Despite winning Eurobasket in Lithuania with Spain in mid-September, Ricky Rubio was the subject of some negative criticism.
After a sub-par tournament, where Rubio came off the bench, he finished it off with a statline of two rebounds, one assist and four fouls in just seven minutes of the final against a Tony Parker-led French side.
Basketball is a team game and the Spain side that triumphed in Kaunas was a squad that always looked like it would retain their gold medals. Yet, the personal performances of Juan Carlos Navarro and Ricky Rubio stole the limelight.
Navarro was praised as Eurobasket’s MVP whilst the stories involving Rubio were much different.
Some NBA writers in Kaunas for the final round questioned his mental toughness while others, including yours truly doubted Ricky’s ability and physical playing style, fearing that this once Spanish teenage prodigy would be relegated to the role of ‘cameo bench player’ in Minnesota.
An eyebrow was raised as Rubio debuted on Boxing Day – dropping six points – dishing out the same number of assists without a single turnover in 26 minutes against an in-form Oklahoma City Thunder side.
His breakout performance came against the star-studded Miami Heat as Ricky went for 12 points, 12 assists and six rebounds, four off a triple-double.
The doubters, including myself were wrong. Ricky Rubio seemed to embrace the stage that we thought he wasn’t ready for just yet.
Since then, after ten games the Spaniard is averaging 10 points and 7 assists and the Ricky Rubio fans back in Spain, as well as in Minneapolis are starting to make some noise again, after being silent for a year.
Rubio has worked with one of the NBA veteran coaches in Rick Adelman, dubbed ‘the most professional coach in the league’. during the off-season, shortened of course due to the NBA lockout. But there was still one queestion that needed to be asked as the Timberwolves headed into game 10 of 66…
How would Ricky fare against the more elite guards? The quick-as-a-blur guards, such as Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose?
Answer: not too badly. He held his own against the NBA’s current MVP. By no means did Rubio shut Rose down, that’s almost impossible. But there were times in the third quarter where Ricky restricted Rose’s movement and forced a few turnovers off the Bulls point guard.
With the T’Wolves down 24 points mid-way through the second quarter, the introduction of Rubio inspired a 20-2 closeout, inspired by the Spanish number nine. Despite defeat, Ricky ended with 13 points and 12 assists.
While his jumper will always be his arch-nemesis, you can’t complain about the start he has made. He is even in the running for a surprise spot at the 2012 All-Star game in Orlando on Feburary 26th. Sounds far-fetched, but true.
Ricky Rubio’s true test starts now though. Whether the teenage prodigy, turned NBA rookie sensation can keep his form going? The NBA tests your physical and mental stability, as well as your fitness. This is Rubio’s biggest transition from ACB to the NBA. Just think when next October/November, the league reverts to 82 games.
How will Rubio deal with the added amount of games, countless hours hopping on-and-off planes and the time he will spend with the shooting, defensive and conditioning coaches when the season enters it’s middle and end?
These factors have effected all superstars, and they came back stronger than ever. LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, Steve Nash, Chris Paul, just to name a few.
No doubt Rubio will have his off nights, times of fatigue and even injuries will play parts of his career. It’s the NBA, it’s about pacing yourself.
Another factor that could happen sooner rather than later is a place in the starting five. Michael Beasley is out with a foot injury. Rubio could start at the point with Luke Ridnour moved up to shooting guard and Wesley Johnson up to the three spot. That could happen any time from now.
We will wait and see how Rubio reacts to it all – but for now – he’s passed the first test.