Posted Feb 9 2011 9:20PM
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- The numbers don't lie -- Ricky Rubio is struggling with his shot.
The Spaniard is shooting just 20 percent from beyond the 3-point line in the Euroleague this season, a stat that has concerned fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team that used a first-round draft pick in 2009 to claim him.
As for Rubio himself, he's not sweating it.
"Sometimes it goes in, sometimes it doesn't," Rubio told The Associated Press after a recent 80-56 win over Roma Lottomatica. "I'm not worried. You have to keep shooting and believing in yourself."
Rubio is averaging only about six points per game, but he is also doing what he does best - finding passing angles few others see and creating offense.
Still, theories abound why Rubio's shot has dropped off.
Some argue it is from lack of confidence after a disappointing world championships, where defending champion Spain finished sixth. Others say he simply needs to work on his technique. And then there's the fact the 3-point line has been moved out to 6.75 meters (22 feet) this season.
While Rubio has never been known for his shooting touch, he has made a big impact since his Spanish league debut at 14, including helping Spain to a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics and winning the 2009 European Championship. Then came Barcelona's Euroleague victory last season.
"I consider myself a player who does not score a lot because shooting is not my strong suit," Rubio told The Associated Press in a separate interview. "So from very young I had to look for other ways to help my team, like giving assists and defending, and those were two things I have focused on intensely."
Rubio fits the mold of Jason Kidd, a floor general who is at his best in the open court. Against Roma, Rubio showed just how to dominate a game without taking a single shot.
While Rubio was troubled by Roma point guard Darius Washington in the first half, he recovered through defense with two steals, another turnover and a pair of assists that helped Barcelona push out to a 17-point lead in the third quarter.
While Rubio excelled as a playmaker, his man-to-man defense and shooting - he was 0-for-2 - need improvement. Rubio said he's working on leg strength and speed to play better defense and become more of a scoring threat.
According to Barcelona coach Xavi Pascual, Rubio is steadily progressing.
"(Rubio) will experience an important jump in his game when he stabilizes his scoring. He will (then) become one of the best to ever play the game," said Pascual, who was hopeful Rubio wouldn't sacrifice his best qualities in search of more points. "He cannot lose his identity as a player based on defense and passing."
A move to the NBA could be just what Rubio needs to realize his potential. Scouts say that, despite a common stereotype in the United States that European players are "soft," the Euroleague is actually much more rugged than the American pro game.
"Here, in Europe, we do everything as a team," said Pete Mickeal, a former Cincinnati standout and Rubio's teammate at Barcelona. "There (in the NBA) he is going have a lot of individual one-on-one workouts and he is going to be great at that."
Guards have much more freedom to operate in the NBA, where the league has cracked down on hand-checking and contact on the perimeter.
Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings, for example, struggled to fit in when he played for Roma in the 2008-09 season before moving to the NBA. He scored just 7.6 points per game, playing an average of 20 minutes of the Euroleague's 40-minute games, which are eight minutes shorter than the NBA game. But Jennings quickly found his place with the Bucks and has averaged 15 points in 32 minutes over the past two seasons.
While Rubio is pass-first point guard, he still gets more than six points a game in the Euroleague with just about the same playing time as Jennings had.
The Timberwolves organization doesn't appear to be concerned about Rubio's shooting struggles. President David Kahn has said many times that the 20-year-old needs time to develop his game and that his stay in Europe would help prepare him for the NBA. Kahn is optimistic Rubio will come over to join their team next season, and the Wolves sorely need him.
Veteran Luke Ridnour was signed to a four-year deal this summer as a free agent with the idea that he would be the steady veteran off the bench to support second-year starter Jonny Flynn and, eventually, Rubio. But was thrust into a starting role with Flynn missing the first two months of the season with hip surgery and looking uncomfortable on the court since his return.
Rubio's strengths would fit into Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis' system, which requires the point guard to run the offense more than be a scorer. That kind of role should reduce the pressure on Rubio as he eases into the NBA life in a new country.
"We'll have to see if Ricky's going to come over and how much he can help," Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said recently. "I don't think that's an immediate answer. That's more a part of the long-term solution, but we're eager to see him over here."
Rubio told the AP that he liked the changes the Timberwolves made in the past offseason "opting for young players" and "a project to grow with." Kevin Love earned his first All-Star appearance this season, Michael Beasley has shown flashes of becoming a dynamic offensive player and the Wolves are also very high on the potential of rookie shooting guard Wes Johnson.
But whether Rubio will join Minnesota is still in doubt.
Rubio has said he will not risk missing a season if there is an NBA lockout and he has not ruled out staying at Barcelona next season. Rubio has also said he wants to join a winning team, with Minnesota last in the Northwest Division.
"The truth is that I want to go to a team where we can win," Rubio said. "Maybe we won't have as much pressure in Minnesota to start winning right away and then I can evolve without the pressure. We will have to see."
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