For two years Ricky Rubio was an NBA draft pick stewing in his native Spain. Now he is spreading joy in Minnesota with his artful passes and spirited play.

  1. After the nine-hour flight from Barcelona to Minneapolis, the two-hour dinner with corporate sponsors and season-ticket holders at Sopranos in St. Louis Park, and the subsequent Q&A, Ricky Rubio sank into the backseat of a limo van and headed to the W Hotel downtown. His first day in his new town was almost over, and jet lag was setting in, but Rubio felt restless. He had a pickup game and a press conference scheduled for the next morning at Target Center, where he had been waiting to play since the summer of 2009. He could not wait any longer. Rubio asked the driver to take him to the gym.

    He entered through a side door at 9:30 p.m., wearing a blazer and a button-down with jeans and dress shoes, carrying nothing but his Nikes. An equipment manager, summoned for after-hours duty, greeted him with practice gear. Rubio slipped on the jersey, the shorts, the socks with the NBA logo. His wide eyes fixed on that logo, before looking up at Jarinn Akana, who doubles as an agent and personal coach. “After all the talk,” Rubio said, “I’m finally here.”

    As Rubio went through shooting, ballhandling and pick-and-roll drills for the next 80 minutes, Akana noticed T-Wolves executives trickle into the training facility and ring the court. Rubio should never be evaluated on an individual workout. He is neither a marksman nor a speedster, and he does not stand out in a layup line, much less a dunk contest. His gift—the sublime passes he delivers with a flutter of the wrist, between a defe...