Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot is more than just a title of a movie. As this month’s SLAM cover attests, there’s a fierce battle raging in the NBA between Chris Paul and Deron Williams to be the #1 #1 man. Same holds true in the 2009 NBA draft class, with one of the stars of the above mentioned documentary, Brandon Jennings, going up against Ricky Rubio.
Despite growing up oceans apart, the two point guard prodigies have much in common. Both have been in the limelight pretty much since they were still rocking Pampers. Both have that “wow” factor, leaving jaws-dropped with their on-the-court prowess. Both are honing their skills in the top leagues in Europe before heading to the L. Both have even boasted iconic hairstyles in their lives–Jennings with his Kid ‘n Play hi-top fade and Rubio sporting a Pistol Pete Menudo mop-top.
The purpose of this column, however, is to try to decide who’s the best of the two in terms of draft potential. While their brief head-to-head encounter last week in the Euroleague was no where near enough to prove who’s the best, we are forced to use a more analytical approach to figure out who’s the #1 #1. With that said, here’s how Draft 365 breaks down the duo’s respective games.
Tale of the Tape
Neither of these guys are going to be physically intimidating point guards. Jennings, listed around 6-1 170 lbs, will always be an undersized point guard in the NBA, even if he does put on some much needed weight and muscle. At 6-3 180 lbs, Rubio isn’t much better off, as he also needs to get bigger and stronger. Rubio’s reported 6-9 wingspan sets him apart though, and at 18 years old he is a year younger than his American counterpart.
We only care about athleticism in regards to basketball, so speed/quickness and leaping ability/explosiveness are the key terms. Jennings wins both categories hands down. While B.J. and Rubio both have speed to burn, with the ball and without, B.J. wins this race. Rubio isn’t an explosive leaper or sky walker, while Jennings is, so once again the SoCal kid wins.
Both of these guys have skills with the pill. Both are able to push the ball up the floor, beat their man off the dribble and handle the ball like it’s on a string. However, Rubio’s ball handling wizardry is otherworldly. Just like special hockey players are said to be able to “stick handle inside a phone booth,” Ricky can do the same with the basketball.
Another category in which both guys are good, but in which Rubio excels. While Jennings often looks for his own shot rather than set up teammates, Rubio is always looking to drop a dime. His passes are of the jaw-dropping variety, even if he occasionally forces passes into openings that don’t exist.
Finally Jennings gets back on the board, but barely. Both guys are best breaking down their man and getting to the rim. While both guys can knock down the three, they both need to improve their consistency with their jumpers. Jennings has proven in high school and, to a lesser extent, in his pro career, that he is a capable scorer–Rubio only averaged 10.5 ppg last season in the Spanish league–his only year in double digits. Jennings gets the slight edge here, especially with Ricky’s messed up wrist still limiting his ability to stroke it.
Another category Rubio excels in. He is a disruptive force on the defensive end, leading the Spanish league in steals last season. Perhaps more impressively, in his first go-around in the Euroleague (as a 16-year-old in 2006-07) he average 3.2 swipes per game. Jennings has the foot speed to be a good defender, but he’s not close to Ricky’s level yet.
No contest here either. Rubio played in the top domestic league in the world (outside of the NBA), Spain’s ACB, since he was 15-years-old. Add in his Euroleague experience and various international competitions he has competed in for Spain–including last summer’s Olympics–and this category is a slam dunk for double R.
Jennings has a few things going for him here. First off, since he’s American there won’t be the culture shock or homesickness issues when he arrives in the NBA. Also being left-handed gives him a slight advantage, since the vast majority of players are righties. Plus Jennings should be familiar with many of the younger guys in the NBA, having played with and against them before, so he’ll have some insider information.
When the votes are tallied, the Spanish Sensation edges out the SoCal Kid in Draft 365’s eyes. The majority of the mock drafts out in cyberspace agree with this assessment, normally having Rubio amongst the top two picks with Jennings falling somewhere within picks three and seven. In the end this debate may end up being anticlimactic–like Jennings and Rubio’s head-to-head match up last week–with both guys going on to have similarly solid NBA careers (a la Paul and Williams). Like Mr. Paul and Mr. Williams, these two better get used to each other–there’s a good chance they’re going to be Linked like Lang for decades to come.
Jeff Fox also writes about college hoops and the NBA draft at collegehoopsnet.com.