Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ricky Rubio The Legend

I love Ricky Rubio. Just in case you don't believe me, I think Ricky Rubio will be a bigger star in the state of Minnesota than Joe Mauer. I'm being dead serious. Now, of course, this all assumes Rubio actually ever comes over here and plays for the Wolves. Thankfully, there is a fantastic Rubio article laying out exactly what happened and making an educated guess as to what will happen in the future.

I feel confident assuming Ricky Rubio will be a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves within the next two years... if there isn't a lockout. Regardless, Ricky Rubio will be a Minnesota Timberwolf in the future. While I'm sure a lot of you probably disagree, and think there's no chance in hell Rubio comes over, even more of you are going to disagree with my next opinion.

Ricky Rubio will be a bigger star in the state of Minnesota within the next four years than Joe Mauer is today. That seems absolutely ludicrous. Joe Mauer is the non-mighty ducks real-life Minnesota Miracle Man. He just left money on the table to sign an 8-year extension with the Twins, he's hitting .325 and people are talking about a 'down year' and, he's so incredibly humble that every parent just assumes that's how their children will grow up to be. Joe Mauer is a superstar. He's my favorite athlete in sports. But I think Rubio is going to be even bigger.

Ricky Rubio was the youngest player in Spanish ACB League history. This is widely considered the second best professional basketball league in the world, behind only the NBA. He debuted on October 15, 2005, six days BEFORE his fifteenth birthday. Rubio played just five minutes that night. He scored two points, had one assist, and two steals. One article, the night after the debut, described Ricky as 'a fantasy player with magical vision to find that impossible pass.' It's translated from spanish, but even in his first game, people could tell just how special this kid was.

In 2006, Rubio led the 16-Under Spain National team to the Eurocup title. He was simply sensational during that tournament, and he was so clearly leaps and bounds above the players near his age. During the tournament, Rubio put up three triple doubles and one quadruple double in seven games. In the tournament final, Rubio made a game-tying, buzzer-beating half court shot to send the game to OT. Spain eventually won the game 110-106 in double OT, with Rubio's stat line off the charts. He scored 51 points, grabbed 24 rebounds, had 12 assists and 7 steals. That is unreal.

I always had some concerns about Rubio's ability to play in the NBA, wondering if he wasn't quite fast enough, or didn't shoot well enough, but all of those concerns were alleviated during the 2008 Summer Olympics when virtually every member of Team USA gave Rubio glowing reviews, and Chris Paul said Rubio would be a 'top 5 point guard in the NBA right now' (back in 2008). Now, playing in the NBA does not make you capable of judging talent, as has been shown over and over again by former players who get hired as a GM. That said, though, it's much better to hear that they think he's going to be special, rather than "I didn't see anything from that kid."

Now, back to the craziness. Ricky Rubio a bigger star than Joe Mauer in Minnesota? Because the Wolves have been so bad for five plus years, people seem to forget just how much they were adored here in the early part of this decade. In the fall of 2003, the city was all about the Wolves. The Twins were entering the playoffs fresh off winning their second straight AL Central Division title and the Vikings were off to a 6-0 start, yet most of the talk at the time centered on how the Wolves had been playing great and if KG was ever going to get a ring in Minnesota, this was likely his best chance.

Everyone loved KG. He was the face of Minnesota sports, more so than Johan Santana, Torii Hunter, Randy Moss or Daunte Culpepper. That seems hard to fathom in the current state of Minnesota sports, as the Vikings and Twins are so clearly ahead of the Wolves at this point. However, it makes plenty of sense as to why. Sure, there was no superstar, home-grown, stay-at-home for less money talent on either the Twins or the Vikings at this point--but I think KG was more of a star in Minnesota at his peak than Mauer has been to this point. I think it's simply because of the sports they play.

