Roundup: Europe Hails Ricky Rubio

Roundup: Europe Hails Ricky Rubio
Dec 26, 2006, 01:19 pm
It had to happen sooner or later. Indeed we could have picked him earlier, virtually any given week, as he’s a permanent source of amazement. Anyway, Ricky Rubio finally earns Player of the Week honours with a couple of terrific exhibitions to fuel what’s already an incredible season for him. We also check the Aussie front featuring both Joe Ingles and Brad Newley.

Player of the Week: Ricky Rubio


We could also call Rubio the Player of the Year. Actually, in the poll FIBA Europe is currently running, the Spanish guard deserves the prize for the best youngster in our opinion.
After an incredible summer where he delivered unprecedented performances in leading Spain to the gold in the U-16 European Championship, he’s become one of the most effective U-22 players in the Euroleague this season - and the kid is only 16 years old. You can see him improving week by week, and in this last one he enjoyed a couple of superb showings.

In Wednesday’s Euroleague massacre(DKV Joventut beat Unicaja 105-52), Rubio finished with 6 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists and 7 steals in 21 minutes of playing time. He started the game on the bench, but Joventut only really increased their lead once Rubio stepped on the floor to lead a very aggressive (often full-court) defense. Ricky was all over the court, fighting for every loose ball, terrifying his opponents with his stealing ability, making good decisions on the offensive end, passing the ball extremely well, and even netting a three-point shot. Rubio leads the Euroleague in steals with 4.3 per game and he doubles his follower on the per-minute leaderboard. Nobody has seen this kind of voraciousness before. But it doesn’t stop here, as he also leads the competition in assists per minute. Not only does he display excellent court vision, but the kid is incredibly smart on court, almost always sending the ball to the appropriate teammate - whether he is on the perimeter, feeding a cutter, delivering an entry pass to a big man, or on the drive.

The weekend brough a tougher game, with Joventut facing Winterthur FC Barcelona in the ACB League. Still, Joventut prevailed with 6-point victory, built thanks to a 21-5 partial score to open the third quarter, of course with Rubio on the court. It’s no coincidence, as Joventut's best stretches take place when the teenager is playing. He currently ranks fourth in the whole league in plus/minus stats (according to Obviously, he leads Joventut in this department, as his team is +91 with him on court and -67 while he’s sitting on the bench.

Back to the game, it was remarkable to see Rubio defending and actually stopping Juan Carlos Navarro (top-3 scorer in the ACB League, top scorer in the Euroleague). His offensive tricks were mostly useless against Ricky, who has a terrific knack for anticipating his opponents’ moves, in addition to superb natural tools with his excellent lateral quickness and great wingspan. He’s already an incipient master forcing offensive fouls, as he knows how to place himself and fall to the ground (he could remind a bit of Ginobili in this).

There was a particular play that speaks for itself in putting his defensive skills into perspective. He had been whistled for a foul after attempting to draw a charge on Navarro (it was a questionable call, anyway). In the next Barcelona’s possession, he fell to the ground after being hit by a screen while following a Navarro cut. Was he flopping?, it’s hard to say, but he really understands that refs tend to compensate after doubtful calls. Still he didn’t get the call, and while Navarro hadn’t received the ball on that first cut, Rubio quickly rose to follow his next cutting move. He was very aggressive trying to anticipate the pass, and as Fran Vázquez (the passer, who was about 10 feet far from the pair) saw Rubio reaching the passing line, he opted for an elevated and easy pass over the youngster. However, Ricky unexpectedly reached out with one of his long arms and tipped the ball to ignite a fastbreak play.

Another area where he’s lately looking more effective is grabbing rebounds. He doesn’t get them with a terrific vertical jump, and it definitely isn't because of his strength, either. But he does display intuition, position, activity, wingspan and a pair of incredible hands. Against Barcelona, Rubio found himself battling Michalis Kakiouzis for a rebound. It was a even tussle, as they were close to each other and the ball fell right between them. Despite the Greek being 6-9, it was Rubio’s rebound. He did the same with Kostas Tsartsaris (6-10) the previous week in the Euroleague. Once the ball touches his fingertips, it’s his.

We could go on and on. Let’s just say that we were expecting to see him next week in the L’Hospitalet Junior Tournament (we will be there), but that’s pure fiction now. He has already become a terrific Euroleague player and only the fact that Spain already enjoys four quality point guards (Jose Manuel Calderon, Raul Lopez, Sergio Rodriguez and Carlos Cabezas),and that the world junior and European Junior Championships are taking (the Spanish Federation is trying to organize every single European Championship Rubio takes part on) will likely keep him out of the Spanish National Team for the 2007 Eurobasket.

