On the day he was traded, some questioned if Ricky Rubio’s tension with Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert — the player he once called a “no class act” — was behind him.
It’s not. At least not completely.
“I’m not going to stop giving him a hard time,” Rubio said Wednesday in his first comments to Utah media since joining the Jazz. “Spain is better than France, that’s for sure.”
Whether they can get along on the court is a different question. The 26-year-old point guard, acquired by the Jazz from the Minnesota Timberwolves at the end of June, came to Utah within a week and was watching Summer League games alongside his 7-foot-1 French teammate.
Rubio can’t wait to share the floor with Gobert for actual games.
“I think I can help him play at an All-Star level,” he said. “It’s going to be great having a teammate that good that fits my game a lot. We’re going to be buddies.”
It’s at least two months before games begin, but in his one-month tenure as a Jazzman so far, Rubio gave the impression that Utah has been an easy fit for him. The Spaniard, who last year was fifth in assists (9.1 apg.) and ninth in steals (1.7 spg.) in the NBA, has been embraced by the front office and coaching staff.
Rubio said he’s been in contact with coach Quin Snyder at least once a week since joining the Jazz, discussing schemes for next season. He feels that Utah’s offense is being designed to his strengths.
“I’ve never been with a coach that gets involved that much,” he said. “It seems like he listens a lot.”
Rubio was also flattered to hear Utah general manager Dennis Lindsey say the organization believes he can be a “fascimile of Jason Kidd,” one of his childhood idols.
It’s been a far cry from the end of his time in Minnesota, where he often found himself at the center of a whirlpool of trade rumors. That state of flux seemed to take a toll on Rubio, who said it was probably for the best that he split ways with the Timberwolves.
“It was a little weird,” he said. “It was time for the the both of us to move on.”
In Utah, Rubio hopes to continue the push he made after the All-Star break last season, when he averaged 16.0 ppg. and 10.5 apg. He credited much of his improved statistics to overcoming a nagging elbow injury that plagued him early in the season.
Rubio foresees more success in Utah, which he hopes can return to the playoffs next season. He said he thinks he can have success with Gobert, and the Jazz envision the European pairing as a nightmare pick-and-roll combo.
The big question is Rubio’s scoring ability: In his career, he’s only a 37.5 percent shooter. Like Kidd, who improved his shot during his career, Rubio said he believes he can make strides on offense.
“I’ve been working a lot on my pullup,” he said. “I think if I get that pullup right, that’s the key of my game. Becoming more of a scoring point guard, coming off pick and rolls, I can improve that.”
Rubio boasts familiarity with several other Jazzmen, none moreso than Jazz forward Joe Ingles. The two were roommates while playing for FC Barcelona in Spain, and Rubio, then a teenager, was struck with the responsibility of showing Ingles the ropes for the European club.
Ingles’ shooting ability (he was third in the league in 3-point shooting last year) also corresponds with Rubio’s game, the Spaniard said. He’s looking forward to being teammates with Ingles again, even if the Australian’s Spanish hasn’t improved in the past seven years.
“I’m mad about that,” Rubio jested.
The Jazz flew in Rubio to San Diego a few days after the trade to help make a pitch to Gordon Hayward, who agreed to join the Boston Celtics the next day. Rubio said he harbors no hard feelings toward Hayward whom he thought “made the best decision for him.”
Rubio said he’s excited to continue his career in Utah, which boasts one of his idols’ jerseys hanging from the rafters at Vivint Smart Home Arena. He’s a big John Stockton fan, and on his to-do list next year is to meet the NBA’s all-time assist leader in person.
“I’ll try to get some advice from him,” he said.
Not a bad place to start.