2009 NBA Draft Notes - Part 2 (The Ballad of Ricky Rubio)

(To read the first part of my draft notes, click here.)

Joe Abunassar's crop of draft prospects this year included Ricky Rubio,
the phenomenal guard from Spain. Rubio has been playing professionally
overseas since he was 14 years old, and, at only 18, is looking at
becoming the face of a franchise. But he's passed up at #3 by the
Oklahoma City Thunder; The Thunder take Arizona State G James Harden,
who's wearing a bow tie. Two days ago, when Rubio was rumored to go
here to OKC, Thunder G Russell Westbrook was resistant of the team
taking another point guard. I guess Westbrook's outspoken criticism of
his potential move to off-guard spooked the front office.

The
Kings take Tyreke Evans #4, meaning they also pass on Rubio. I have a
feeling this will be a big mistake, even if Tyreke Evans will be very
good. Evans, another one-and-done pick, was a little overwhelmed by the
process. "Now they call me mister and I ain't never heard nobody call
me mister," says Evans. Not a bad thing to get used to.

But
still, there's Rubio, available, mythical, ready for the NBA. Maybe
teams are scared of his size. He's 6'5", but only 180 lbs soaking wet.

"We've
had Ricky for a couple summers now," says Abunassar. "Our goal would be
to get him stronger when we have the time, but because he was touring,
and he had just finished a long season, we didn't have the time we
usually have. His main focus will definitely be gaining strength."

Teams
may be outthinking themselves with Rubio. Comparisons to Steve Nash,
Jason Kidd, and Pete Maravich seem apt, not forced. With Minnesota
holding the next two picks, they're poised to grab Rubio and deal their
other pick, or use it on another guard like Stephen Curry. Either way,
they're poised to make a huge upgrade to their backcourt. Basically,
they exchanged Mike Miller and Randy Foye for two top six prospects in
this draft.

So they end up going with Rubio at #5, and without a
doubt, he gets the loudest ovation of all the picks so far. I'm
absolutely fascinated with Rubio. I can't understand how, year in and
year out, the best player in the draft seems to drop a few spots, to
roughly the 3-10 range. Think of all the great ones taken in that
context, from Michael Jordan at #3, to Dwyane Wade at #4, to Paul
Pierce even going #10. Ricky Rubio will be the most game-changing,
alpha star in this entire draft. Mark my words.

Abunassar: "The
first time I saw Ricky, I was with (Portland Trailblazers guard) Rudy
Fernandez in Spain, because I train Rudy. He and Rudy played on the
same Juventud team over there for several years. I saw Ricky working
out and I saw him play ball. In this draft process, people get too
caught up in analyzing every aspect of guy's name, his athleticism, his
shooting, his ballhandling, and they take for granted that a kid's
good. I mean, this kid's a good player. He's played in the Olympics,
you know. Which one of the prospects tonight have played in the
Olympics as a starter? (ED NOTE: None, I think.) It's an amazing
experience."

Rubio explains that he had an epiphany while
playing in those Olympic games last summer. "It's helped me a lot," he
says. "I played against the best players in the NBA, so that means I
can play here."

Rubio sees the floor the way the great point
guards do. His tremendously-long arms allow him to string the ball
along and flick it to the open man by snapping his wrist. By his own
admission, he wants to make his teammates better. There are very, very
few basketball players who still play the game with that mentality. His
confidence, which comes from his experience, makes him a strange miss
of youth and wisdom. "When I was like 14 years old, I went to the
professional team and there are guys 30 years old who don't listen to
me in the beginning," says Rubio is his Spanglish translation. "But
after they see I can be a very good point guard, they believe in me."
He led an international team at the point since he was teenager. I have
absolutely no idea how he dropped all the way to #5 overall.

Abunassar:
"He could be a very, very special player. He's just a great player. If
you start looking at, well, his jump shot needs to get better. Well, of
course. You know, he's this, he's that. The draft leads to that,
overanalyzing and picking at guys. Dwyane Wade always got the job done
at Marquette. But when it was draft time, it was, 'he's too short, he's
not big enough, he can't shoot the three well enough.' Well, Miami's
happy they picked him now. And not to criticize or throw names out
there, but how many times have players been picked in the top-10 that
were skilled, athletic, that never turned out to be good players?" (ED
NOTE: Many.)

Rubio worked out for the Sacramento Kings, just
going through the motions against a chair set up on a court. But for a
selfless, team-leader like Rubio, that's no way to gauge his worth to
your team. Apparently, the Kings didn't like what they saw.

Abunassar:
"The thing with Ricky, why he's so intriguing, is that he's already
done the hard part, which is prove that he's a great player. Forget
about the individual aspects of his game. I've worked him out, so I
know that the drills are not where Ricky becomes Ricky. He's not going
to shoot 10 out of 10 from three. I wasn't surprised that people said
what they said, because I've worked him out, but I was surprised people
let it affect them, because what else does this kid need to do? How do
you test someone's ability to make four other guys better on the floor
- The guy has great hands, long arms, changes the game - how can you
see that when you're shooting jump shots by yourself?" (ED NOTE: You
can't.)

Abunassar went as far as to compare him to Denver
Nuggets PG Chauncey Billups, who revitalized that team after being
trade from Detroit for Allen Iverson earlier in the season.

Abunassar:
"I've had Chauncy Billups for a long time, I got him when he was 26,
27. He's kind of got that same presence. He knows when to pull back. He
knows when to speed up. He's very calm. He doesn't speak a lot here,
because he's not in his element. Off the floor he's quiet, but on the
floor he's in total command. When I look at great point guards, like
what Chauncey was able to do for the Nuggets, and that's the kind of
presence that Ricky could be. He's a game-changing, team-changing
presence. There are very few guys that make everyone around them
better. It doesn't happen anymore. I think that he reminds me of a
Billups type of guy, sort of like Mark Jackson. I see him all the time
in LA, because I train his son, and he's done some work with us before,
but Mark always tells me, people used to tell him, you're not fast
enough, you don't shoot well enough. You're just a great player. All
those criticisms came to him at the draft, and he was the rookie of the
year, and I don't think he was a top-10 pick."

People still
get fooled by it. They come in, work a guy out, and then right behind
him is a guy who produced at a high level like Ricky, and they're
questioning his jump shot, or whatever. I mean, come on."

Rubio,
it should be said, does not have to sign with Minnesota. He has to buy
out his contract with his Spanish club for nearly $4 million, a bill
he'll have to pay off himself, if he wants to play in the NBA.

But
then the draft-night quotes from Rubio about his potential new home
left some wiggle room: "It's cold there. My mom hates cold places. But
we are going to see."  When asked about possibly letting the weather
sway his decision to stay in Europe, Rubio was evasive. "I don't know
yet, I have to think about that. So I'm going to talk to my agent about
that and we are going to see." Specifically asked if he was excited
about coming to Minnesota, Rubio replied, "I'm excited to come to the
NBA." No mention of the city itself.

But, to his credit, Rubio
said he's not concerned with going to a big city with marketing
potential. "I'm not thinking about the marketing right now," he says.
"I want to play basketball, and if they give me minutes, I'm going to
come." The weird thing is that the Wolves turned around and took
another point guard, Jonny Flynn, with the next pick. "That's a big
surprise for me they took another point guard, but we are going to see
what they want," says Rubio. As of now, no one really knows.

(To read the third and final part of my draft notes, click here.)

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