Spain's Ricky Rubio, a dazzling point guard with Pete Maravich-like skills and the facial features to match, is considered a lock to be selected in the top 10 of the NBA draft. Several league executives believe the 6-foot-3 Olympian will be a top five pick. The question is, when?
It could be this June. Rubio has made it clear that he would like to enter the 2009 draft, according to sources close to the situation. The 18-year-old Rubio is draft-eligible because he will turn 19 before the end of 2009.
But it's not that easy. Rubio has a complicated, multimillion-dollar contract buyout with his Spanish team, DKV Joventut Barcelona. NBA teams are allowed to contribute a maximum of $500,000 to buy out the contract of a foreign player. That means if Rubio seeks to leave Joventut, he could be forced to use most of the money from his first NBA contract to pay for the buyout.
"It's going to be very tricky," a Western Conference general manager said. "My understanding [has been] that he is not going to be in [the '09] draft."
The buzz around Rubio has grown quickly. Rubio was basketball's international man of mystery a year ago, a player whispered about in NBA circles and only available to the American public in eye-popping YouTube videos.
But by the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the word was out about the flashy playmaker who made his professional debut in Spain at 14. Newspaper stories, magazine features and TV segments devoted to Rubio swept across the United States. Team USA players were barraged with questions about him, and U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski joked that he heard Rubio wanted to attend Duke. Rubio raised his profile even more by helping Spain nearly knock off Team USA in the gold-medal game.
"Great talent. He's poised, skilled," an East GM said. "It's not often that a guard like him comes along."
Scouts describe Rubio as a natural scorer with lightning-fast hands and a "genius" basketball IQ that has developed over years of playing professionally. Rubio is averaging 9.3 points, 6.4 assists and 2.1 steals in 21.0 minutes in the Spanish ACB League this season. Personnel evaluators say he needs to work on his shooting, but there's little doubt about his readiness.
"He's a legitimate [NBA] pro right now," the West GM said. "I don't care how old he is, he is much more prepared for the NBA than any college player."
"His knowledge and basketball IQ isn't something you'll find in an 18-year-old kid," former Lakers guard Coby Karl, Rubio's teammate in Spain, told the Denver Post. "He also has the great ability to distribute the ball. He's pretty crafty. He has the ability to run a team and know situations, know how to pass the ball to everybody on the court. He's got an advanced knowledge of a basketball team and professional basketball."
There will be no shortage of suitors for the potential franchise point guard whenever he jumps to the NBA.
"We love him," a West executive said. "We're going to try to get him. But I don't think we're going to be the only ones."