I already put it in the poll, but I just couldn't resist bringing up in extended form the hottest topic sweeping Blazer Nation this week: the play of Sergio Rodriguez.
We should preface this discussion with a disclaimer. Portland fans almost always make too much of their rookies, even more so in the last few lean years. Travis Outlaw and Qyntel Woods were once the foundations of our future, an athletic duo that was going to pound the league into submission. Just a few months ago Martell Webster was the most popular thing since lap dance day at the state pen. Now we barely remember him because we're ready to canonize Brandon Roy after two weeks of his first season. It's always too much, too soon. It's probably premature to say Sergio is going to be a player, let alone a great player.
However, it's hard not to get excited by his raw ability, especially since it appears to fill a gaping hole on this team. In the last two games Spanish Chocolate has tallied sixteen assists and two turnovers. In doing so he has shown remarkable court vision and a sense of where the ball needs to be delivered. What's more, his passes appear to be catchable. This differentiates him from Sebastian Telfair, for instance, who had all kinds of flair with the ball but who seldom seemed to deliver it anywhere it could actually be used. Not only are Sergio's passes a step ahead of most players (and viewers), they seem to float into the hands of their recipients, to be deposited through the twine.
More impressive still is Rodriguez's willingness to pass on the break. How long has it been since we've seen a guard who doesn't think first of putting in the layup himself? Portland's not built to be a running team, but he improves our break tenfold just by having the ball in his hands. We actually got some open dunks for our big men against Cleveland. And they ran the floor with Sergio because they knew they were going to get the ball. That which was hard last week seems easy today and the only real difference is him.
Passing is to Sergio what the shooting stroke is to Martell Webster. It's a bankable commodity, his raison d'etre. It's been a long, long time since we've had somebody with that particular gift on our team. Perhaps not coincidentally, it's also been a long time since we've been truly great...the kind of team that makes everyone who puts on the jersey better.
That potential still needs a lot of refining. There are multiple-turnover games in his future. I seriously doubt he's a first unit guy, at least not this year. His defense needs work. He's only scored four total points on 2 of 7 shooting. But if you start thinking how much he could make Travis Outlaw look better, how much he could make Lamarcus Aldridge look better, how many weak-side skip passes he could deliver to an open Martell Webster, and how you could still pair him with Brandon Roy in the backcourt and maybe not get totally killed on defense...then you begin to see the rudiments of a youthful, energetic, pressing, running second unit take shape. Maybe not all those guys would play at once, but I think we have the pieces to begin considering a tempo-shifting bench squad reminiscent of those old Dick Harter Oregon Duck teams, just with better offensive skills. And Sergio would be the glue that holds the offensive side of that unit together.
I don't expect mountains to move anytime soon, but perhaps by the all-star break (if everyone continues working hard) we'll be able to see signs of this evolution. It's a nice thought anyway.
P.S. If you voted in the poll in the sidebar, this would be a perfect place to explain the rationale behind your vote.