Checking In on Ricky Rubio
The "regular season" stage of the 2009-10 Euroleague season ended a couple weeks ago, and the "Top 16" stage tipped off on Wednesday. Jay Aych offered a full preview of the Top 16 yesterday, and I thought it was a good time to check in with an updated scouting report on the celebrated no. 5 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, Ricky Rubio.
Rubio's Regal FC Barcelona squad ran roughshod through the regular-season phase of the Euroleague, with a 10-0 record and a +20.8 point differential. Additionally, FC Barcelona sits atop the table of the competitive Spanish ACB with a 17-2 record in domestic play.
The lads over at Ball in Europe suggested that Barca, with its deep roster of talent, has a chance to rank up with the best Euroleague teams of the past decade.
I've watched six of FC Barcelona's 10 Euroleague games off the DVR over the past couple weeks in order to put this report together, and I have to say they certainly are a fun club to watch, as they play as a true team and they have several NBA-quality players. As of now, they are the best team outside the NBA, and in a 7-game series vs. the Nets... well, who knows.
[Note: FC Barcelona's first Top 16 game, vs. Maroussi, can be seen on ESPN360 live on Thursday at 2:45 p.m. EST, or on replay. This game will also be broadcast on NBA TV on Saturday at 1 p.m. EST.
Here is the complete schedule of Top 16 games which will air on ESPN360. The Panathinaikos-Barca game should be a keeper - those are the two big favorites, with last year's champion (PAO) against this year's dominant force so far (Barca):
- Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 12:15p: Unicaja vs CSKA Moscow
- Thursday, Jan. 28 at 2:45p: Maroussi BC vs FC Barcelona
- Wednesday, Feb 3 at 2p: BC Khimki vs Olympiacos
- Thursday, Feb. 4 at 2p: Real Madrid vs Maccabi
- Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 2p: KK Cibona vs Olympiacos
- Thursday, Feb. 11 at 2:45p: Panathinaikos vs FC Barcelona]
Several players share primary responsibility for FC Barcelona's gaudy record, with Ricky Rubio being one of those, along with vets like Juan Carlos Navarro, Fran Vazquez, Pete Mickael, Terence Morris and Erazem Lorbek. What remains most remarkable is that Rubio is such an impact player after having just turned 19 in October.
Overall, I remain high on Rubio as a prospect overall, though I do find it uniquely challenging to try to project Ricky's NBA future because of these competing factors:
Pro: I believe Rubio truly has the court vision of an all-time great. Stockton, Magic, Nash - name who you want. I think Rubio sees the floor on that level.
Con: Rubio just cannot finish at the basket at all, and he doesn't really score in the lane, either.
Here are some other things my eyes tell me:
-- Beyond his court vision, Rubio has an exceptional basketball IQ, a precocious sense of how to run a team at such a young age.
In many ways, Rubio's style of play is Nash-like. Ricky has a somewhat similar style of probing the defense and his superior vision really stands out in the pick-and-roll - he often finds the player clear across the court who's left open on a tertiary rotation, though he can also deliver the pass to the roll man skillfully.
I've seen so much basketball that I can usually see plays develop a little in advance - Rubio sometimes makes passes that I just don't see coming, and there's almost nothing that makes me more excited as a fan than that. He's good for a 'Wow' play per game.
-- I mentioned Rubio's deficiencies as a finisher and a shotmaker above, and that is where his game diverges from Nash's sharply at this point - those are the most serious weaknesses in his game.
As a standstill shooter, however, Rubio is markedly improved. His shooting form seems more fluid and he has made 40% of his threes in the Euroleague, 46.3% in the Spanish League (he made just 2-12 threes in the 2008 Olympics). That said, he does not appear to have NBA range on his shot as yet - he missed all of the deep threes I saw.
Rubio has also become a good foul shooter, as he's made 24-25 (96%) in the Euroleague, and 84% on the season as a whole.
-- On defense, Rubio really plays the passing lanes well - great anticipation coupled with the long wingspan on his 6-4 frame helps Ricky create steals and deflections.
Rubio did a good job overall staying in front of guards like Terrell McIntyre, Jamont Gordon and Will Solomon, though they were able to get by him at times.
Also, Rubio really needs to improve his pick-and-roll defense, as he continually struggles to get through screens.
-- I do think that Rubio may have trouble staying in front of NBA points given the changes in rule interpretations on the perimeter, though his length will help compensate for disadvantages in speed and quickness.
One thing I wonder in general is if the rule-interpretation changes work against Rubio a little bit. I wonder if he might lose more than others by not being able to use his hands on D, or by not having a game based on sheer speed and quickness on O. Oh well, guys like Steve Nash and Chauncey Billups are still thriving, so it can be overcome.
But again, improved shotmaking would go a long way toward improving Rubio's game.
Ricky's numbers bear out those primary competing factors above. At a glance, his Euroleague per-game statistics are not at all striking:
Rubio averages 6.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.9 turnovers, while shooting 39% from the floor, 40% from three (and just 38% on 2-point shots), and 96% at the line. All together, his shooting numbers equate to an impressive .615 true shooting percentage (TS%), though just a .488 effective field-goal percentage (eFG%), which is not terribly strong.
Consider, though, that Ricky averages just 21 minutes per game (substitution patterns are different in Europe, where teams are more likely to play their entire roster, rather than lean heavily on starters), and consider also that Euro scorekeepers are much stingier in handing out assists (Rubio is actually third in the Euroleague in assists per game, and first in assists per minute). Rubio's Euroleague PER is actually a very solid 22.2.
