Back in November of 2009 I was in Spain on vacation and decided to check out an FC Barcelona basketball game. Why? I wanted to see Ricky Rubio play. The 19-year-old point guard had been the fifth overall pick in the ’09 NBA Draft but decided to stay in Spain for a couple of years before coming to the U.S. This was a great chance to see if all the hype surrounding him was legit.
Rubio helped Barcalona to a blowout win that day, but I didn't come away overly impressed with him. It wasn't his fault — Barcelona played a slow, half-court style that had him mostly bring the ball upcourt, pass to a wing, and get out of the way. That wasn't a fluke game. The Euroleague is known for its zone defenses and physical play — qualities that didn't allow Rubio to showcase his flashy playmaking skills. He averaged just 10.7 points and 4.1 assists in 2009–10 and 6.5 points and 3.6 assists in 2010–11. NBA fans who saw those stats started to believe he wasn't NBA material.
Boy, were they wrong. Flash forward to January 2012. Rubio, now a rookie with the Minnesota Timberwolves, is developing into one of the NBA's most exciting players. He has been terrific at beating defenders off the dribble, getting in the paint, and setting up his teammates for easy buckets. The court vision that made him an elite prospect has been evident with crafty passes to star big man Kevin Love and eye-popping alley-oops to athletic rookie forward Derrick Williams. Rubio's playmaking has energized a T-Wolves squad that has been down in the dumps the past few seasons. (Minnesota is 2–4 this season, but all of their losses have been by four points or less.)
The NBA style suits Rubio's game perfectly, and he will continue to improve as he becomes accustomed to his new teammates. Check him out when you get a chance — pure passers like him don’t come along often.