Thursday, April 30, 2009
Ricky Rubio has the name and the game that will surely make him a star in the NBA. The Spanish teenage point guard prodigy has an incredible YouTube following and Sports Illustrated writer Alexander Wolff came up with the perfect three-word description for him last summer in Beijing: Maravich meets Menudo.
Earlier this month, Rubio announced that he will enter the June NBA draft, which probably won't knock Blake Griffin off of his perch as the likely No. 1 pick. But the 18-year-old is arguably the second-best prospect out there -- first, depending on whom you ask -- and creates an interesting situation for the Washington Wizards if they wind up with the No. 2 pick.
I've heard about Rubio for almost three years. After reading about his 51-point, 24-rebound, 12-assist, 7-steal game in the FIBA Under-16 European title game, I actually considered going to Spain for a series on international basketball. But at the time, he was just 15 and his family shielded him from the media.
I finally got the chance to cover Rubio during the Beijing Olympics and came away impressed with his poise, playmaking ability and fearlessness. The physical likeness to "Pistol" Pete Maravich was undeniable, but so were the creative passes and the controlled cockiness that Maravich possessed. And, while Rubio was 17 at the time, the veterans on the silver medalist Spanish team -- Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Jorge Garbajosa and Jose Calderon, among others -- really seemed to respond and react to his leadership on the floor. He wasn't overwhelmed by the big stage, and I don't see him being too spooked out by the NBA. As Team USA and Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski told me, "He's got it."
The Wizards are set at point guard with Gilbert Arenas, but who says Rubio and Arenas cannot share the floor together? Rubio is about 6 feet 3 and could serve as a setup man for Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. I also know Ernie Grunfeld likes the kid and was in Europe last month to scout Rubio and Brandon Jennings.
I don't think Rubio will make an immediate Derrick Rose-type impact as a rookie, but once he gains some weight and develops a consistent jumper, he could be truly special.
-- Michael Lee