Ricky Rubio, hype and the great unknown

Really all you see streaking up the court is the hair. At least, it’s the first thing you notice. And to many, they see the hair, the flash and the crafty plays and they see someone else. Something bigger. They see something that makes them nickname this guy LaPistola. That’s right, the Spanish Pistol Pete, Ricky Rubio.

Rubio dashes across halfcourt and busts out his signature play, the fake-behind-the-back-wrap-around.  It’s truly a fantastic play that not only brings you to your feet and makes you start clapping out of pure reaction, but also a slick play that helped score two points. But best of all, it’s sexy. It’s flashy. It just looks awesome. And because of plays like that, we’re lured into this young prospect and we don’t even really know why. We watch the mixtapes with the no-look lobs, the between-the-legs dishes and the behind-the-back-wrap-arounds. For the same reason people like And 1 Mixtapes, they like Ricky Rubio. He epitomizes the beauty of basketball. Nothing showcases how breathtaking the game can be like a perfectly executed pass. And because of this, we’ve fallen for this guy, yet we don’t really even know anything about him.

Henry Abbott had a tremendous breakdown of Ricky Rubio this week and it really hit my brain hard. Why are we all so high on this guy? Myself definitely included.

Driving home from the draft lottery late Tuesday I was a little overwhelmed by one thought:

I don’t know enough about Ricky Rubio. I must have heard 100 smart people sing his praises that night. He’s the one player with real buzz. A guard who is almost unassailed as the second best prospect in the 2009 NBA draft.

But what does he do? What are his NBA skills? On what basis do we believe he’s a truly special basketball player? Is he really good enough that he can be picked high without even working out against his contemporaries? What could I see Ricky Rubio do that would make clear how it is he’s a better bet than Brandon Jennings, Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson, Jonny Flynn, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Darren Collison, Patrick Mills, Nick Calathes, Eric Maynor, Sergio Llull, A.J. Price, Nando de Colo and the like?

At the lottery, everybody said the same admiring things about his feel for the game, handle, vision, leadership … but sometimes these ideas leap from mind to mind without ever touching ground. I found myself looking around the room and wondering: How much have you even seen Rubio play? What kind of vetting has he had?

Read Henry’s breakdown. He’s basically saying everything I’m saying here, but much better. So if you want to just open a new tab and read Henry’s article and never read another word of this, I won’t be offended. Seriously, go right ahead. But today, Chad Ford dropped this little nugget that’s sure to get people chattering:

“Speaking of Rubio, I encountered a number of NBA GMs and scouts this week who were pretty skeptical about Rubio’s NBA future. They see him as an average athlete who can’t shoot well and who is turnover prone, and wonder aloud why he’s ranked so high.

A few GMs said Rubio isn’t in their top five. While I’ve heard doubts expressed before, the skepticism was expressed much more strongly this week by more execs. I’m going to keep digging. Maybe Henry Abbott struck a chord with his TrueHoop post on Rubio.

In any case, if Memphis and Oklahoma City decide against Rubio and don’t trade either of their picks to a team that wants to move up to get him, it’s hard to see the Sacramento Kings passing on Rubio at No. 4.”

Well then. You have to wonder how much of this is posturing. Maybe Donnie Walsh is saying this because he’s praying Rubio will drop all the way down to him. Maybe Geoff Petrie is running around saying, “Nah, he’s not that good. Seriously guys, he can’t even shoot!” but is lighting Spanish vigils each night before he goes to bed. You can never tell with these guys. They’re all playing the game and they all want their guy. So it may mean nothing and in fact, it probably does mean nothing.

But regardless, it made me think, when it comes down to it, how much of where Rubio is at is based on hype? I know that I’ve only seen him play a total of six full games. For most of my opinion, I’ve deferred to people smarter than me and people that have seen more of him than me. But as we draw closer to June 25th, you have to ask yourself, “Is he really all that awesome? Can he step in and play in this league right now?” I don’t think any of us know. While every player – Blake Griffin included – is really a question mark when it comes down to it, we at least have some sampling size to work with. We know Jonny Flynn can play against college basketball’s best players. Same with Ty Lawson. Same with James Harden. Heck, same with Hasheem Thabeet. But what do we know of Rubio? That he was okay in the Olympics? That he averaged 10 points, six assists in Europe this season? That he’s got some truly bad ace highlight tapes?

