Throughout the second quarter, it was easy to see that Joventut was a much better team with Rubio running the point. He penetrated into the lane on the first possession, and passed out to an open man on the perimeter who missed the jumper. Rubio played excellent defense on Will Bynum, and was able to stay in front of him by using both his length and lateral quickness. He was able to knock down a three pointer moving to the right off the dribble, and then stole a ball from Bynum. After the steal, he dribbled the length of the court himself, making a nice behind the back dribble to get around a defender and to the hoop for an easy layup. Rubio was then given a rest for two minutes at the 4:20 mark in the second quarter, and made a beautiful play upon reentering. He drove to the left side, hung in the air, and at the last second, dished the ball to an open cutter who almost made the basket while getting fouled. He followed that up with another drive into the lane almost to the hoop, and a pass off to the open big man on the weak side. With a couple seconds left, Rubio was given the ball off an inbounds pass, and he nearly made an off balance three pointer from 30 feet. Behind Rubios control of the team, Joventut managed to cut a lead that was once 21 points to 12 going into halftime.
In the second half, Rubios effectiveness was limited by foul trouble. He came out with the starting unit in the third quarter, but picked up a couple quick fouls while switching onto big men. After fouling Nikola Vujcic while bodying him up, Rubio left the game at the 5:37 mark in the third quarter with 3 fouls. He re-entered at the 3:22 mark, and immediately displayed maturity by calming a teammate down after pulling him away from an argument with a ref. He continued to control the tempo and make plays, but picked up a third foul with 25 second left in the third while applying full court pressure on the ball handler. In the fourth quarter, he didnt enter until the 6:40 mark in the quarter, and picked up his 5th foul 20 seconds later. Though his impact on the game goes much further than the box score, he finished with 5 points, 4 assists, 4 steals, 1 rebound, and 0 turnovers.
Rubio displayed many of the tools that make him the best young prospect in Europe. His control of the offense and command of the team is well beyond what youd expect from a player his age. He made nothing but good decisions, and didnt take any of the immature shots youd expect out of a 16 year old. Rubio uses his length very well in defending the ball, and is usually in the right spot to help out if a teammate gets beat. He also creates a lot of turnovers, and is currently ranked third in the ACB in steals.
Rubio possesses many ideal physical attributes for a point guard. He stands 64 and has a 69 wingspan, similar to that of Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics. Rubio has good quickness, and a first step that allows him easy access to the lane. Hes not a great vertical athlete at this point, but uses his quickness and length to the fullest. At the age of 16, its clear that his physical development is nowhere near complete. He will need to fill into his body, but has a good frame right now. It will be interesting to see how much more Rubio grows, and how he fills out physically.
The biggest weakness in Ricky Rubios game right now is perimeter shooting. While watching him shoot in practice, its noticeable that he releases the ball differently every time, and doesnt follow all the way through with his stroke. Against Maccabi, he did use a nice quick release to make a three point jumper off the dribble, but this appears to be an aberration at this point in time. He has displayed the ability to hit mid-range jumpers at a decent clip, but he will need consistency in his stroke to become a threat from behind the 3 point line. He also needs to work on finishing inside against taller players. Being that its his first year in the Euroleague, Rubio is still adapting to going against bigger and physically developed players. He still releases the ball too low when trying to score inside, and it will cause some of his shots to be blocked until he adjusts. This happened on a fast break layup against Maccabi, where he tried to lay the ball low off the glass and was blocked. When finishing inside, Rubio must also use his body better to absorb contact, but his will come as he further develops physically.
In trying to find more out about Rubio, I talked to Luis Fernandez, the Director of International Scouting for DraftExpress. Fernandez covered the U16 championships over the summer, where Rubio was dominant throughout. There is a play made by Rubio in the final game that really speaks to his maturity and basketball IQ. The final game went into two overtimes, and Rubio finished with 51 points, 24 rebounds, 12 assists, and 7 steals. With 28 seconds left in the first overtime, Rubio was told in the timeout to hold for the final shot. As the ball was inbounded, there was no pressure coming from the Russian team, and Rubio let the ball bounce off his chest and onto the ground. The shot-clock didnt start because no possession was established, and Rubio picked up the ball with 24 seconds left. His coach had not informed Rubio of the rule; it was the imagination of a 16 year old that led to such a veteran play.
Ricky Rubio is in a very controlled environment with DKV Joventut, and his family is determined to keep the early success from going to his head. Joventut rarely allows him to do interviews, and he politely declined my request for an interview after the game. Everyone weve talked to says Rubio is very mature and unselfish.
In Spain, players arent allowed to sign contracts until 16 years of age. Ricky Rubio just turned 16 on the 21st of October, and signed a 6 year deal with DKV Joventut with a buyout rumored to be around 6 million Euros. He becomes draft eligible in 2009, so a buyout must be negotiated if Rubio wants to declare in his draft eligible year. It seems with the maturity of Rubio and the people around him, he wont declare until the time right to do so.
It will be interesting to see how Ricky Rubio develops between now and the time he enters the NBA draft. He could become the feature guy at point guard for DKV Joventut as soon as next year, and he will continue to fill out physically as he ages. In the three years remaining before he becomes draft eligible, Rubio can only improve, and it will be intriguing to see how he stacks up against his American counterparts.