Straight to the Point
Veteran Guard Ricky Rubio Comes to Cleveland with Summer Momentum
Checking in from Madrid with Training Camp just two weeks away, Ricky Rubio seemed like a guy ready for a fresh start.
New team. New Conference. Coming off a big summer in Tokyo. The 10th-year man is in a good place.
Or he will be when the Wine & Gold officially gather as a group on September 27 in Independence, where he’ll be a key veteran leader on the sixth-youngest squad in the NBA. (“I still don’t feel like an old guy,” Rubio laughed, “But when I look at the roster, it’s like, ‘Damn, I’m playing with people who were born in the 2000s.”)
Rumors were swirling on Draft night of Rubio’s acquisition, and the Cavs made it official on August 3 – sending forward Taurean Prince a 2022 second rounder and cash considerations to the Timberwolves.
The previous day, Rubio was showing – literally the world – how much he still had in the tank, dropping 38 points on Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics, the highest point total against the Americanos since they started sending pros in 1992.
After being tied at 43-apiece going into the locker room, the American squad eventually prevailed – going 9-of-15 from deep in the second half to wear down the Spaniards. But Rubio made his point, going 13-for-20 from the floor, including 4-of-7 from long-range and 8-for-8 from the stripe.
”(In the Olympics), I played against a lot of players that I’ve played with – Devin Booker, Zach LaVine, those guys,” said Rubio. “It’s always good to compete against the best. They won the Gold medal, and they had a lot of talent. So it felt good to play that way, especially after getting traded. You want to show that you’re worth it. It felt good.”
In his four Olympic outings against Japan, Argentina, Slovenia and the States, he notched at least 18 points in each – including a 26-point performance against the 7th-ranked Argentinians and 20 points against Luka Doncic and the Slovenian squad. And at 25.5 points per, Rubio led all scorers this summer in Tokyo.
And he believes he can carry that positive mojo from the summer right into the season.
”What I envision for me is keeping my momentum going,” said Rubio, who made his Spanish pro league debut at age 16. “I think I’m in the best rhythm of my career with the national team. I feel great, shape-wise. I was feeling great in Phoenix (in 2019-20) and then the pandemic happened – and it hit my routine and it hit all my timing off and I had a bad year in Minnesota (in 2020-21). But I think I’m back. I’m sharp, and I think I’m in the prime of my career. So, I can bring a lot to the table.”
Rubio has parlayed a strong summer on the world stage before in his career – carrying a strong performance with the Spanish national team right into the NBA season. And he thinks he can replicate that success with the Wine & Gold.
I have the momentum from the Olympics, but also during the (2019 FIBA) World Cup before that,” he said. “It really helped me build confidence, playing with the national team. After the World Cup, the season I had in Phoenix was my best year in the league. And I think I can bring momentum from the Olympics the same way I did two years ago now in Cleveland. I feel like I can build on that, I can work off that momentum. I feel the best I’ve ever felt.”
Last season was Rubio’s second tour of duty with the Timberwolves – the team that selected him 5th overall back in 2009.
In 68 contests, starting 51 of them, Rubio averaged a career-low 8.6 points per, but still led the young Wolves in assists at 6.4apg. The 6-3, 190-pounder ranked in the league’s top 15 in both assists and steals per game – averaging at least 1.3 picks per for the 10th straight season.
"I think I can bring momentum from the Olympics the same way I did two years ago now in Cleveland. I feel like I can build on that, I can work off that momentum. I feel the best I’ve ever felt."
Rubio finished the season with four double-doubles, including 10 games with double-digit dimes and 21 contests scoring in double-figures.
This year, as it was in Minnesota in 2020-21, Rubio will be in the role of veteran mentor for a young group that’s learning how to win. And he’ll specifically have his sights set on Darius Garland, who’s coming off an outstanding sophomore season and looks primed to take the next big step.
”It takes a lot of energy to have the year (Garland) had last year,” said Rubio. “He had great, great numbers – a great year. But that can be translated to a winning team; that can be translated to helping the team to win. I’m going to have to challenge him in that area. I’m going to bring my experience the same way I did with Booker, the same way I did with Donovan Mitchell.
”I think I can bring my experience to the table and challenge them.”
Rubio – who came to the league with great fanfare – was the fresh-faced youngblood when he first met Kevin Love, who Minnesota acquired on Draft night the year before selecting the crafty Spanish point guard. And the duo played three seasons together with the T-Wolves before Love was traded to Cleveland before the 2014-15 campaign.
They still remain friends.
”We had a really good relationship in Minnesota,” said Rubio. “We built really good chemistry on the court. But I think he and I have really grown up a lot – personally, but we’ve come a long way as players as well. I have a lot of respect for what he did – opening up to help others. And I was one of the ones who really looked up to him, (showing people): ‘If he can say it out loud, I can do the same thing when I struggle.’
”I can’t wait to pick up our relationship again – on and off the court.”
Rubio, who’ll be making his first career foray into the Eastern Conference, has played with the T-Wolves, Suns and Jazz -- making his only trip to the postseason with Utah in 2018 and ’19.
In 631 career contests – starting 593 of them – has career averages of 11.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 1.82 steals per. He comes to Cleveland ranked 12th among active NBA players with 4,820 career assists and has averaged at least 6.0 helpers in nine of his 10 seasons in the league.
Rubio comes to Cleveland with a new outlook, ready to bring a wealth of experience and a wave of momentum to J.B. Bickerstaff’s young squad.
”Can this team take the next step?” Rubio pondered. “I’ve been on teams that have done that, and I’ve been on teams that haven’t done that. I know things that work and don’t work. But every team is different, and at the end of the day we have to go through Training Camp with a mentality that we want to win every game – but also, we want to win every day, get better every day.”
The veteran point man will find out just how prepared his new team is to take those steps beginning two weeks from Monday.