Lots of people do compare him to Pete Maravich. I see the look alike-ness with the hair and the flashy passes, but keep this in mind – Pistol averaged 44.2 points a game at LSU. For his career. Rubio averaged just over 10 this year in Spain. So don’t get too carried away there. Just because Liam Neeson sort of looks like Scott Brooks, doesn’t mean he can coach a basketball team.

This is what happens a lot. The hype ball gets rolling to where it finally reaches the tipping point – everybody has bought in so now if you go against the grain, you just don’t know anything. Or it tips the other way and people look for the negatives. I think we’ve sort of reached that point with Rubio.

But with the hype, because everybody is on board, we just assume. We don’t really know, but since somebody else said so, it’s got to be true. Sometimes the hype is for real, sometimes not. But right now with Rubio, a lot of people are making blanket statements (myself absolutely included) about a player I honestly know fairly little about. Why? Because everyone else said he was great. And most of the time, that’s good enough for me.

Now I know a lot of folks like Rubio and don’t get me wrong, I do too. I still have him as my second best player. But I’m not locked into him. He does have serious point guard skills. He has wonderful court vision. He has a feel for the game that’s impossible to teach. That much is obvious, even just with some 10-minute highlight tape. But the inevitable question always pops up: He played in Europe against second or maybe even third-tier players – what happens against the elite of the NBA? We have to ask that with every prospect, but you have to ask it even more with a guy like Rubio. He played against, I don’t know, maybe 5-10 future pros in Europe. Blake Griffin, Ty Lawson, James Harden, Hasheem Thabeet, Jordan Hill and Co. played almost every game against at least one guy that was going to have a chance at the next level. There is a difference. And it matters.

Like I said, I don’t know what to think about all of it. It may be GM silliness, it may be serious talk or it may be something else. But when I ask myself point blank, Why do I like Ricky Rubio?, it’s hard to have an answer. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll have to admit that you haven’t seen him play all that much and you really don’t know a ton about him. And I don’t like having to base my opinion of a player on the opinions of others. I like to have watched a player enough to know on my own. That’s not the case with Rubio. So in the end, I’m left asking, “Is it all hype? Or can the guy play?” And if I’m being honest, I think it’s a combination of both. I’d be freaking stoked if he fell into the Thunder’s lap at three. But I think that may be more because I’m fascinated by his lure and not by his play. That may not make sense, but it does to me and that’s all that matters.

Rubio could make a great pro. I tend to think he’s going to need at least two years to adapt to the pro game. He’s not a change-your-team-as-soon-as-he-steps-on-the-floor kind of guy. He’s a slow cooker – somebody that marinates a bit and then it clicks all of a sudden. But when guys come in with the kind of hype he does, they need to produce fairly quickly, or they’re labeled a bust right away. Henry articulated that perfectly in his piece on him.

For some reason, I’ve been hooked by the floppy-haired Spaniard. No matter what, I just think he’s going to be awesome. But I don’t really know why I think this. Maybe it’s the Lure of Rubio or maybe it’s for real. He is just 18, mind you. He’s got a lot of time to develop. And who cares whether or not you think he fits with the Thunder. That’s not really the point here. The question is, is he worth our time? Is he actually the player we all think he is or is the just hype? What do we actually know about him? Lucky for us, we don’t have to decide. But we do reserve the right to complain.

