Those in the know aren’t surprised by his success. Our expert should’ve known better.
The men who truly know the game of basketball globally, from little towns in China to little towns in Indiana, weren’t really worried about Ricky Rubio successfully transitioning to the NBA. They weren’t daunted by the number of times he’d score zero points and get only an assist or two in an entire game playing in Europe. They looked at his hands, his ability to throw pinpoint passes, his fearless creativity, and they knew the point guard from Spain was going to be better here, in the U.S., than he was on his native soil.
Magic Johnson, the man who probably knows more about the passing game than anybody in the history of basketball, saw Rubio go 0-for-5 shooting with three assists in an exhibition victory over the Lakers nearly two years ago, and still he came away certain Rubio would be at the very least a good NBA point guard. I told Magic the Timberwolves were nuts for wasting the No. 5 overall pick in 2009 on this kid who kept putting up zeros in international competition. Magic said, and I quote, “You’re going to be wrong. Listen to me on this kid. He’ll be better in the NBA than he is in Europe because our guys are more athletic and they run to the rim. In Europe, guys don’t really run the break; they fan out around the 3-point line, they pump-fake, they look to score in other ways. Our guys are going to see a dude who can pass it like Rubio and run like hell to the rim. Trust me.”I didn’t. I was a fool.
Rubio’s game, just as Magic promised, is better suited to the NBA than any league in Europe. It’s clear the kid can find an open teammate like very few rookies in recent years. Rubio is averaging 7.9 assists even though he’s played more than 30 minutes in just three of 10 games. In four of his last eight games, he has reached double-digits in assists. And his creativity on the move is much more Steve Nash than John Stockton, which has made the Timberwolves worth watching for the first time since Kevin Garnett left.
“There’s a difference,” Magic said by way of explanation, “between making a pass to somebody and creating a shot for a guy. Rubio creates a shot. He’s got instincts, great instincts.”