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ESPN Sports Guy Bill Simmons (Finally) Wrong About Basketball

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Bill Simmons is one of my heroes. Not only did he quit the Boston Herald just like me, but he went on to major in basketball with an email newsletter that grew into an ESPN mini-empire: The Sports Guy, the 30 for 30 documentaries, and now the exemplary Grantland Network, a pleasing mish-mosh of pop and sports culture: blogs, commentary, profiles and podcasts. At the very least I will be indebted to Bill Simmons for Men in Blazers, a podcast on the English Premier League with gravity and levity leavened by the absurd. I'm a big friend of the pod.

For all of that, National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball is the bread-and-butter of The Sports Guy, who happens to be the author of The Book of Basketball, a best seller that I confess to reading twice in its entirety. (The footnotes alone are longer than War and Peace.) And I am happy to defer to Bill Simmons when it comes to just about anything hoops. So I was more than happy this summer to listen to his multiple diatribes about Minnesota Timberwolves GM David Kahn: The Sports Guy went so far (tongue-in-cheek) as to launch a campaign to become the new GM.

Exhibit A in David Kahn's follies: the drafting of Spanish star Ricky Rubio, a choice Simmons dismembered every which way from Super Bowl Sunday on his podcast with Kahn.

Then a funny thing happened: the NBA season finally began, with startling evidence that Ricky Rubio might be able to play after all. Let's go to the videotape. Against the Miami Heat, here was Ricky Rubio drilling a trifecta; whipping it into the corner for an assist on another three, and then whipping another to the other wing with the same result; crossing left-to-right for a drive to the hole, finishing with his left; flipping up a perfectly difficult dish for a hoopable alley-oop; stepping back to the foul line extended off the dribble to bury an effortless medium-range jumpshot.

Did somebody say Steve Nash?

It was all happening for Ricky Rubio in this game, thereby dispelling Bill Simmons' contention that Rubio has no game and Kahn has no team. Rubio is averaging nearly 9 points and 6-plus assists in 27 minutes per game. And he has Kevin Love (a monstrous 25 points and 15 rebounds per game) and rookie Derrick Williams (7 points and 4 rebounds), two big men who can drill the three at will. Rubio can clearly make everyone around him better, the sine qua non for a point guard, even in the shoot-firts NBA.

Even so, it's way early to predict stardom. Sorry, Bill. It kills me to say this but Ricky Rubio's got game and maybe David Kahn has a clue.

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