dj
2009-05-29 23:12:50
There's so much hype & mis-direction being spread around by everyone this time of year. In the end GM's and their staffs will make decisions based on perceived value. Blake Griffin goes #1. Ricky Rubio will go #2, even if the Grizzlies wind up trading him. Thankfully that leaves James Harden for us at #3.
chenson
2009-05-30 00:23:22
I'd like to hear your thoughts on possible FA signings. The cap is tough to figure out and i figure you have a better grasp on who's available and how we could get them and what not. I want us to go after Ramon Sessions and Birdman do you think that's viable?
Kev
2009-05-29 16:54:30
<blockquote cite="#commentbody-9280"> <strong><a href="#comment-9280" rel="nofollow">Zach Harper </a> :</strong>I’ve been following Ricky Rubio for a couple of years now with every bit of video, Euroleague games on NBATV, written words, etc. that I can find about him. Personally, I think he’s the real deal. He’s held his own as a young point against the best competition in the world. Does he make a lot of mistakes? Absolutely. Is he a bad shooter? Kind of. But he’s a really good defender. Someone mentioned he gambles a lot and that is kind of true. But Chris Paul also gambles a lot and his defense is probably on par with Rubio’s. The biggest thing with him is basketball IQ and vision and it’s way too high for someone so young. I think any team is foolish to pass on him unless you have Chris Paul or Deron Williams as your point guard. If the Thunder end up selecting him, you guys will be in heaven by the time he’s 22. Great stuff as usual, Royce.</blockquote> this is what I've been looking for in the last few months - someone that's actually seen more than a few minutes of the kid on Youtube. Thanks for the post!!!
Zach Harper
2009-05-29 16:03:18
I've been following Ricky Rubio for a couple of years now with every bit of video, Euroleague games on NBATV, written words, etc. that I can find about him. Personally, I think he's the real deal. He's held his own as a young point against the best competition in the world. Does he make a lot of mistakes? Absolutely. Is he a bad shooter? Kind of. But he's a really good defender. Someone mentioned he gambles a lot and that is kind of true. But Chris Paul also gambles a lot and his defense is probably on par with Rubio's. The biggest thing with him is basketball IQ and vision and it's way too high for someone so young. I think any team is foolish to pass on him unless you have Chris Paul or Deron Williams as your point guard. If the Thunder end up selecting him, you guys will be in heaven by the time he's 22. Great stuff as usual, Royce.
Jax Raging Bile Duct
2009-05-29 13:40:22
I've watched Blake Griffin play about 40 times or so over the past two years. But that's because I watch OU games. So I've seen a few other Big 12 players 1 to 4 times as a result. I'm not much of a college basketball fan. So everyone else in the draft other than Blake Griffin is really pretty unknown to me. I've seen them play a couple of times in this year's tournament, if that. So to me, I've seen as much of Ricky Rubio as I have Jordan Hill or Hasheem Thabust or James Harden. So what do I <i>actually</i> know about him? No more or no less than I know about anyone else. It's a good thing I'm not a Thunder talent scout.
Clark Matthews
2009-05-29 14:11:20
It bugs me that Abbott plays off Rubio's basketball IQ like when someone selling you on a blind date tells you the girl has a pretty smile. The thing is, basketball IQ is THE MOST IMPORTANT attribute a point guard can bring to the table. Sure, his turnovers might be high as an eighteen year old playing professional basketball, but Derrick Rose's turnover rate is pretty high, and I think we'd all take him. (Speaking of Rose, wasn't the knock on him that he can't shoot? He seems to be making up for it...with his high basketball IQ.)
Clark Matthews
2009-05-29 14:14:54
Other players labeled with the "he can't shoot" knock: Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade.
Steve H
2009-05-29 14:20:30
I think I was one of the earliest posters here praying that we could someday land Rubio. At this point, I am still hoping we move up to the two spot to get him, but only as a means of either trading up or down. His potential upside- much like Thabeet's, is phenomenal- but I am now afraid of both of those two for their potential to be busts. Too much risk for the potential reward.
2009-05-29 19:17:05
