June 21, 2011
Ricky's over, now, set to sign with the Minnesota Timberwolves and brought over to the strains of some pretty strange on-site radio commentary that reminded of Suzyn Waldman's approach from the Roger Clemens landing from a few years ago. David Kahn played "Rock and Roll Part II," everyone laughed (though, as a Gary Glitter fan, I just stomped my feet), and a good time was had by both Wolves fans and Wolves detractors.
But he is over, and we are wrong, and we want the best from here on out. For years, the Timberwolves were my secret second-favorite team, always chugging along with Kevin Garnett(notes) and keeping me sane in the post-Jordan era. I still do have a soft spot for the squad, despite my continued enmity sent Kahn's way. I think -- heck, I know -- that fan base deserves better. And Kahn, despite his eventual acquisition of Rubio and the trolling (with "somebody" dropping things to the media in hopes of hyping Jonny Flynn's(notes) value about switching Flynn for Andre Iguodala(notes)), has let that fan base down. Which, to me, is worth derision.
Now that Rubio is over here, though, what kind of guard will he be? Amongst chatters, and literal friends and family, it's a question that comes up quite a bit. This kid left most observers smitten back in 2006, and they want to know why we're so down on the guy five years later.
Luckily for all of us, we have Sebastian Pruiti. NBA Playbook's scouting maven and brilliant observer of all things orange and leathery. Insert your own Jim Goldstein joke, here.
Sebastian put up a must-read Rubio post yesterday, detailing not only his failings in the sort of game usually run by NBA teams (we're hoping that Minnesota doesn't try to waste our time with the Triangle offense next year, it's been an abomination for the last two seasons to this triple post-devotee, and a ball dominating point guard like Rubio is an anathema to the triple post offense), but his strengths. Rubio is a better athlete than you remember, and as a basketball lump of clay, you could do a lot worse. He's a smart, eager, talented youngster that can do great things if all the rough edges are sorted out.
But there are a lot of rough edges to sort out. I'll paraphrase and then quote Sebastian discreetly, because you really need to follow the links and read his post.
First off, ignore the per-game stats. Always take those with a grain of salt when considering international players and how well they'll do stateside, because the pace, play, amount of games, minutes, and play-calling just cannot be simply translated. There are certain metrics that work, to an extent, in translating those international stats, but it's still a small part of the story.
Rubio can pass, he can defend, and his actual shooting stroke isn't that bad. Even if the shots never go in. I'll let Sebastian take on one of his bigger weaknesses:
The biggest problem that Ricky Rubio is going to have when he makes the transition to the NBA game is the lack of scoring ability, especially his poor shooting ability. Rubio can knock down an open shot, hitting 40.5% of unguarded catch and shoot jumpers, but in just about any other situation, he struggles with his shot. When he is guarded, Rubio shoots just 18.5% and when he is shooting off of the dribble, he is shooting just 23.5%.
This inability to knock down shots off of the dribble will really hurt his pick and roll game in the pros. If Rubio can't knock down a jumper (or at least be a threat to) coming off of a ball screen, teams will simply go under them, making it tough for Rubio to use his playmaking skills to create for his teammates. When Rubio settles for a jumper in pick and roll situations (which happens 54.4% of the time when he is looking to score off of ball screens), Rubio is shooting 20%:
Those are pitiful numbers, and when you look at the game tape that Pruiti provides, you can see why. The guy has happy feet, he doesn't set his legs correctly as he goes up for jumpers or scoring-minded drives, and as a result his shot is terribly inconsistent. Arm-wise? He's fine. The elbow is often under the ball, and the follow through is good. But the bottom half? It's a mess. He's got four quadrants, and two of the four are in constant disagreement with the other two.
Minnesota? This can be fixed. He doesn't have to be a pretty-passin' version of Brevin Knight(notes) forever, because there's no actual hitch in his release. All it takes is time, repetition, and increased in-game confidence. The first two can be come across rather easily. The last? That's a different story. Dirk Nowitzki(notes) handled his tough, lockout-shortened, rookie year and came out hot to trot in his second season. But most rookies (wherever they come from) go into that second year hurting from the brain down to the shoes they're gazing at. Minnesota has to work extra hard at not only fixing Rubio's stroke, but keeping his chin up.
The good news? He's here, and that I was terribly wrong. I'm so, so glad that I'm wrong, because I want this to work.
The tough news? He has a lot to work on, and Minnesota is behind the proverbial dials on this one.
Good luck, Ricky. We're rooting for you.