When you watch a baseball game, Mauer could go 0-3 but the Twins could still win 5-4. Or Mauer could go 4-4 and they could lose by 10. From the first time you watch baseball, it's very clear that it is truly a team game, unless one of the teams has a once-in-a-generation pitcher on the mound that day. (Vintage Pedro Martinez comes to mind.)

When you watch a basketball game, it's clear that the plays are almost always run through the best player. He touches the ball the most, or he clearly affects the game in a very noticeable way. One player on a basketball court can literally turn a 20-win team into a 50-win team, if he's good enough. Even a dominating starting pitcher only has the chance to altar around 20% of his teams game. A dominating basketball player will be the focal point of the team for all games he plays in. It's much easier to see how important KG is to the team than it would be see how important Mauer is. That's just how it is. I knew plenty of people who liked the Twins more in '03-04, but liked KG more than any other athlete in the state.

Back to the present. The current sports situation in the state is admittedly a lot different than it was in 2004, but their are still some similarities. The Wolves are terrible at the moment, and star-less. Kevin Love is a very underrated and talented player, but he's certainly not a star here because he plays for the 15-win Wolves and, well, he's not flashy. The Twins are pretty much in the same situation they were in back then. Hoping to win the AL Central so they can make the playoffs... and then hoping to finally get back to the World Series for the first time since 1991. The Vikings are Super Bowl contenders, assuming Favre comes back, and the town will be enamored with the Vikings all season.

Let's take a look into the future, though. Rubio's expected arrival is 2011, possibly 2012. Does anyone expect the Twins to be anything more than what they are now? A good, not great, team with the potential to win between 82-90 games and then hope for some luck in the short playoff series'. The Vikings will likely be in need of a new starting QB, and unless Tom Brady actually becomes a free agent and signs here, the buzz around the Vikings will probably be more negative than positive. The Wild may contend by then for a playoff birth, but they likely won't be an elite team and they more than likely will lack that true superstar player that fans tend to gravitate towards. In other words, come 2012, the sports scene in Minnesota could very much resemble how it was in 03-04, when KG was the face of the town.

I continue to compare Ricky Rubio to KG. I realize that's not fair to KG, because he did some great things not only on the court but also in the community. There will never be another KG, and the only reason I keep comparing the two is because they would hypothetically each be the star player of the Wolves at one point... so the comparison is easier to understand.

Rubio would be a different kind of star. He's a young, good-looking, charismatic kid, with the potential to single-handedly turn around an organization that has been the epitome of failure for about 80% of it's time in the league. He speaks English fairly well, and it would clearly improve a lot over the first few years over here. He has a slight resemblance to Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe, actually) and I think that's nothing but a positive. I think he's going to win the hearts of Minnesotans much quicker than any other Minnesota athlete did, outside of maybe Randy Moss. Fans loved Moss because he said he had a chip on his shoulder from day one, said he'd show the rest of the league just what they passed on, and he backed that up with an amazing career in purple before being traded.

Rubio is fun to watch, something some fans complain about with Joe Mauer. Some people (mostly fans of rival teams) think he's too boring, which seems foolish because watching him swing a bat is a thing of beauty. However, there is little debate that Rubio is fun to watch. He makes passes people don't even dream of, and when it's possible, he seems to always make the sensational no-look pass through traffic. Rubio is an entertainer, someone people love to watch, and he enjoys doing it.

If the Wolves can manage to find an elite scoring guard in the draft next year, the team is pretty well positioned for Rubio's arrival in 2011:


If they win the lottery by some miracle, Harrison Barnes would be the starting 3, with Wes Johnson sliding to the 2.

Rubio is the key, though. If he comes over, he's going to turn a 20-25 win Wolves team this coming season into a 40-45 win team AT LEAST as a rookie. That's how good I think Rubio is, and from that point on it will be nothing but up for the team and Rubio. He will be the star player on a playoff team, and the town will once again flock to the Wolves. Rubio will be a bigger star than Joe Mauer in this state in four years. That seems ridiculous now, but it's not that far-fetched and I truly do believe it.


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