There’s not a single person in the world who could have predicted Ricky Rubio’s first assist.
With is NBA career less than five minutes old, Ricky brought the ball up on the break against the Oklahoma City Thunder and spotted…. J.J. Barea. Barea was filling the lane on the left, and Ricky dropped a simple bounce pass to him for the layup. That opened up a four assist in four minute barrage that left jaws dropped. The absolute best of the bunch was an NBA 2K glitch of a pass that spun through two defenders and into Anthony Randolph’s hands for an easy lay in.
There were a lot of eyes on this game. The Target Center, which is not exactly known for its long lines at concession stands, was packed. NBA types all over had tuned in. They all wanted to see if this kid’s saga was worth the wait.
The early answer is a resounding yes.
Of course, this was only one game. There are 65 left, in all likelihood, in the Timberwolves season. Ricky will have ample opportunity to stumble, have a six turnover game, or be generally unimpressive. But last night, for the first 26 minutes of his NBA life, he was pretty damn good.
His six assists weren’t cheap. According to HoopData, five of them led to shots at the rim. The sixth led to a shot inside of 10 feet. That’s important because it will get his teammates in the habit of getting to the rim so Rubio can find them. And if he finds them like he found them last night, they should be ready to catch the ball even when it doesn’t look like the pass can get through. Bounce passes were spun at impossible angles, through defenders and into his teammates hands.
Well, they didn’t ALL land in teammates’ hands. Some spun out. And some passes weren’t finished. So the six points, six assist box score doesn’t tell the whole story about how Rubio’s night went.
And more important than the highlights was the fact that Rick Adelman trusted Rubio to stay in the game until the end. Rubio calmly directed traffic with a confidence that belies his age. He hit an off balance jumper to keep the Wolves within three. Then later, with 3:21 left, Rubio drew a charge on Russell Westbrook and then immediately hit a jumper to put Minnesota up one.
Yes, I was dazzled by the highlights. I was amazed by some of the plays. And I was awestruck by that sequence I just laid out. For a night, the Rubio hype machine sucked me in. But it did so because Ricky was making the plays that lived up to all of that build up. That Minnesota lost was almost secondary here. For much of the 26 minutes he was on the floor, Rubio showed us that David Kahn actually had a reason, and not some bizarre guard fetish, that made him wait all this time.
It is not lost on me that Ricky made mistakes. He will have to become a better defender. And I’m sure his shooting ability will show itself. His passes won’t always hit their targets and there is no doubt that Ricky will struggle. But we saw signs last night, against a consensus choice for the NBA Finals, that Rubio has the raw ability to succeed in this league. He has the ability to make life easier for Derrick Williams and Kevin Love. And if he truly is a magician, he can maybe help Michael Beasley with his field goal percentage.
But I won’t ask that much of the kid just yet. Right now, I’m happy to have enjoyed night one. And I’m happy to have seen something in him that makes me think he’ll be ok. And I’m happy that he’s only 21, and that this might only be the beginning.