http://www.si.com/nba/2014/10/07/ricky-rubio-wolves-contract-kevin-love-andrew-wigginsThis video is from Rubio’s first season with FC Barcelona in 2009 and remains his most-watched YouTube clip to date across his nearly 10-year professional career. Once hyped as possibly the best European guard prospect ever, Rubio turns 24 this month and has come to a crossroads. Watching the video above reminds us why we were so excited about Rubio’s arrival in the NBA—yet also reminds us that the point guard hasn't lived up to his prodigal billing.
It’s tough not to appreciate the young Rubio's Euro-steps, no-look dishes and wizardry off the bounce as he delivers to teammates time and time again. You might not understand the the Spanish play-by-play announcers in the video, but you can certainly detect the glee in their voices. At age 18, Rubio was already a rock star. He signed his first contract at 14 with DKV Joventut and would lead Spain’s top division in steals the next season and rack up awards as Europe’s brightest young talent. YouTube magnified his swashbuckling brand of point guard play for the world to savor.
The comparisons—though far, far off—hyped him as a modern day Pete Maravich, able to see over defenses at 6-foot-4 and possessing the affable Spanish joie de vivre for the game we’d come to appreciate in the States. That was all it took to pique imaginations, until Rubio finally arrived in Minneapolis and on the nightly highlight reels in 2011.
An ACL tear during his promising rookie campaign (10.6 points, 8.2 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 2.2 steals) proved bearable. Rubio returned nine months later, keeping mostly in line with his averages upon return. Minnesota continued to struggle, but his gift for passing and penchant for pick-pocketing remained intact. Last season he started all 82 games, experiencing a slight dip in scoring but registering assists at a career-high clip. A 40-win season stood as the best year of the Rubio-Kevin Love era, a window that failed to deliver on its promise.
While Love has found greener pastures in Cleveland, Rubio’s career is careening in a drastically different direction. As he enters the final year of his rookie contract, the Timberwolves are now in Year One of a new rebuilding project: the Andrew Wiggins era. How does Rubio fit in? The 24-year-old turned down a four-year, $48 million extension from the Wolves this week, signaling he believes he’s worth more. With both parties’ futures in the air, Rubio and the Wolves will be taking a long look at each other with a pivotal offseason looming.
As entertaining as Rubio is to watch, the truth is that his game has yet to fully translate into results. Though he’s one of the league’s best passers, Rubio's glaring weakness remains that he's never shot the ball at an efficient rate. For a player so reliant on spacing and penetration to create for others, it’s an especially damning Achilles heel. It’s impressive that Rubio dishes the ball at such a prolific rate regardless, but given that he’s been a pro for almost a decade, his errant shooting is rightfully worrisome. Though it feels far too soon to wonder how close he might be to maxing out his abilities, if that jumper doesn't improve, it’s tough to see how his stock can raise much further.