We are a nation in love with Ricky Rubio. Lest you think it's limited to a local infatuation, start following on Twitter a few national heavy-hitters with NBA League Pass when a Wolves game is on. It gets pretty slobbery whenever the young Spaniard makes one of those no-look dishes.


But: not that it shouldn't.

Still: It was nice to see one national guy we respect pick up the torch on the other end of the floor -- providing some statistical validation in the process to some things we had only been eyeballing so far.

ESPN True Hoop guru Henry Abbott wrote yesterday in praise of Rubio ... on defense. Two stats -- admittedly in very small sample of 10 games -- jump out. First, the Wolves are giving up 97 points per 100 possessions with Rubio on the floor and about 109 per 100 without him. Second, as a team the Wolves have gone from 27th last season in defensive efficiency to a tie for 14th.

The team improvement isn't all Rubio, of course. The Wolves' weak-side help defense is a million times better under the current staff than it was under Kurt Rambis, and the overall effort in at least getting a hand in a shooter's face is worth noting. But those Rubio numbers are pretty stark. They bear out what the naked eye has seen so far -- a defender with long arms, active hands, a willingness to move his feet and take charges, and a pretty good sense of how to play the pick-and-roll. Rubio is by no means a shut-down defender, but his acumen on that end of the court might be the most pleasant surprise so far -- and a sneaky contributor to his team-leading plus-52 rating in the plus-minus. He has played very similar minutes to Luke Ridnour so far. With Rubio on the court, the Wolves have scored 50 more points and allowed 50 fewer than with Ridnour (the flaw here, of course, is that they've played together in several stretches, but still).

Part of us wonders if Rubio's stats have been inflated by playing a good chunk of minutes off the bench when other teams also go to their reserves, but the flip side is he's played virtually every second of the fourth quarters of games, when the opponents' best players are on the floor.

In any event, we will reiterate that it's only been 10 games. But despite his obvious court vision and better-than-advertised shooting (so far), we have to categorize Rubio's defense as the most pleasant surprise we've seen watching him.

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TFD: Donovan McNabb making his return to Minnesota sports in rec league hoops tonight?

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Jerry Palm's projections as of now STILL show the Gophers making NCAA men's hoops tourney