<a href="#comment-9277" rel="nofollow">@Royce</a> Fair enough, and I think he will become a good shooter. The thing is, Steve Nash is the only player Ive heard of developing great floor vision, and I suspect he always had it but needed to find the right system to showcase it. But I digress...
Zach Harper
2009-05-30 19:06:31
<a href="#comment-9345" rel="nofollow">@Royce</a> Hey Royce, Check out this article from ESPN the Magazine from a while back. Gives you a nice glimpse into how he's been handled to stay humble. http://sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?id=3469578
Kev
2009-05-30 06:55:25
why would we go after Sessions? where would he fit in the rotation?? He wouldnt sign in OKC to pass out gatorade . . .
MartzMimic
2009-05-30 07:01:22
July 8 is going to be the start of a really interesting period. Sessions wouldn't be a bad backup, especially since nobody really knows how well Livingston's knee is/will holding up. That said, I don't know that it makes business sense to sign a free agent backup PG. Unless he's traded, we've still got Earl making $6.6 million next season (assuming the Thunder buyout Chucky's contract). I would love for the Thunder to sign Chris Andersen, provided the price is right (see previous discussions, since I'm too lazy to type much right now :). It would be nice to have someone on the team with at least a little attitude.
Kev
2009-05-30 07:15:49
Sessions probably wants to start - no way would he sign here . . .
Charles
2009-05-30 11:13:42
I do believe that they should stick to what they have for the most part and continue to build via the draft. Lee would be a great pick up for anybody, but they have a four in Green. I love Lee, but not to sit Green or to pay 8-10 million for Lee to be a back up. Wait for the draft. Take Haseem Thabeet or James Harden and look for a nice center on the cheap again like Tyson Chandler, just not Tyson Chandler. Great post today talking about fans, playoff coaching and officiating: http://therookiecontract.com/
daniel
2009-05-30 11:45:51
@Royce "I’ve got something big coming on free agents" tease!
Nix
2009-05-30 10:18:10
<a href="#comment-9302" rel="nofollow">@chenson</a> Apparently Birdman is happy in Denver. I like Sessions too, but I don't think Presti would go after him. Look for us to pursue Gortat or David Lee. Of course I think most readers here would prefer Gortat, David Lee is the next best center in the market. However, Lee is going to ask for a lot of money (around 10mil/yr) and it's not like Presti to sign a guy like that. Lee is overrated due to the system he is in. There's a ton of guys available, but it's best to wait till after the draft to really start considering FA's. Whatever needs aren't met in the draft you could expect to be me in FA.
Alex
2009-05-29 13:52:33
I never understood the Maravich comparisons either...Wasn't Pistol Pete's defining characteristic his absolutely lights-out shooting (without a three-point line!) and isn't the biggest knock on Rubio his questionable shooting?
daniel
2009-05-29 13:59:34
Interesting read. The one line out of the article that immediately struck me was this: "There is a saying that everybody wants to make a quick nickel, instead of the slow dime" Aint that the truth!
dork
2009-05-29 14:25:03
hmm watching that mix tape just then i came away feeling that he gambles on defense.. and will struggle to make some of those plays in the NBA.. but man he's got floor vision :) and that about all i have seen of the kid just an impression.. i do like the ibaka vid better though not as flash :)
daniel
2009-05-29 14:28:52
You know.... now that I think about it.... How much do we REALLY know about Royce? I mean, who is this guy? Where did he come from? What's he all about? Is he really the blogger we all think he could be or just some flash-in-the-bitstream? Hmmm......
Nix
2009-05-29 14:49:11
<a href="#comment-9266" rel="nofollow">@daniel</a> He does have the shaggy hair...
Pennington
2009-05-29 15:28:10
I am willing to gamble on Rubio.
Royce
2009-05-29 15:31:49
<blockquote cite="#commentbody-9262"> <strong><a href="#comment-9262" rel="nofollow">Clark Matthews</a> :</strong> Other players labeled with the “he can’t shoot” knock: Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade. </blockquote> And Russell Westbrook...
Royce
2009-05-29 15:32:45
<blockquote cite="#commentbody-9266"> <strong><a href="#comment-9266" rel="nofollow">daniel</a> :</strong> You know…. now that I think about it…. How much do we REALLY know about Royce? I mean, who is this guy? Where did he come from? What’s he all about? Is he really the blogger we all think he could be or just some flash-in-the-bitstream? Hmmm…… </blockquote> I'm actually a vampire.
