Flair has never been a problem for Ricky Rubio. At just 14 years old, the Spaniard began his professional basketball career. He soon dazzled opponents with his passes and court vision. Organizations watched in amazement. Rubio quickly became a YouTube hit and ultimately, an international superstar.
In last year’s Summer Olympics, Rubio excelled on the world stage. When Spain met Team USA in the preliminary round, they lost by 37 with Toronto Raptors point guard Jose Calderon playing the point. When the two teams met again in the gold medal game, Rubio, the tournament’s youngest player, got the start and Spain only lost by 11.
NBA teams projected him as a lottery pick. Even Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul were impressed, telling assistant coach Jim Boeheim that Rubio was the real deal.
After 2009 pre-draft workouts, Rubio solidified his status as a legitimate lottery prospect. Some scouts even compared the 18 year old to the legendary Pete Maravich. High praise for Rubio, but is it fair to place such high expectations on him? In the United States, the Spaniard would just be starting his freshman year in college. During Maravich’s time in college, freshmen were not even allowed to play varsity basketball.
It is true that both players were once considered prodigies and do look similar, sporting long, floppy hair and standing approximately 6’ 5”. However, “Pistol Pete” was a dynamic shooter. He averaged 44.2 points per game in three college seasons, and that was before the three-point shot. Rubio, on the other hand, has trouble with outside shooting and averaged just over 10 points and six assists per contest in 2008-09.
Obviously, statistics do not tell the entire story. The Spaniard’s creativity through passing resembles Maravich, but the former LSU superstar could dribble as well as the Harlem Globetrotters as a child. Rubio’s ball handling needs improvement to reach that level.
The Minnesota Timberwolves selected Rubio with the fifth overall pick and Jonny Flynn, a sophomore point guard from Syracuse, with the very next choice. Analysts criticized Timberwolves team president David Kahn for taking two players with similar styles that play the same position.
The following day, Rubio skipped the T-Wolves rookie press conference. Reports surfaced that the Spanish star prefers to play for the New York Knicks in 2009 and that his mother does not like cold weather.
Rubio is also responsible for paying almost all of the buyout of his contract with his Spanish team, DKV Joventut. Under NBA rules, the T-Wolves can only pay $500,000 of Rubio's buyout, which could be as much as $8 million. And the NBA rookie salary scale limits what Minnesota can pay Rubio over his first NBA contract. That means Rubio would make almost no money over his first two NBA seasons.
The T-Wolves now have three choices regarding Rubio:
1. Wait him out and hope he pays his buyout and reports to training camp.
2. Let the Spaniard finish his two remaining years in Europe. Then, Minnesota would have three years to negotiate a contract with Rubio and would not be required to pay a buyout. In addition, Rubio would have time to mature both on and off the court. Or
3. Trade Rubio’s rights to another NBA team.
This situation demonstrates how much more difficult it is to build a franchise by drafting players who have not played college basketball.