Rookie Flashback: Ricky Rubio

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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From the moment Ricky Rubio took the floor to a thunderous applause at Target Center in last year’s season-opener against Oklahoma City, the stage was set for special rookie season. And between that night and March 9, when Rubio’s season ended with a left knee injury, the fifth overall pick in 2009 didn’t disappoint.

For the Minnesota fan base and beyond, Rubio was Must See TV. His no-look passes and half-court alley-oop lobs made highlight reels, and his intensity was the catalyst for the Wolves’ defensive effort through much of the regular season.

“He’s a first-year [player], but you see the timing,” teammate JJ Barea said in January. “You see the vision he’s got on the floor to make everybody better.”

His effort in 41 regular season games earned her a spot on the NBA All-Rookie First Team, earning the second most first-place votes behind Cleveland’s Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving. He averaged 10.6 points, was fifth in the NBA with 8.2 assists was third in the league with 2.2 steals per game.

He led all rookies in assists, minutes and steals while recording 12 point-assists double-doubles. Along the way, he helped the Wolves produce enough memorable moments that helped catapult the team into the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff race by early March.

Around the league, players and coaches entered 2011-12 intrigued by what Rubio might bring to the NBA game. By the time his first week was complete, the consensus was he could be a pretty special player.

By All-Star Break in Orlando, where Rubio represented the Wolves alongside Derrick Williams in the Rising Stars Challenge, he was a major talking point not only because of his flashy play but because of the Wolves’ turnaround in the standings.

Magic guard Jameer Nelson said Rubio would be a great point guard in the league for a long time because of his knowledge of the game and his elite passing ability. He said you know Rubio has the ability to make a big play at any point in the game.

Nets guard Deron Williams said he’d seen Rubio during international play prior to 2011-12, and his skills impressed him back then.

“His basketball savvy is amazing,” Williams said. “He just seems like he has another set of eyes out there. With the passes he can put up, it’s ridiculous.”

Perhaps the biggest vote of confidence came from veteran guard Steve Nash, whose play-making ability is often compared to that of Rubio. Nash said he thought Rubio’s play was “amazing.”

“He’s an incredibly skilled and creative player,” Nash said. “He has a great feel for the game. He’s exciting. He has a joy to his game that is refreshing, and if there are any similarities, it’s a big compliment to me.”

His passing and how he runs the fast break weren’t questioned as much as his ability to perform on the defensive end, but those questions were answered early on.

“He’s in great shape running people down playing defense,” Bulls guard Derrick Rose said in January. “He’s very good on the defensive end. He knows how to run a team. Even though he’s a young player, he’s been playing professional basketball for a long time. His talent and leadership can really help this team.”

Coach Rick Adelman saw that ability on both ends of the court early on. He said Rubio sees the play happening and has great instincts. He said even though Rubio began playing professionally in Spain as a teenager and was an international sensation for years prior to his rookie year, he’s still willing to learn.

“The thing I like about him, with all the ordained hype he’s had to take, it doesn’t really affect him,” Adelman said in January. “He’s a great kid who wants to learn how to play. He takes the good with the bad on a very even keel, and he’s got a chance to be a very good player in this league.”

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