A conversation between Bill Simmons and Ryen Russillo about how the Minnesota Timberwolves botched the 2009 NBA Draft suddenly turned into a discussion about Ricky Rubio. After talking about Stephen Curry’s place in NBA history, Simmons reiterated his stance on the Wolves’ 2009 draft on his Monday podcast.
In case you forgot, the Wolves passed on Curry twice in 2009, and Simmons still feels like it’s the worst draft blunder of this century. But a conversation about the 2009 draft slowly morphed into praise and reminiscing about Rubio and what he could have been.
“I texted this to you,” Simmons told Russillo, “Is Minnesota passing on Curry twice in the same draft, which is a disaster when it happened, is that now the biggest draft mistake of our lifetime?
When you think, they took a point guard two times in a row. Rubio was the right pick. I think Rubio was probably a higher-ceiling, higher-upside pick at the time. I thought, my three favorite guys in that draft were Rubio, Curry, and I can’t remember who the third guy was.
But Rubio going ahead of Curry with the first one, I was totally fine with. I think it’s still defensible. But then they took Jonny Flynn over Curry, and I still think it’s one of the craziest – in the moment it was one of the craziest picks in the draft, and now I think it’s the biggest mistake anyone’s made, unless you want to throw [Marvin] Bagley over Luka [Doncic] at me, since we’ve known each other. So this century.
“Yeah,” responded Russillo. “The Rubio thing, you have to understand how much everyone liked Rubio, okay? It was, shit, were people more excited about Rubio than Luka? Because it was still this was still new. We were reading about Rubio when he was in junior high.”
“I was all-in,” responded Simmons. “I would have emptied my NBA stock account on Rubio.”
“Okay,” acknowledged Russillo.
“Watching him go against those ‘08 guys when he was 17,” remembered Simmons. “I was like, ‘This guy is gonna be transcendent. And he went into the worst situation possible, and he got hurt.”
“And he still ended up having a decent – I mean, look, he was contributing this year,” said Russillo. “The shooting was never what you wanted it to be. But defensively, I actually thought he ended up being a better player than the beginning, where you were like, ‘Wow, how is this guy gonna survive out there defensively?’”
“Also, the league changed,” Simmons added. “He made more sense in the 2000s than he did five years later when shooting became so much more important than it was in 2008 and 2009. I mean, somebody like [Rajon] Rondo could dominate three straight playoff rounds without a jump shot.
“And so Rubio, all of the stuff that he did just made more sense back then than I think it did in 2016.”
“And it was fun as hell to watch,” said Russillo, laughing.
“Oh, it was so good,” echoed Simmons.
“He would have this stuff before the draft where he would drive, and he would know where the trailer always was, and it was this blind behind-the-back thing,” said Russillo.
Or you know how Luka now will drive, and I still think he kicks it out at the rim too often, but he knows exactly where – it’s like the receiver/quarterback thing we’ve talked about in the past.
But he’ll go up, and he’ll flip it behind his head, just knowing, ‘If I have enough on this, it’s gonna end up in the corner, and that’s where the guy is supposed to be anyway when I do these drives.’ Rubio was doing this shit before as a teenager, before, I think, anybody.
So to look back at the Rubio decision, it made sense at the time. Remember, Steph, he came back and played that next year after that tournament run. It seemed like they were trying to force him to play point guard. But I remember Amin Elhassan saying, when they were trading for him with Phoenix, he was like, ‘His teammates were so bad at catching his passes, they had a term for it, and they called it lovedales.’ Like, you would watch him, and they would go, actually, that was a great read.
So, it was weird, because the Steph thing felt like, ‘Wait, did Davidson just spend this entire year changing who they were as a team, just to showcase him to make him a lottery pick?’ Like, this is weird. Because we had seen so many college scorers that were great guards and great scorers, and you were like, ‘Is Steph just gonna be one of these guys, because he’s so undersized?’
And, what you didn’t realize is that this guy is built a little, he’s wired differently.
“The knock was that he was too skinny,” said Simmons, “and even though he was a great shooter, it was tough to imagine him being a big impact guy. I did not believe that knock. I always thought he was special.
“So the uniqueness of this question, though, is who else would have two opportunities to pass on this guy?” asked Russillo.
“Well, also, Rubio and Curry together would have made so much sense, even as it was happening.,” said Simmons, cutting him off. “It was like, this is absolutely what they should do. Ugh.”
“Because you can’t just say, ‘Hey, man, Memphis took Hasheem Thabeet that year, what a whiff,’” said Russillo. “Well, okay, people make bad draft picks. You have to find something that’s along the lines of the uniqueness of epically fucking it up.”
Simmons and Russillo generally get the analysis of the 2009 draft correct, but a lot of that is settled. Most fans, especially in Minnesota, know that David Kahn and the Wolves messed that up.
It’s more interesting that they started reminiscing about Rubio. He was a sensation when he arrived in Minnesota, a Spanish moppet ready to lift the Timberwolves out of their doldrums. It didn’t play out that way, of course. But Simmons and Russillo are right that he was a good pick, especially because he could have played with Curry.
Rubio also suffered a knee injury against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012 that may have altered his career trajectory. It also didn’t benefit Rubio that the league became increasingly more shooter-centric after the Wolves drafted him.
Regardless, he’s still beloved in the Twin Cities, even if his second stint was an odd coda. And fortunately, it seems like the national media appreciates what Rubio brought to the Timberwolves and the league.