Wessel: Ricky Rubio's performance early in camp gets positive reviews
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MINNEAPOLIS -- From the day the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Ricky Rubio fifth overall in the 2009 NBA draft, the question was: When will he be here?
Now that the 21-year old sensation from Spain has arrived and begun his first training camp, the question has changed to: Can he play?
Rubio stock had never been higher than it was when he was selected by the Wolves after helping Spain win the silver medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
But as time went on, and Rubio stayed in Spain, the optimism many had felt turned to criticism. Talking-heads began pointing out Rubio was shooting only .320 from the field in the Spanish ACB League, wasn't even starting for his team in Barcelona and may be a liability as a defender in the NBA.
But the early reviews from Rubio's first four days of training camp with the Wolves have been overwhelmingly positive.
"(Rubio) has picked things up so easily," coach Rick Adelman said. "He probably knows what everybody should be doing on every play. He just has that IQ."
All-Star teammate Kevin Love has no doubts that Rubio can play in this league. "No, no doubts at all," he said. "He has kept up with the speed. He's been a great defender thus far, getting his hands in passing lanes."
Clearly the enthusiasm about Rubio's performance to date has to be tempered a bit at this point.
He has yet to take the court in an NBA game - the Wolves open the preseason Saturday against Milwaukee -- but both Adelman and Love were encouraged by the early progress shown by a player most fans have only seen play on YouTube videos and Gillette shaving cream commercials.
"I heard all the talk but until you see him on the court you never really have a feel," Adelman said. "He's a smart young guy, like I said, on the court, very coachable and wants to be a player. I think he is going to be fine."
Love, on the other hand, had seen Rubio play in person in the 2010 FIBA World Championships. Love was a member of the U.S. team, while Rubio was representing his country. But this is the first time Love has shared a court with Rubio for an extended time.
"He's a sponge," Love said. "He's cerebral, he can pick up things very fast and he is going to make things fun."
Adelman has heard all about Rubio's .320 shooting percentage - not to mention his .259 percentage on three-pointers - that he posted last season with Barcelona.
But the veteran coach doesn't think Rubio's shooting will be a concern and, if anything, wants him shooting the ball more often.
"He has worked on his shooting, obviously," Adelman said. "He just has to learn to take open shots. He's not used to it. He always thinks pass first."
Love acknowledged that Rubio -- like all rookies -- will need to work on his shot a "little bit" but said the biggest part of his game is his passing. Love had the best quote of the team's media day last Friday when he exclaimed that Rubio "can pass the (expletive) out of the ball" and admitted he has since taken a few passes off the face that he wasn't ready for.
"You always have to have those hands ready," Love said. "I think once you've been hit in the face a couple times you start realizing you have to have those hands up more often."
There isn't much precedent set for rookie point guards coming from Europe who have the years of built up hype that Rubio has, but if there is anything Adelman has learned about in his 1,561-game coaching career, it is building confidence in rookies.
"When young guys come into this league they've to have something they can rely on and he has that in his passing ability," Adelman said. "His ability to get in and find people, those are unique strengths. So we've got to make sure he does that and let the other things come in as he goes."
As far as defensive concerns, Adelman said that Rubio will be able to not only defend other point guards in the NBA, but he will be able to match-up against certain team's shooting guards. That will come in handy with the Wolves appearing set to complete a deal with free agent point guard JJ Barea.
Adelman's concerns about Rubio are all things that can be addressed. He said that the guard will sometimes attempt a highlight-reel pass when a simple one will do and said he wants Rubio to add some muscle to his 6-foot-4 frame. Rubio is listed at 180 pounds.
There also is the matter of Rubio adjusting to NBA officiating, especially on the defensive side of things. The Wolves have had a full officiating crew on hand at each practice session thus far calling their scrimmages as if they were an actual game.
"He is going to have to learn what they allow him to do and what they don't allow him to do," Adelman said. "I think that's the biggest thing. I think right off the bat he might be called for a lot of things but he's smart enough that he will learn that."