In his first two seasons, Ricky Rubio surprised many fans and analysts by being a solid defender. One of the many incorrect stereotypes of European players is that they don’t have the speed or tenacity to hang with NBA-level talent on the defensive end, and Ricky Rubio disproved that by moving his feet smartly and using his excellent length to disrupt ball-handlers.
But Rubio has never sported a very impressive frame. Although sites like DraftExpress pointed out that his frame could carry NBA muscle, he always remained thin, despite two years in the NBA presumably on an NBA training schedule. Last offseason was essentially a wash as Rubio spent all of his energy recovering from his ACL injury. This offseason was Ricky’s first chance to really add to his body.
On NBA.com’s Hang Time Podcast, Lang Whitaker revealed that he saw Rubio looking “big” in June. Save your muscle-watch jokes. Whitaker himself participates in the #MuscleWatch idea on Twitter, laughing at all of the articles claiming a team’s player has “lost 15 pounds!” or “added 15 pounds of muscle!” or “come to camp in the best shape of his life!” If Whitaker says Rubio looks bigger, he probably looks bigger.
From the podcast:
He’s big. I saw him in June and he was big. He was wearing a tight tank top. I asked him if he was trying to show off, and he laughed and said “Yes.”
He said he has never lifted weights his entire career. He always thought he needed to be fast not strong to be a point guard. Last year he got pushed around so much he thought “Maybe I do need some muscle.” He looked noticeably bigger.
You read correctly: According to Whitaker, Rubio said he has NEVER lifted before.
It’s not necessarily unprecedented. At Summer League in 2012, I overheard an exchange between then-Pistons coach Lawrence Frank and Detroit center Andre Drummond. Frank asked Drummond if he had lifted weights at UConn. Drummond shook his head, and Frank nodded, looking like he had expected as much.
Some of these guys, for whatever reason, haven’t lifted weights. This isn’t a knock against Rubio’s preparedness to this point — he certainly works extremely hard on other areas of his game. It’s just that weight training, apparently, has not been a part of his regiment until now.
Much has been made by many writers (including myself on this site) about how Rubio will shoot this season, and whether he can make an offensive leap. But if Whitaker is correct and Rubio has added some muscle, he could be a force on the defensive end. He doesn’t have exceptional quickness, but he managed to stay with some exceptionally quick guards. There was, however, no denying that Rubio wasn’t as strong as many NBA point guards, and with bull-like players such as Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams in the league, adding some muscle certainly can’t hurt.
We haven’t seen many pictures of Rubio coming out of training camp, and it’s going to be harder to feel out his size until we see him running and flexing in basketball action. But he looked broader in Media Day videos, and it will be fun to see how much improved strength helps him going forward.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.