Taking a Long Look at…

…Joe Ingles, who reached the 20-point mark twice this past week. In the victory against the Adelaide 36ers, he had 23 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. In this game, 12 of his points came in the decisive fourth quarter. He was also hot in the final quarter facing the Brisbane Bullets, scoring 14 of his 20 points (plus 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals), but it was just garbage time, as the Bullets had rolled over the Dragons in the three previous quarters in an overall unimpressive performance by Ingles. The Aussie kid is regaining importance lately after a sort of hiatus suffered in November and early December. Anyway, he’s the fourth best scorer on the Dragons, averaging 15.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists (usually) off the bench. There’s plenty of room to feel intrigued about him, although he also suffers the natural struggles of a kid facing veteran competition.

Ingles’ combination of size, athleticism and off-the-dribble skills is remarkable. At 6-8 he often operates as a guard, taking the ball up-court or creating offensive opportunities with his slashing abilities. He likes to make decisions using his nice handles and first step, or just waiting for a pick. He’s rather aggressive stepping into the lane looking for his points or the open man. His size allows him to comfortably operate there, although his effectiveness finishing against the opposition still suffers due to his lack of right hand in these situations and he struggles converting through contact. His perimeter stroke is not bad, but his accuracy (around 33% shooting from behind the arc) would increase with better mechanics, as Ingles usually releases his jumper off balance in the air regardless of how hotly the shot is being contested. Better work with his feet and body would help greatly in this department. Ingles is not much of an off-the-ball player, and you can see his lack of maturity in the way he sometimes tries to makes things happen with the ball in his hands, while forgetting about the offensive flow (although the South Dragons aren't the best team around in terms of passing fluidity). On defense, his lateral quickness is promising for a small forwar but he still lacks a bit of aggressiveness and could be better as a helper.

…Brad Newley, who has delivered terrific performances lately. Last week he led the Crocodiles to a win over the New Zealand Breakers, finishing with 30 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists. He was decisive in the first quarter, helping Townsville to build a lead with his perimeter shooting, transition game and ability to get to the charity stripe. The previous week he recorded a career-high 46 points to go along with 7 rebounds and 2 assists, while securing the victory for his team against the Cairns Taipans. Right now Newley is the fourth best scorer in the NBL with 22.7 points per game, while he also provides 5.8 boards and 3.1 assists. He’s hands down one of the top acts in the Aussie League.

Newley does most of his damage with an excellent combination of three-point shooting and slashing ability, while his passing helps to involve his teammates in his individual efforts. He’s a solid perimeter shooter who usually punishes the defense on any open 3-point looks he gets. He also can nail his shots with backsteps or off the dribble, showing nice mechanics in the process, particularly with his quick and high release. The shooting menace he represents helps to create space for slashing attempts. Newley is a fairly quick and athletic prospect who attacks the rim with aggressiveness, particularly driving to his right. He suffers going left because of his limitations in finishing with that hand. Either way, he’s not selfish and easily finds open teammates to feed. He also helps in the rebounding department, showing aggressiveness and good timing in his efforts, which allows him to catch the ball really high. It’s not even rare to see him flying from the weak side to look for a block.

Of course, his effectiveness in the NBL is fuelled by the poor defensive level this league shows. Still, he’s a very legit candidate for the upcoming draft, when he will be automatically eligible.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Hot

Marco Belinelli notched two consecutive 20-point performances for the first time this season. After last week’s offensive effort in the Italian League, he netted 21 points against Olympiacos this week in the Euroleague, although Climamio Bologna lost another game.

Uros Tripkovic had a season high in the Euroleague with 20 points, adding 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals while Partizan lost to Maccabi in Tel Aviv by just two points. Though less prolific in the scoring department, he still played well in the Adriatic League, finishing with 9 points, 2 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals in a victory against standings leader Cibona.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Not

Tiago Splitter gets the call this week. It might come as a surprise after this weekend’s 14-point and 7-rebound performance in the ACB League; he’s not really playing bad, but he’s disappointing when it comes to meet expectations about his development. Despite some good signs early into the season, he’s virtually the same player he was last season. His offensive game is limited to off-the-ball moves, and a few low-post tries every game. He rarely shoots, he rarely puts the ball on the floor and he’s not a go-to option. To be fair, injuries hit him when he was doing his best on court (it’s a curious and cruel pattern for Splitter, usually some injury spoils his most inspired periods), although it has become a serious matter of concern, particularly since the Spanish press is reporting that Tiago suffers a chronic lumbago in his back.

Rounding Up…

Lithuanian guard Martynas Gecevicius has signed a long-term deal with domestic powerhouse Lietuvos Rytas. A talented albeit not very physically-gifted shooter, Gecevicius is a promising 1988 player that earned all-tournament honours in the U-18 European Championships this summer. Even if he's expected to become a valuable player on the international scene, he doesn’t appear to be much of a NBA prospect at this point. This season, he leads Sakalai in scoring both in the Lithuanian and Baltic Leagues, for a combined 13.5 average. He now joins Lietuvos Rytas, but the playing time he will see remains a mystery considering his youth and the team's strength. Indeed, we have to wonder if loaning him back to Sakalai for the remainder of the season wouldn’t have been a better option.

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