Wilson
2009-05-29 17:00:58
<blockquote cite="#commentbody-9283"> <strong><a href="#comment-9283" rel="nofollow">Kev</a> :</strong> <blockquote cite="#commentbody-9280"> <strong><a href="#comment-9280" rel="nofollow">Zach Harper </a> :</strong>I’ve been following Ricky Rubio for a couple of years now with every bit of video, Euroleague games on NBATV, written words, etc. that I can find about him. Personally, I think he’s the real deal. He’s held his own as a young point against the best competition in the world. Does he make a lot of mistakes? Absolutely. Is he a bad shooter? Kind of. But he’s a really good defender. Someone mentioned he gambles a lot and that is kind of true. But Chris Paul also gambles a lot and his defense is probably on par with Rubio’s. The biggest thing with him is basketball IQ and vision and it’s way too high for someone so young. I think any team is foolish to pass on him unless you have Chris Paul or Deron Williams as your point guard. If the Thunder end up selecting him, you guys will be in heaven by the time he’s 22. Great stuff as usual, Royce.</blockquote> this is what I’ve been looking for in the last few months - someone that’s actually seen more than a few minutes of the kid on Youtube. Thanks for the post!!! </blockquote> +1
Keith
2009-05-29 17:50:25
From what I've watched (I've been digging up Euroleague and Olympics replays for a little while now), Zach is dead on. Will Rubio struggle to score against NBA defenses? Maybe, but his game isn't based on scoring at all (I also didn't understand the Maravich comparisons outside of the hair). Is he going to have a big leap from Europe to the NBA? Of course, though I'd say it's a lot smaller leap than any of the guys in college. The biggest difference between Rubio and everyone else in this draft is bustability. We look at Thabeet and see the next "remember when they picked Thabeet over X?" We look at Blake and say, "That guy is going to take a team places." But if you think about it, what is the only attribute that is guaranteed to make a difference at any level? It's not athleticism, because great athletes regularly fail. It's not shooting, because there are plenty of guys who can shoot and do nothing else. The answer is understanding of the game. You can be a marginal athlete and still succeed if you can play smart. You can be the worst shooter in the league but still have a place if you can lift the play of your teammates. Rubio understands this game.
Sammy
2009-05-29 18:05:16
Interesting post, but, ultimately, not really pertinent to whether or not the Thunder draft him. One thing you can be absolutely sure of: whomever Presti drafts will have been selected after some of the most rigorous scouting and due diligence of any team in the league. The Thunder seem like the organization least likely to be swayed by hype and hoopla. So, if on draft day, Presti elects to take Rubio, I'll be delighted because Presti has done his homework and believes the Spaniard to be the real deal. If he elects to pass, I'll be bummed, but only because it will serve as confirmation that Ricky's value is largely based on smoke and mirrors. Of course it's possible that the Thunder pass on Rubio and he goes on to immediately flourish and dominate the league. But I'll still be okay with the Thunder's decision because they're the ones doing the work and the research and I trust their judgment far far above mine or anyone else's.
Royce
2009-05-30 11:26:11
<a href="#comment-9288" rel="nofollow">@Sammy </a> Absolutely. I Believe In Sam Presti. <a href="#comment-9280" rel="nofollow">@Zach Harper </a> Awesoem stuff Zach. See i haven't been able to follow him that well. He jumped on to everyone's radar after Beijing and that's when everybody started hyping him. So since then I've watched closely, but I still felt like I hadn't seen enough. Good to hear from someone that's got enough info to actually know what they're talking about. And don't worry peeps, I've got something big coming on free agents. Maybe too big actually. But oh well.
Royce
2009-05-30 13:39:29
I don't know if anyone saw Sports Illustrated this week, but Ian Thompson has a great feature on Rubio. One quote that really stuck out to me that fit what I just wrote - Rubio said: "The media and everybody is talking like I'm the greatest player, that I can play in the NBA easy. For me, it's not what they say. If I could be half of what they say I am, I would be very happy." He seems very humble to me from what I've read.