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Ricky Rubio’s playmaking flourishing for Spain, coming soon to Suns

#9 Ricky Rubio of Spain in action during the 2019 FIBA World Cup, first round match between Spain and Tunisia at Guangzhou Gymnasium on August 31, 2019 in Guangzhou, China. (Photo by Zhizhao Wu/Getty Images)

Watching the Phoenix Suns try and succeed last year without a point guard was like observing a young child continuing to fail at putting together a puzzle without realizing it was missing some of the pieces.

No matter how well the Suns played or the energy they brought, the ceiling was only going to be so high without that pivotal aspect of a basketball team.

That’s precisely why they didn’t fool around on June 30, giving Ricky Rubio the money he desired on a three-year deal.

The Suns were always going to improve from a 19-win total heading into this season with any legitimate NBA point guard but Rubio, in particular, makes at least a five-win bump feel like a near guarantee.

If you hadn’t arrived there, watching Rubio play in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for Spain is akin to a gigantic slap in the face for you to realize it.

Rubio has led Spain to a 6-0 record and a berth in the semifinals, playing a much more aggressive style offensively because, well, his country needs him to.

He tops the team in scoring at 15.3 points per game and obviously assists with 5.5. Rubio is doing so efficiently (45.3 FG%, 47.6 3P% and 82.8 FT%) while getting to the line nearly five times a night.

We could focus much more on him dropping at least 15 points in five of his six games, but let’s treat it as a side note instead and get into the real juice of what makes Rubio effective.

Rubio operates on the floor as a true floor general, fulfilling the nauseating cliche of a “pure point guard.”

What’s easy to notice about Rubio’s habits with the ball is that he’s patient but always has a sense of purpose with the ball.

Rubio will keep that thing moving, going through three different sequences of attacking the defense here in under 10 seconds before seeing his opening, all while passing instead of dribbling through the progressions.

Observant is a good label for the playstyle.

A stroll through the lane in semi-transition turns into a quick reset with mismatches. He trusts his teammates to make passes, something that we’ll get to that will thrive with Deandre Ayton and Dario Saric.

This is basic high-low stuff.

Again, check out the floor awareness and passing ability creating something out of nothing here.

Now, this may lead you to wrongly categorizing Rubio as a slower-paced point guard who takes advantage of what he’s good at and doesn’t rush things.

But the position requires you push it a lot in order to keep the defense off-balance and that’s a Rubio trademark. It’s more about rhythm than anything.

A la Eric Bledsoe, Rubio is way above the 3-point line here to get a sprinting headstart and get into the heart of the defense in about a second and a half.

And when I tell you he makes kickout passes like that look routine, I’m not lying.

See?

Like clockwork.

While he’s not going to elevate that much, Rubio will finish for himself occasionally too with nifty ball placement right below the backboard.

He got blocked twice early against Puerto Rico but kept coming right at ’em. Do not fool yourself into mislabeling him as soft. Dude is tough.

Over the years playing with Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns, Rubio continues to grow at running pure two-man games. He’s been doing it in China with Marc Gasol and it’s a nice tuneup for what he can bring out of Ayton.

Ayton’s most underrated skill at this moment is his passing. He’s got a knack for quick-trigger feeds.

That makes it easy to imagine him and Rubio tossing the ball back-and-forth until the defense is dead, like so.

Have Devin Booker bring up the ball to possess the full attention of the defense to free up space for Rubio off the ball, where he can still run the show with Ayton from untraditional spots on the floor.

That’s going to force defenses to key in on the duo, which opens up designed plays to take advantage of that fact. As you can see, Spain has been doing that quite a bit already.

And there’s also mixing in Booker to these schemes, who you will have to pretend is Sergio Llull in this example.

Make no mistake, Rubio is a borderline top 15 point guard in the league. He’s sniffing more in the high teens, so you’re right to stare at a $51 million price tag and at least pause for a few moments.

But watching Rubio in his element playing for Spain is a piercing light into how he can instantly help the Suns’ offense, specifically adding another playmaker next to Booker and a provider for Ayton.

Rubio will act as a buffer for the two franchise cornerstones as they battle through the adverse conditions of the Suns’ rebuild. That should be well worth it, even if it’s for a muddling win total in the 30s.

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