RIO DE JANEIRO – In Ricky Rubio’s first Olympics, he was a 17-year-old phenom lauded for his poise while running a veteran Spanish team that earned the silver medal, losing to the American “Redeem Team.”
Because he missed the London Olympics, Rio would mark the first time Rubio would run his beloved Spanish national team in the Games as a proven NBA point guard.
At a time when his long-term future with the Wolves is in doubt after the drafting of point guard Kris Dunn, Rubio is damaging Spain’s chances at a third consecutive gold medal game with the U.S.
He has played two games. He has been terrible in both. Spain has lost both by a combined three points.
Tuesday, Spain played Brazil. Rubio started at point guard. Early in the game, he chased down an offensive rebound, then reset the offense, drove the lane and made a contested lefthanded layup. And that was the extent of the Rubio highlights.
In the NBA, Rubio is known for offsetting his iffy shooting with an inspired all-around floor game. In two games in these Olympics, he has been as unproductive when looking for others as he usually is while taking his own shots.
He has played 28 minutes in the two games. He has produced three points, one assist, two steals, zero blocks, zero three-point attempts, one made free throw and a minus-6 rating.
He fouled out of the game Tuesday after playing 16 ½ minutes, then stood on the sideline waving his towel and shouting instructions to his teammates.
What’s wrong with Rubio? “I never single out individuals,” said Spanish coach Sergio Scariolo. “We win and lose as a team.”
Rubio walked through the interview area chewing on a towel and looking at the floor. He did not speak with print reporters.
What does his Olympic downturn mean for the Timberwolves? Probably not much. Rubio has played five NBA seasons. Despite constant hopes or promises that he would work on his shooting and become a better scorer, his per-game averages have remained remarkably static. Playing poorly for two weeks in the summer will not be a sign that a 25-year-old athlete is regressing. But it may be a sign that the continual hope inside the organization that he would invest a summer in making himself a dramatically improved shooter will produce the same results as the Wolves’ hopes the past four years.
Rubio has attempted three shots in 28 minutes, none of them from the three-point line. And he has passed up open shots to feed the post or swing the ball. That has always been his game with Spain, moving the ball to his veteran teammates, but his unwillingness to shoot and his inability to score are killing his team in the tournament.
On one possession in the third quarter against Brazil, Rubio ran to the right corner and stood behind the three-point line. Not only did his teammates not look at him, but Brazil left him wide open and played 5-on-4 defense.
For the Wolves, Rubio remains a valuable player. He runs the offense with intelligence, plays defense with passion, is respected behind the scenes as a hard worker and quality teammate and is a relative bargain given the NBA’s increased salary cap.
But the past two games in Rio have highlighted his flaws. The Wolves could be a playoff team this year, and if they are, they will face intense game-planning from opponents.
Those opponents will be glad to leave Rubio alone while mugging the Wolves’ better offensive players. At some point, Rubio will have to be able to make shots to have his current value translate to the higher demands of a winning team.
In the NBA, Rubio is appreciated more by those who delve into advanced analytics than those who merely watch the games and the standings. In these Olympics, the numbers that can make Rubio look good have yet to be invented.