When Spanish import Ricky Rubio joined the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011-12, no one expected him to rival Kyrie Irving in the Rookie of the Year conversation. Even less expected was that his injury would derail the T-Wolves season.
Which is exactly why Rubio's return from injury will have an even bigger impact than Steve Nash's.
Rubio has been sidelined since March 9, with a torn ACL (via ESPN). According to Ray Richardson of TwinCities.com, Minnesota general manager David Kahn disputed an earlier story that Rubio was ready to return to game action: "There's absolutely no truth at all to that report," Kahn said. "It's false, erroneous and irresponsible."
Due to the severity of the injury, it is not surprising that Rubio is taking time with his return. It's also encouraging that the T-Wolves are taking the proper steps to bring their star to full health.
As for Nash, he has been absent since Oct. 31 with a small fracture in his left fibula (via ESPN Los Angeles).
Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News reports that Nash will miss between one and two more weeks as of Dec. 2. That report, however, is mere speculation:
"Another 10 days to two weeks?" Nash wondered aloud. "That's a total guess. Since I can't run, I'm not going to play this week."
"The recovery time is getting better...But it's a small improvement."
The Lakers have sorely missed Nash's presence within the offense. They're 9-11 overall, going 4-6 under head coach Mike D'Antoni.
Even as their offense has topped 100 points in each of their past five games, they've failed to remain consistent. Kobe Bryant is shouldering far too much of the scoring load, and his teammates remain idle along the perimeter.
As for Rubio, the T-Wolves sit at 9-9 and remain equally as uncertain as to when he will return.
So what is it that separates Rubio from Nash in terms of their level of importance? What makes the T-Wolves' need for their point guard greater than L.A.'s for theirs?
You're about to find out.
Comparing the Talent
L.A. remains in possession of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Antawn Jamison and Metta World Peace. Minnesota has just two active All-Stars on their roster in Kevin Love and Andrei Kirilenko.
What this leaves the Timberwolves with is Love, Kirilenko, Nikola Pekovic and Malcolm Lee as the remaining starters. Although respectable, their lineup is not comparable to that of the Lakers.
With Rubio, however, this becomes a conversation.
Without Rubio, Minnesota is a .500 team, at best. Should Rubio return, however, Minnesota could finish in the top five in the West.
Without Nash, the Lakers are a championship contender without team chemistry.
With and Without Rubio
With Rubio in the lineup, the Timberwolves began the 2011-12 NBA season at 21-20. With Rubio absent, however, they proceeded to lose 20 of their next 25 games.
That's a 5-20 record without Rubio for those keeping track. Are we still asking who the team's MVP is?
Furthermore, the T-Wolves have averaged 98.1 points per 48 minutes when Rubio is on the floor. When he is not, however, that number dips to 96.7 points per 48.
That leads to a net rating of positive-1.7 with Rubio and negative-5.2 without him.
Don't Forget Defense
The difference between Ricky Rubio and Steve Nash from a facilitating standpoint is rather slim. Although Nash has more experience, Rubio has displayed the same skills that Nash possesses: phenomenal court vision, accurate passing and a consistent ability to make pinpoint feeds coming off of screens.
Although the offensive traits are of extreme importance, there is one area which Rubio surpasses Nash by a wide margin. That, of course, is on the opposite end of the floor.
When the two played against one another, Rubio forced Nash into 42 percent shooting when both were on the floor. When Rubio was on the bench, however, the sharpshooting Nash hit 63 percent of his shots.
As for Rubio's impact on Minnesota's defense, the T-Wolves had a defensive rating of 99.6 when Rubio was on the floor. That number jumped to 106.8 when he was on the bench. That comes by virtue of Minnesota allowing 96.3 points per 48 minutes with Rubio and 102.0 without him—that and Rubio's average of 2.2 steals per game.
Although Nash may improve the Lakers' offensive consistency, there is no guarantee he will have an impact defensively. Rubio, meanwhile, is almost certain to strengthen a team that presently ranks fourth in scoring defense.
A factor which distinguishes Rubio's influence from Nash's.