In 2001, Atlanta made little known Spanish forward Pau Gasol the No. 3 overall pick in the NBA draft, and following his subsequent trade to the Grizzlies he soon garnered Rookie of the Year honours.
Since then, guards Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro, Sergio Rodriguez, Rudy Fernandez, Raul Lopez, forward Jorge Garbajosa and Pau’s younger brother, center Marc Gasol have all made an impact on the league.
Just this past season, Calderon averaged 12.8 points and 8.9 assists as the starting point guard for the Toronto Raptors, while rookies Rudy Fernandez and Marc Gasol chipped in averages of nine points, for Fernandez, and 11.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game, for Gasol, for their respective teams.
But the Spanish influence on North American basketball is about to get a whole lot greater with Ricky Rubio recently declaring for this summer’s entry draft.
Rubio is a special talent, and just about as much of a sure fire lock for the No.2 overall pick as Blake Griffin is to go first overall.
He’s got game. Unlike most young European prospects Rubio plays big time minutes for a competitive club. He was even chosen to start at point guard ahead of Calderon for Spain’s national team at the Beijing Olympics this past summer.
Still only 18 years old, Rubio is already drawing comparisons to greats like Steve Nash and Walt “Clyde” Frazier, and has the potential to surpass both players due to his uncanny ability to do everything from the point guard position.
The kid, who wears Ricky on the back of his DKV Joventut jersey, already possesses great intelligence, anticipation, court vision and coordination that could make him a defensive stopper for years to come. Add to this an offensive arsenal built on incredible ball handling, extraordinary vision, creativity, rhythm, passion, ambidextrousness and a knack for scoring, and you could be looking at one of the most complete point guards the NBA has ever seen.
Unlike 2008-09 Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose, Ricky will not wow you with his aerial onslaughts, but his good foot speed and excellent body control allow him to seamlessly shift between a multitude gears on the run; allowing him to change both speed and direction on a dime.
Ricky excels in both the open court and in slower half court offenses, where his pin point passes and quick first step make him a constant threat to penetrate and dish or lay it up and score himself.
Rubio is comparable only to Tony Parker in his ability score inside amongst taller and stronger players, and he is great at taking contact and still finishing the play. When he gets to the line, which he does often, he does a great job converting on his free throws.
He is also an underrated rebounder on both the defensive and offensive glass, where he utilizes his speed, intelligence and tenacity to beat larger players to the ball.
Rubio is a ball hawk, and is always on the prowl to steal the ball, whether it be through passing lanes or with his quick hands when playing tough man to man defense.
His biggest weakness is his jump shot, but his already quick release and ability to catch and shoot should allow him to easily improve once at the next level.
His ruthless competitive streak on the court is contrasted by a joyous and spirited personality that is sure to make him a North American fan favourite almost instantaneously.
The Spanish influence on the NBA has been increasing year-to-year for the past decade. Now, a player with the potential to garner marquee status has thrown his hat in the ring. Expect big things, believe the hype, it’s not 2003 and this is not Darko Milicic. Rubio has been scouted and scrutinized for years, and has performed well under the pressure of both proven Euroleague competition and on the international stage.
All point guards, especially foreign, undergo somewhat of a transition period in the NBA. That being said, expect Rubio to start as a rookie and don’t be surprised if he, like Rose, lifts his team from the lottery to the playoffs in just his first season.