Hampered by an ACL injury that cut into his second NBA season, Ricky Rubio watched in envy last summer as Spain took the United States to the brink of a gold-medal upset in the London Olympics.
Monday, he spent good chunks of time sitting and observing his national team, too, even though nothing was reportedly wrong with him.
As Rubio’s production at Eurobasket 2013 has slipped, so has usually-mighty Spain. The two-time defending champions snuck past the second and final round-robin stage into the tournament’s single-elimination championship bracket but went 1-2 during the second round and haven’t been receiving the contributions they expect from Rubio.
In Monday’s 86-81, overtime loss to Italy, Rubio played just 16 minutes. In three second-stage games, he scored a total of 12 points, dished out five assists and shot 5-for-15 from the floor.
With Minnesota’s No. 5 overall pick in 2011 representing his country on the other side of the world in Slovenia, it’s hard to decipher where exactly this recent cold spell is rooted. Rubio was mostly stellar during the tournament’s opening stage, though he had just six points and one assist in a surprising loss to the host country.
The Spanish (5-3 overall) sandwiched a victory over Finland between losses to Greece and Italy, just enough to vault them into the elimination round. They’ll take on Serbia in a quarterfinal matchup at 10:30 am. CT on ESPN3.com.
A return to normal Rubio form would certainly boost Spain’s chances of advancing.
Before the second leg of group play, the 6-foot-4, 180-pound pass master was unstoppable at times. He scored 10, 15 and 16 points in victories over the Czech Republic, Poland and Georgia and averaged 3.8 assists through those first five contests.
But while facing other teams that had moved on into Group F, Rubio was awfully quiet.
Big man Marc Gasol (13.8 points, eight rebounds per game), forward Rudy Fernandez (11, 4.1) and backcourt mate José Calderón (9.4 points, three assists per game) have done their best to step up in Rubio’s stead. But if he hopes to help render Spain the first three-peat Eurobasket champion since the Soviet Union in the 1950s, Rubio will have to reassert himself.
Doing so against Serbia, which earned the top seed in Group E, won’t be easy.
In March of his rookie season, Rubio tore the ACL in his left knee. That kept him out of the 2012 Olympics and 25 of the Timberwolves’ games early last season, but he felt 100 percent long before he shipped out to Slovenia.
He arrived jazzed to try and earn gold again after doing so at Eurobasket in 2009. If he and Spain can rebound and win three straight games, it likely will be a lot more joyful Rubio that reports to training camp Oct. 1 in Minnesota.
$.$. Barea: If J.J. Barea’s offseason at all carries over into training camp next month, he’s going to provide the Timberwolves a very valuable commodity.
The reserve point guard wrapped up a sensational FIBA Americas Championship performance with 22 points, five boards, four assists and two steals in Puerto Rico’s last-second loss to Mexico in the gold medal game last week. After being named the Tuto Marchand Continental Cup MVP, he averaged 14 points in 10 Americas games.
Puerto Rico went 7-3 and earned a spot in next year’s FIBA Basketball World Cup via its semifinal berth.
Barea should be in Minnesota soon and will likely start the season as Rubio’s backup. If he can score anywhere near as effectively as he did internationally this summer, he’ll either be a nice changeup to Rubio’s pass-first mentality or make a nice in-season trade piece if Minnesota needs it.
Rubio is obviously the franchise’s point guard of the future, and Barea’s name was brought up in trade discussions throughout the season. He mentioned earlier this month he’d be happy returning to Dallas, where he won a championship in 2011, but also said he’s happy in Minnesota.
Barea is under contract through the 2014-15 season.