to try to project Ricky's NBA future because of these competing factors:

Pro: I believe Rubio truly has the court vision of an all-time great. Stockton, Magic, Nash - name who you want. I think Rubio sees the floor on that level.

Con: Rubio just cannot finish at the basket at all, and he doesn't really score in the lane, either.

Get it? Ricky is great at passing, great at rebounding his position, great at steals. However he can't score and he can't shoot. He's an 'others' seer but without the high level size, athletic, or skills (e.g. scoring) advantage the other greats have. In today's NBA, I have hard time believing that Rubio will be anything other than an average NBA point at best - a lower scoring, better stealing and rebounding Brandon Jennings. Will Rubio ever be better for his team than Jennings? Than Lawson, Curry, or Rondo? Than Westbrook or even Jrue Holiday? Hard to say, given how he's performed in Europe this year, that he'll perform better than any of those guys next year...

...HOWEVER... writing this up, doing my research and watching some clips (hey, I'm a casual fan, so please speak up in the comments with your scouting report if you've been watching Ricky more this year), I kept having this feeling like somehow I was missing something. How could a kid be so good, have so much buzz about him, and then just completely fall off a cliff? It's not like Rubio pulled a Flynn and shot up draft boards for no particular reason. This is a kid who, from age 14 on, held his own as a boy among men. He played in the freaking Olympics as a, what, 17 or 18 year old?! Something stinks in all this, just a little, and it smells an awful lot like the Wolves to me.

Bear with me here and read some of these excerpts about Ricky before he went to Barca (courtesy of DX):

Rubio is one of the best pick and roll players you'll find in basketball today, NBA or not. According to Synergy Sports Technology's quantified report, an astounding 62% of his offensive possessions come in this fashion. His ability to deliver crisp, perfectly timed passes directly into the hands of a cutting teammate for an easy basket is uncanny, as he makes the game so incredibly simple, doing everything but put the ball into the net for them. It's exactly this type of court vision and feel for the game that has produced comparisons to Steve Nash, even if their perimeter shooting and defensive skills couldn't be any more different. He has a similar ability to change speeds with the ball and simultaneously see every inch of the court, not hesitating for an instant to deliver a bullet pass underneath the rim for an easy layup.

What made this particular game more noteworthy than the previous times we saw him was Rubio's willingness to put Joventut on his back and carry them with his scoring. With the shot-clock running down, Rubio put his ball-handling skills on full display, slashing apart the defense with a beautiful crossover and finishing strong around the basket in traffic, sometimes with a nifty floater. Unable to use his right hand for the first few weeks following his wrist injury, Rubio has improved his ability to create with his left, which has made him a more dangerous player. One NBA scout we spoke to after the game astutely pointed out that Rubio could develop into an even better scorer in the NBA than he is here, as the improved spacing and strict rules about hand-checking on the perimeter will greatly favor his style of play.


His impact extends far beyond his ability to score:

We always knew this, but watching him play with only one hand (in practice it was almost painful to watch him shoot two-handed layups, air-ball mid-range jumpers and brick free throws) only amplified this point. Rubio got his hands on every ball even remotely in his area in the game we saw the moment he stepped out on the court—causing deflections and turnovers on a couple of occasions. His knack for getting in the passing lanes is nothing short of amazing, and he’s an absolute nuisance playing defense on the ball.

In addition, he was able to display his terrific court vision repeatedly, as he is simply unable to score with his right hand being in the shape it’s currently in. He was able to beat Brandon Jennings off the dribble badly on two separate occasions, and repeatedly delivered incredibly creative passes to teammates that surprised even them based on the way they reacted. They apparently either didn’t understand his brilliance or just aren’t used to being fed that way. A play at the end of the first half did a great job demonstrating his outstanding instincts—as he corralled a rebound with about two seconds remaining, and immediately whipped a full-court outlet pass to a streaking teammate for an easy layup just as time expired.


-He’s a natural born leader, and extremely likable on top of that

The moment Rubio came into the game, he immediately began directing traffic and instructing them where to go. In practice, he quietly demonstrates to players close to twice his age where they should be on the floor in a certain set or drill. During shoot-around, he jokes around in English with the foreigners, and in Spanish with the local players. As they are going through a certain drill—the team runs until Coach Alonso claps, at which point the players must begin to sprint—Rubio shows his playful side by clapping himself mid-stride, which the players must have seen before, as no one fell for it. He has a special quality about him, there is no doubt about it, and it’s pretty obvious that he’s extremely well-liked by his teammates. The fact that he’s even playing right now is a testament to how much he wants to help his team win.


Rubio produced 18 points and 9 assists that nicely reflect his offensive efforts, rounded out with 5 rebounds and 2 steals. His efficiency production (a stat similar to the NBA’s EFF) is off the charts, ranking fourth in the ACB League overall, falling only behind the 1985-born standouts Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernández and Tiago Splitter (again, props for the teams selecting these three guys in the past draft).

