Vucevic, Rubio Finding Their Way

29 December 2011

4. Nikola Vucevic (Montenegro)
21-year-old Montenegrin forward/center Nikola Vucevic has had a very promising start to his NBA career

Many a veteran from Europe has hit the ground running in the NBA, which had its delayed start to the season on Christmas Day.

The extra time off because of the lockout does not appear to have harmed the play of France international Boris Diaw of the Charlotte Bobcats, who after two games is averaging 12.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 8.5 assists.

The versatile forward, who played in the French Pro B with Bordeaux during the NBA labor dispute, is the main reason why the Michael Jordan-owned Bobcats look to be serious threats to make the post-season.

They are 1-1, including a 96-95 home setback to title favorites Miami on Wednesday night.

Diaw's national team compatriots, Tony Parker of San Antonio and Nicolas Batum of Portland have also been solid with their respective teams.

Italy's Marco Belinelli and Germany's Chris Kaman, who joined the Hornets in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, have been effective for fast-starting New Orleans, and Spain's Rudy Fernandez has been providing the Denver Nuggets with the spark they hoped for when he was acquired in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks earlier this month.

There is a lot of attention on a couple of rookies from Europe in the NBA, Ricky Rubio of Spain and Nikola Vucevic of Montenegro.

Vucevic, a forward selected in the first round of the draft in June by the Sixers who played at the EuroBasket in Lithuania, has appeared in both of Philadelphia's games so far.

He was effective in 20 minutes of Wednesday's 103-83 victory at Phoenix.

Vucevic was three of six from the floor and tallied six points. He also had six rebounds, two assists and a steal.

Rubio, meanwhile, can't stay out of the spotlight.

The three-time FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year who spent two seasons with Regal Barcelona after being drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009 is averaging six points, five assists and four rebounds.

6. Ricky Rubio (Spain)
Every veteran point guard in the league wants to test the most talked-about rookie of the season, Ricky Rubio, but Terry Porter, now on the coaching staff of Minnesota, thinks this is only normal

The Minnesota (0-2) fans sure like the former DKV Joventut and Barcelona star because they have been giving him standing ovations when his passes lead to points.

Rubio is the rookie point guard that opponents want to play most, however, because of all the attention he has received the past several years.

The 21-year-old, trumpeted as the second coming of 'Pistol' Pete Maravich, has lived up to expectations with some jaw-dropping passes.

But Rubio has also been reminded very early that he must grow defensively to play at the elite level.

In Minnesota's second game of the season this week, against Milwaukee, Rubio found himself trying to guard Brandon Jennings - a playmaker he faced back in the 2008-09 Euroleague campaign when he was on the books of DKV and Jennings was with Roma.

Jennings drew fouls on Rubio on consecutive trips down the floor and Minnesota ended up putting another defender, Luke Ridnour, on Jennings who finished with 24 points and seven assists.

Terry Porter, a long-time point guard in the league with the Portland Trail Blazers, is an assistant coach to Minnesota boss Rick Adelman.

When asked if opponents are going to attack Rubio at every opportunity, he answered: "Oh yeah, he's a rookie and he has got a lot of hype.

"When you're a player and you got a young point guard and a guy who has a lot of hype, as a veteran you want to go at him and see what he's made of.

"That's part of the process. That's the initiation, so to speak, to the point guard-hood of the NBA.

"It doesn't really matter what position it is. When you're a rookie, guys are going to try to challenge you, obviously."

Does Porter think Rubio will be able to cope?

"He has been in the game long enough, he knows that guys are going to challenge him and he wants that," Porter said. "That's what makes him good."

Elite guards like Russell Westbrook, Jason Kidd and France's Parker are going to zero in on him.

"Yeah, of course, they will," Rubio said.

"But not only me. They're going to test every single player on this team because they want to win the game, like us."

Jennings believes Rubio is going to be okay.

"He's a rookie and everyone's excited when the rookies come in.

"He's going to be good, though.

"He sees the floor well and he can make plays."




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