What Kyrie Irving Can Expect Against Spain’s Ricky Rubio


USA Basketball and Spain get a rematch of their 2012 Gold Medal Game on Friday. What can Kyrie Irving expect playing against Ricky Rubio?

USA Basketball is still the premier international hoops organization, despite some lackluster play to close the group stage. However, any slip up against Spain, and the Americans could be dethroned from their gold medal.

Team USA needs to play this as their gold medal game before they can even begin to think about playing for Olympic gold. That means every player on the U.S. Olympic roster is going to have to bring their best on both ends of the court.

Kyrie Irving struggled in the opening quarter against Argentina in the quarterfinals. Early on he went for two offensive rebounds where he was non-competitive and it led to two, easy buckets for Argentina. However, he would bounce back nicely in the third quarter by freezing a defender with his handles to get in rhythm. He finished with 11 points, four rebounds and three assists.

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Irving, 24, had an easier matchup against Argentina, a team that he had seen before in Team USA’s exhibition slate before they left for Rio. The story is different in international waters when he plays against Spain and Ricky Rubio.

Looking back on his eight career NBA games against Rubio and the Minnesota Timberwolves, Irving has performed below his career average. He’s averaging 17.5 points, 4.3 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game against the Wolves. His shooting line is .442/.313/.889.

He’s going to have to be a better three-point shooter against Spain, especially with a closer three-point line. He will also need to connect his passes to find his open teammates and move well around the floor, something that is tough to do against Rubio.

Rubio is known for two things, his defense and his passing. Irving is going to need to move around on offense to find an opening on the offensive end by using his speed and quickness to get open for a jump shot.

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Irving is a playmaker and highlight-reel with the ball in his hands. He has to use his special ability to beat Rubio on the dribble when Rubio reaches in for a steal attempt. Doing this will allow Irving to drive to the rim and set up his acrobatic finishing skills, or a dump off to his teammates.

Defensively, Irving can’t gamble on rebounds against Spain, otherwise they will take advantage by getting easy buckets, as Argentina did. He can’t afford to slack off of Rubio either. With a closer three-point line, the game isn’t as open as the NBA, so there is less space to defend. Irving truly needs to stick to Rubio when maneuvering around screens.

Rubio’s passing is so elite that Irving needs to remain on him. He can’t go for a steal, otherwise Rubio can make him look silly. But when Rubio is driving towards the basket, the help defender needs to bluff at Rubio to force the pass, but can’t fully commit to his drive. The help defender needs to force Rubio to hit the tough shot and stay committed to the big to eliminate the dump off pass for an easy dunk.

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In order to take care of business against Spain, Kyrie Irving and Team USA need to execute on both ends of the court, which is easier said than done against Ricky Rubio. It needs to be done though because Rubio makes the offense flow, and he’s used to playing against tough NBA competition.

If you have a story idea or would like to reach Editor Aaron Ferguson, you can tweet him @Sports_Aaron or email him at sports.aaron.journalism@gmail.com.