Incisive as always, the personal foul is the only resource his opponents enjoy in order to prevent him from stepping into the lane, and he’s not even trying that hard on a regular basis. His potential in this regard is monstrous, and if Rudy leaves the team this upcoming summer, expect Rubio to emerge more aggressive and completely fearless to take over the offensive initiative. His jumper continues to remain steady, and even if he lacks elevation (something in which he should definitely work on), he shows some off-the-dribble shooting ability as well.

Against Bilbao, Ricky particularly shined dishing the ball. He put on a passing clinic that included transition passes in traffic, drive and dish plays (a typical pass for him is to drive all the way under the rim and them hand the ball back to a teammate from behind his defender), deliveries from the perimeter finding his teammates under the rim, while cutting or open to release a jumper. He enjoys that perfect timing to known when it’s the right moment to send the ball.

Super smart, part of Rubio’s game relies on anticipation. He has that knack to foresee what’s going to happen on the court. That’s why his decision making looks so great, that’s why he finds his teammates so easily, and it particularly explains his ridiculous ability to steal the ball. It’s interesting to describe the two steals he collected in this game. The first one is a classic move he delivers, unexpectedly attacking the passing lane from the weak side (that is, going between the opponent and the sideline to intercept the ball the instant before it reaches its destination). It usually comes when his match-up is cutting towards the perimeter, or in defensive rotations working off the visual angle of his opponent. The second steal came to him in the form of a loose ball that his superb hands just lodged free against two opponents. The slightest touch with the ball for him means establishing control and deciding where to send it.

His defense itself often works on anticipation, as his lateral quickness, even if very solid, still might lack that last degree of explosiveness that he will likely gain as he keeps maturing physically (although he already shows a pretty good frame).

What happened to this guy?

My hypothesis for what happened - Ricky got Darko'd, (in a manner of speaking). He was the star acquisition of a veteran, championship primed team. At Joventut Ricky was the man, at Barca he became JWill on last year's Heat.

In hindsight Ricky never had a chance at Barca. It makes me laugh that Lakers fans want him for LA. LA should be the last place Ricky should go. He needs his own team. He needs a coach to give him the keys and let him drive the team for 30+ minutes a night. He needs to do what he does and develop chemistry with his guys (and let his guys develop an understanding of him). He needs Joventut again. I don't care that the level competition and athletes is better in the NBA than at Joventut. He doesn't need to go to a team where he's just a side piece - he needs to be THE piece, at least as much as a PG can be the piece. And he needs to play for a coach (not Rambis) who will let him be who he is. My gut feeling is that Rambis will do to Ricky's development what he's done to Jonny and Wes' development.

Ricky is definitely a very difficult guy to project in the NBA because there simply hasn't been anybody quite like him. It reminds me of a Rambis comment about Love that I heard on KFAN the other day. PA asked Rambis who Love reminded him of and Rambis answered (and I'm paraphrasing), "Nobody. No one has had the body type and rebounding and three point shooting ability of Love. There simply hasn't been a guy like him who has been so productive in the NBA before." Projecting Rubio is kinda like projecting Love. Both have decent size and suspect athleticism. Both have 'fatal' offensive flaws (Love's too short and slow, Rubio can't finish or shoot), yet both have been incredibly successful using their smarts, timing, anticipation, and ability to draw free throw attempts to succeed offensively and help their team. Both appear to have a preternatural ability to see things on the court most other players don't, and for this reason I think Rubio has a chance to very successful in the NBA.

His game isn't about being faster than everybody else, and fortunately he's well sized. As long as he continues to see the court the way he does and (this is extremely important) is allowed to play his game by his coaches, he will be fine. Changing speeds and anticipation can be equally as devastating as simply blowing by someone...and they age significantly better than relying on a first step. How's Kidd (38) looking these days? Or Nash (37)? Or Chauncey (34)? Are they Rose or Westbrook or CP3? No, they're not, but they still posted a collective WS over that past two years of 50.7 compared to the young'ins 55.8. Not bad...not bad at all for some old timers without insane athleticism or strength or first step.

Developing a shot will definitely help Rubio, but playing for the right coach will make a bigger difference. Kevin Love is producing at historic levels whether you degrade him for his suspect athleticism or not. This team has a plethora of athletes, shooters, and finishers primed for a guy like Ricky and a coach like Adelman to energize - Wes, Beasley, Martell, Wayne, Love, AR, Pek. Tell me this team isn't intriguing if you let these guys simply play a PnR game instead of the inane triangle.

I'm getting off topic, and this post is long enough already. In short? If we get Rubio over here next year, we will arguably have the two most productive yet atypical players in the NBA in Love and La Pistola. There will continue to be wildly divergent views of what their collective ceiling is, but both players are most likely simply too smart and too good at seeing the game of basketball to not be effective and productive. Whoever their coach is will make the biggest difference in their success - not any particular individual failings. And at the end of all of this, we probably still need a new GM/POBO, certainly a new coach, and a high level iso-scorer and shot creator.....and Biyombooooo!!!!!

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