Almost exactly one year ago, Ricky Rubio was at the center of the basketball universe.
He was talked about as the number-two overall pick, and had teams like the Knicks considering mortgaging their rosters to swing a trade for him. Coming into the 2009 NBA Draft, he was THE story. Where would he go? How would they use him? Who does he remind you of? What's his ceiling?
...And how bizarre are all those questions now? How 'bout this: Will he ever play in the NBA?
We couldn't quite nail down what Ricky Rubio could do on the basketball court, but that was sort of the point. He was literally beyond our comprehension, because hardly anyone had ever seen him play basketball in person. And among the chosen few that had seen him, the only universal conclusion was that it's next to impossible to try and quantify what, exactly, he means to a basketball team. But again, this worked to his advantage.
Where scouts saw Brandon Jennings' unremarkable stats in Euroleague as the sign of someone that's incomplete, Ricky Rubio was all about intangibles. Sure, he didn't shoot it very well, he didn't seem that imposing as an athlete, but that was all part of the allure. You couldn't measure a player like Ricky Rubio. You just had to draft him, sit back, and watch him change your team's world.
But it's been twelve months now, and today, Jennings has emerged as one of the most dynamic young players in the NBA, stats be damned. He's not perfect, but you can't measure what he did for the Milwaukee Bucks over the course of his rookie season. And Rubio? He's just... This guy:
Some NBA idea that never materialized, living on through glossy photo shoots and grainy YouTube videos. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but... It's definitely a thing.
No matter what you think of Ricky Rubio, you can't deny the hype surrounding him twelve months ago at this time, and that, from a basketball perspective, he's been completely invisible ever since. That happened. He won't play in the NBA until at least 2011, his stats in Europe (7.0 ppg, 4.9 assists) are just as ambiguous as they were a year ago, and the rest of his point guard peers from the 2009 rookie class have been outstanding.
Anyway, over at Free Darko, the preeminent post-modern sports blog on the internet (see: Dinosaur Draft), they rolled out an expansive, first-person account of Rubio's draft night yesterday. Like a time capsule to back when we were all crazy over this floppy haired Spaniard. That's what got me thinking about all this. And whether the post is entirely fictional (maybe? It's Free Darko, after all), or straight reporting from FD's guest correspondent, Ethan Strauss, there's nothing that sums up the Ricky Rubio Era better than this passage:
I try to cheer Rubio up.
"I hear people in the Midwest are very nice!"
Another NBA worker chimes in.
"I’m from the Midwest…I’m nice!"
Rubio smiles shyly, but doesn’t seem convinced. His rebuttal trumps all.
"I hear eets, eh, very cold."
Where someone like Brandon Jennings could go from Compton to Italy and then to Milwaukee, Rubio never quite warmed up to the idea of Minnesota's bitter cold. And as a result, he hasn't given any of us a chance to warm up to him. Whether he ever actually said "eets very cold" doesn't even matter. His actions did. And, eh, can we still take him seriously?
More than the post itself, a comment at Free Darko struck a chord with me:
Collisan, Rondo, Westbrook, Rose, DWill, the return of Devin Harris, Chris Paul, and Tony Parker. The arrival of Wall. Point Guard drunk.
Rubio where you at?
What a perfect way to describe the current basketball landscape. Point guard drunk. NBA backcourts from coast-to-coast need a warning label: May cause dizziness, delirium. Just perfect. But let's break this down a step further, just because. What type of alcohol are each of these point guards?
Chris Paul—Patron. Smooth and refined, it's the definition of top shelf. But still deadly.
Deron Williams—Rum. Heavier than most liquors, oft-overlooked, strong as all hell, and comes in both dark and light versions. Not the most glamorous choice, but if you're drinking rum, you'll be okay.
Tyreke Evans—Off-brand Tequila. Maybe the most explosive choice on the market, but not necessarily possible for it to coexist with other ingredients. The jury is still out on that one.
Stephen Curry—Firefly Vodka. Looks harmless, tastes good enough to lull you into a comfort zone, and then you look up, and this stuff has wrecked your night.
Rajon Rondo—99 Bananas. Exotic, a good bargain, works well with any number of ingredients, and gets you drunker than you ever could have imagined.
Brandon Jennings—Boone's Farm. Raw, unfiltered, and may give you liver cancer. But it always makes your night more interesting...
Russell Westbrook—Off-brand Vodka. Packs a serious punch. Not as consistently outlandish as tequila, but can certainly lead to a litany of poor decisions. And unlike the tequila, even cheap vodka mixes well with just about anything.
Derrick Rose—Cisco. We go to BumWines.com for this one: "Known as 'liquid crack,' for its reputation for wreaking more mental havoc than the cheapest tequila. Something in this syrupy hooch seems to have a synapse-blasting effect not unlike low-grade cocaine."
John Wall—Absinthe. Highly alcoholic, potentially deadly potion, rumored to include mind-bending properties. Absinthe is, at the very least, a seriously strong alcohol, while according to some, it's a reasonable facsimile for acid. I'll do some research during 2010 and report back.
Look at that list again. Those are Rubio's peers. The best young point guards in the NBA. It's not an unfair measuring stick, because... 12 months ago, we were talking about him as the potential leader of that pack. Another Maravich, but with better defense. A prodigy with all the intangibles you look for. And maybe he'll get there. We couldn't be sure, but the idea of Ricky Rubio was a very powerful narcotic.
And if nothing else, I'd just like to offer this as a footnote to all of last year's hype, and a reminder to keep this week's hype in proper perspective. The draft process worked against someone like Brandon Jennings just like it might end up shortchanging DeMarcus Cousins. Others, like Al-Farouq Aminu or Paul George, could wind up big winners. But the draft narrative doesn't always translate to the league itself. And Rubio right now? Twelve months after he was supposed to be crowned the prince of NBA point guards?
Let the record state that if Ricky Rubio were an alcohol, he'd be Prosecco. Refined, but benign. And with the rest of your options, why would you even waste your time? A lot can change in a year...