John Hollinger has a formula for translating Euroleague stats to the NBA which he explains like this:
- • Scoring rate decreases 25 percent
• Rebound rate increases by 18 percent (there are more missed shots in NBA play)
• Assist rate increases by 31 percent (Euro scorers are tightwads with assists)
• Shooting percentage drops by 12 percent
• Overall, PER drops by 30 percent
11.0 pts, 5.5 reb, 9.7 ast, .390 FG%, 22.2 PER
And here's what Ricky's per-36 minute numbers look like when translated to the NBA:
8.3 pts, 6.5 reb, 12.7 ast, .343 FG%, 15.6 PER
-- Consider that Steve Nash leads the NBA in assists per 36 minutes with 11.8, followed by Chris Paul at 10.6, and Rubio's 12.7 number jumps off the page.
-- Consider also that Kyle Lowry leads NBA point guards in rebounds per 36 minutes with 5.8, followed by Jason Kidd at 5.3 and Russell Westbrook at 5.0, and you start to get a sense of Ricky's nose for the ball as a rebounder, too.
-- Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, consider how bad that .343 FG% is - Trevor Ariza is last among qualified NBA players at .378, followed by Brandon Jennings at .383 and Vince Carter (!) at .390.
-- And that 8.3 points per 36 is really low, too. Out of all NBA players, it would rank 377th, behind notables such as Chris Duhon and Jason Kidd at 8.8.
Of course, these aren't precise numbers, especially based off of a 10-game, 210-minute sample, but it at least should give a sense of how Rubio is at extremes as a passer/ballhawk on one end and as a scorer on the other.
Increasingly, I wonder if Kidd might be the most apt comparison for Rubio.
Let's take a look at selected per-36 minute numbers from Kidd's career. Again, remember that Rubio is just 19. Let's look at Kidd's rookie year, when he was 21, and his 2002-03 season, when he led the Nets to the Finals near his peak at age 29:
Age 21: 12.4 pts, 5.8 reb, 8.2 ast, .385 FG%, 15.1 PER
Age 29: 18.0 pts, 6.1 reb, 8.6 ast, .414 FG%, 22.2 PER
Both players are unselfish with excellent court vision, and are very good rebounders for their position. Even Kidd increased his scoring ability in his prime (though that 18.0 was easily a per-36 career high - he is 13.2 for his career). And Kidd also had great value as a ferocious ball-hawking defender in his prime. Rubio is a disruptive force in the Euroleague passing lanes, but it remains to be seen how that will translate to defensive value in the NBA.
Let's do something similar for a cross-section of other top point guards - Nash, Paul, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose. Let's look at their rookie per-36 numbers and their 2009-10 per-36 numbers:
Steve Nash (using second season since he played only 10.5 mpg as a rookie)
Age 23 (2nd year): 14.9 pts, 3.5 reb, 5.7 ast, .459 FG%, 15.6 PER
Age 35 ('09-10): 19.8 pts, 3.4 reb, 11.8 ast, .523 FG%, 23.0 PER
Age 20 (rookie): 16.1 pts, 5.1 reb, 7.8 ast, .430 FG%, 22.1 PER
Age 24 ('09-10): 19.1 pts, 4.3 reb, 10.4 ast, .505 FG%, 26.6 PER
Age 20 (rookie): 9.9 pts, 5.7 reb, 5.8 ast, .418 FG%, 13.1 PER
Age 23 ('09-10): 13.9 pts, 4.2 reb, 9.5 ast, .534 FG%, 20.0 PER
Age 20 (rookie): 16.3 pts, 3.8 reb, 6.1 ast, .475 FG%, 16.0 PER
Age 21 ('09-10): 19.6 pts, 3.7 reb, 5.9 ast, .477 FG%, 17.7 PER
Across the board, it's a consistent message: Rubio appears to be far ahead of the curve as a passer, but well behind it as a scorer, and it seems he is going to have to become a better scorer to become an elite NBA point guard.
Back prior to the draft in June, my personal draft board looked like this:
- 1. Blake Griffin
2. Ricky Rubio
3. Brandon Jennings
4. Tyreke Evans
Of course, at the rate FC Barcelona is going, they should get 10 or so more Euroleague games to increase the Rubio sample set. We'll see if he can keep it up as the competition gets tougher, though I should note that Ricky's virtuoso performance of the regular-season phase came in Barca's final game, on Jan. 14 against Montepaschi Siena.
Siena is considered to be a Euro Final Four contender, they are also a perfect 15-0 in the Italian League, and feature former Clemson star Terrell McIntyre, who has made the Euroleague First Team the last two seasons, at the point.
In just 25 minutes, Rubio scored 14 points on 4 shots (2-4 FG, 9-10 FT), with 10 assists, 4 steals, 3 rebounds and just one TO. He led Barca to a run to start the game, and then also on a decisive 11-2 run after he checked in early in the fourth quarter, as Barcelona ended up winning 85-70. Ricky was brilliant.
If you've made it this far, treat yourself to a little Rubio video. First, here's a 10-minute package from said Montepaschi Siena game which focuses on Rubio. It's a thorough look at how Ricky played, and we highly recommend you at least watch the first play, which demonstrates Rubio's flair for the game.
Here's a similar package focused on Rubio and Juan Carlos Navarro for the Siena game from earlier in the season. We recommend the second play, a gorgeous creation.
Finally, here's a quirky one, a truly Nash-like sequence vs. Fenerbahce which didn't result in a bucket but again displayed Rubio's creativity.
I can't wait to get Ricky Rubio over to the league to see what he becomes. For now, I'll savor him on this perfectly balanced FC Barcelona club.