Top 50: Ricky Rubio, no. 48

by Rodger Bohn / @rodgerbohn

The extraordinary legend of Ricky Rubio appears to be writing itself another another chapter. The ’13-14 campaign has the chance to be Rubio’s first injury-free season since arriving in the States, and the success of the Timberwolves franchise will ultimately be in the hands of its 22-year-old playmaker.

The legend of Rubio actually began when he made his professional debut at the age of 14. While most players were just finishing up middle school, he was hooping in the ACB League, the top league outside of the NBA. And during the following season, while playing next to Rudy Fernandez for DKV Joventut, a superstar was born.

Rubio led the ACB League in steals at 15 years old. He then won the FIBA’s European Young Player of the Year award three times during his veteran seasons of 16, 17 and 18 years old, respectively. Eligible to enter the 2009 NBA Draft months before his 19th birthday, Rubio tossed his name in the hat and found himself paired with one of the more infamous GMs of recent memory: David Kahn.

Immediately after Kahn selected Rubio, the TWolves’ GM picked Syracuse lead guard Jonny Flynn with the sixth overall selection. Making things even more bizarre, Kahn then selected Ty Lawson with the 18th pick.

The two years that followed kept Rubio in Spain playing for Spanish power FC Barcelona. Expectations were high, endorsements were plentiful, and the team won. Capturing both a Euroleague title and ACB title in consecutive years, Rubio left the club as one of Europe’s most accomplished young stars. Statistically though, he was somewhat of a disappointment. Averaging just 6 points and 4 dimes per game throughout his two years with Barcelona, Rubio appeared to have regressed. But all of the questions would be answered in 2011, when after a two-year standoff, Rubio finally made his NBA debut.

From the second the ball tipped in Rubio’s first NBA game, he captivated every person who watched him play. The NBA’s more open, free-flowing style of play enabled him to captivate the crowd with his no-look dimes and dazzling dribble moves. Like in Barcelona, he didn’t post huge numbers as a rook (10.6 points, 8.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds and 2.2 steals per night), but he made much more of an impact than the box score reflected. Minnesota was on the verge of making the Playoffs, and the young playmaker was making strides. That was…until March 9, 2012.

In the final seconds of a TWolves’ loss to the Lakers, Rubio was guarding Kobe Bryant and came down awkwardly on his left leg, tearing his ACL in what was an incredibly disappointing end to a promising season. Going more along the lines of Adrian Peterson than Derrick Rose as far as his return, Rubio was back on the hardwood just 10 months after suffering the injury. The passes were still there, but he was far from 100 percent, especially on the defensive end.

Always known for utilizing his quick hands and length on D, Rubio was just a step slow throughout last season. The shots that he usually contested became open looks. He struggled staying in front of more explosive point guards and fighting through ball screens. The 22-year-old was inconsistent with his J (shot 29 percent from beyond the arc) and was turnover prone at times. Minnesota finished with a 31-51 record, leading to what many feel will be a make or break year for Rubio.

It will be another season dealing with the Kevin Love contract extension drama, but if Kevin Martin brings his ridiculously efficient style of play up north, then he could provide a boost big enough to silence their superstar. Shabazz Muhammad and Lorenzo Brown give Minnesota a pair of rookie guards with size, but neither will substantially help the worst three-point shooting team in the League, placing a lot of pressure on Rubio to shoot the ball better.

Rubio has won at every level he has played, and when adversity comes at him, he has responded—through the Ws for his team. The ’13-14 season will give him the same opportunity to do it in the League.

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Monta Ellis Mavs SG 5
49 Luol Deng Bulls SF 10
48 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 14

Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.