Rubio more than just a passing fancy

Brace Hemmelgarn/US Presswire

Ricky Rubio's creative passing has made the Timberwolves a team to watch this season.Two years after the Minnesota Timberwolves selected him fifth overall in the 2009 NBA Draft, Ricky Rubio finally made it to the Association and through 10 games he has nearly lived up to the hype that preceded his much-anticipated debut.

The Spanish Sensation has yet to see his name in the starting lineup, but his shaggy hair and bearded face have dominated nearly every Timberwolves highlight this season.

Rubio has been piling up the assists despite averaging less than 30 minutes per game. He ranks third in the league in assist per 36 minutes (9.8), behind only Rajon Rondo (10.0) and Steve Nash (11.7).

Ricky Rubio Assists
By Pass Type

Rubio has used a variety of passes to compile his 79 assists this season. While the majority have come via chest passes, 27 percent have come off bounce passes, including nine over the last three games.

Not surprisingly, Rubio has shown a flair for the dramatic with his passing. More than one-third of his assists have been one-handed passes and nine of them have been crowd-pleasing alley-oops.

Rubio has most often set up his teammates off pick-and-roll plays, where more than 40 percent of his assists have come. But he’s become more comfortable passing on the break over the past week, dishing out 15 dimes in transition over the last three contests after compiling just nine in his first seven games.

Ricky Rubio Assists Per Game
By Field Goal Type

He has also shown the skills to find open players both in the paint and on the perimeter, with a near equal distribution of assists that have led to three-pointers (28) and dunks/layups (29).

According to Hoopdata.com, his Weighted Assists average of 11.4 per game, which takes into account the added value of an assist that leads to a three-point field goal, leads the NBA.

Though Rubio’s offensive flair has dominated the headlines, he’s also been a key part of the Timberwolves’ defensive improvement this season. Minnesota has jumped from 27th in the defensive efficiency rankings in 2010-11 to 14th this year thanks partly to the defensive prowess of the Spanish guard.

The Timberwolves are allowing 14 fewer points with Rubio on the court than when he’s off the court, the second-best defensive rating on the team among players with at least 100 minutes played, according to basketballvalue.com.

Rubio’s overall impact both on offense and defense while he’s on the court is highlighted by his team-leading plus-minus of +52. Luke Ridnour, the current starting point guard, has the second-worst plus-minus on the team (-48).

Rubio has also had a huge impact on rookie Derrick Williams’ performance. Williams is averaging more than twice as many points per 36 minutes with Rubio on the court (15.9) than with Ridnour (6.8), and is making over half of his field goals when paired with Rubio, compared to just one-third with Ridnour.

-- Justin Havens, Evan Kaplan and Katie Sharp contributed to this post.