While Mike Miller is somewhere injured and on the inactive list with the Miami Heat, and Randy Foye is backing up Chris Paul with the Los Angeles Clippers, the Wizards have nothing to show for the fifth overall pick they dealt to Minnesota before the 2009 NBA draft.
But they got a reminder of what they possibly missed out on when Timberwolves rookie Ricky Rubio – the player Minnesota selected with that draft choice – made his first appearance at Verizon Center.
Rubio came off the bench to score 13 points and hand out 14 assists in Minnesota’s 93-72 victory. He also presented another reason to second-guess the Wizards for dealing a potential franchise building block for two one-year rentals.
The Wizards were in a different place back then and thought they were close to contention with a team built around Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison – and they weren’t particularly enamored with many players in that draft. But now that the Wizards (0-8) are mired in the worst start in franchise history and Rubio has given his franchise reason for excitement, the deal looks like a mistake.
“If it had been Rubio, who knows, John Wall might not have been here,” Coach Flip Saunders said. “There were a lot of things that went into the whole equation.
“The biggest thing was where we were at that time,” Saunders said, “and the team that we had, we were ready to make that — we thought Gil was going to come back and be healthy, have some healthy players and be able to go at it from that standpoint, and everyone pretty much knew that Rubio wasn’t going to be over here for a couple years.”
The Wizards didn’t have to hear much about that deal as Rubio spent the past two years playing in Barcelona, but they can’t avoid the scrutiny now that he is in the NBA, dazzling crowds with his dribbling and passing displays.
Rubio certainly had more weapons at his disposal than Wall, but also appeared more disciplined, poised and under control, as he set up his teammates and took advantage of opportunities to score.
“The one great thing about him is, he’s not caught up in the hype,” Minnesota Coach Rick Adelman said. “He doesn’t play like that. He doesn’t approach things that way. He just wants to get better. He’s a great kid. He really works hard at trying to become better.”
Rubio confidently sauntered from the training room in the visitors’ locker room at Verizon Center about an hour before the game. Undaunted by the crowd of reporters waiting in front of his stall, Rubio grabbed a seat and answered questions in Spanish and English with the ease and polish rarely seen in a player with just seven games of NBA experience.
But he was quick to let it be known that he isn’t some wide-eyed first-year player.
“I’m not the typical rookie from the high school or the university, because I have a lot of experience there in Europe, almost six years in the pros already,” said Rubio, who has been playing professionally in Spain since he was 15. “It’s a little different. I know how to run a team and other stuff. Six years is a lot of years to learn that.”
Rubio is only a month younger than Wall, but he was just 17 when he started for the silver-medal-winning team from Spain in the 2008 Olympics. He also won a Euroleague title with FC Barcelona in 2010 and won the Spanish League title last season. Rubio didn’t put up great numbers in Europe or in the European championships last summer, but he has found an NBA game that is more compatible to his style of play.
“Here, you can find more space to penetrate and for passes,” Rubio said. “I don’t want to say I played bad last year. My team won almost everything, so I did something well, right? So that’s teamwork and sometimes you don’t need to shine for your team to win.”
Rubio said dealing with the pressure to produce is “hard sometimes” but he won’t let it affect how he competes and prepares. “I love playing basketball and I will love [it] forever.”
When asked if he had ever given thought to playing in Washington, Rubio said, “I don’t know. Minnesota was the team who drafted me and I don’t want to think anything else. They were the one who trusted me and I’m so glad that they did.”