We are privileged to have the Portland Trail Blazers' Director of NBA Scouting Mike Born join us for another edition of our monthly feature, Born's Corner. Mike will spend some time with us each month talking about the players he's scouted who are now members of the team. This will give us a more in-depth look at the players, their history, and the team's process as they make these decisions.
The subject this month is Spanish sensation Rudy Fernandez. Here's Mike!
We've all had a long look at Rudy Fernandez now--long enough for the brilliant play and the shortcomings to come to the fore--so I think we should cover him. It'll be interesting for people to compare your view to their own.
Happy Holiday's to all Blazer Fans. I know my Christmas break is a little better today after the win versus Denver last night. Glad we got that one. We are back for another update on Born's Corner. Staying with the international theme...we will talk about RUUUDDDDYYYY! It is easy to see why our fans who visit the Rose Garden frequently have become fans of Mr. Fernandez. We are excited about what we have seen so far as well. Even my two year old son Redek knows about Rudy...but he wavers back and forth between Rudy and about four other Blazer players as to who is his favorite. Hope you enjoy the update on our players. Anyway, as Santa would say...away we go.
Blazersedge: How long and how intensely did Portland scout him before making the decision to draft him?
Mike Born: We have known about Rudy for years as have all of the other N.B.A. teams. We felt like we had definitely done our due diligence in scouting him just like we try to do on all the players we add to our team...through the draft, free agency or trades. Kevin Pritchard first saw Rudy play over five years ago and was a big fan. As a scouting/management team we all really liked Rudy. We felt he would be a great addition to our team and our culture. This is also a great opportunity to recognize the efforts of our International Scout Jason Filippi. Jason became our international scout in 2004. He lives in Italy. He had a European scouting service (along with his brother) that they started in 1999, consulting for various N.B.A. teams up until 2004. Jason does a terrific job for us and we feel he is not just one of the best international scouts but also one of the hardest working as well. Jason first saw Rudy at the 2002 European Junior Championships when Rudy was 17 years old. Jason really liked him from the first time he saw him. Despite being so young, Rudy was his team's most promising player back in 2002. There were so many facets of his game to like but the main thing that needed work was to improve his shooting as he took almost no shots from 3 point range. Hard to believe! We have a long history of watching Rudy's development. We collectively as a scouting staff saw him play over 30 times live before we signed him to a contract last summer.
Blazersedge: What facets of Rudy Fernandez' game attracted the Blazers to him?
Mike Born: Even back in 2002 he was such an exciting player to watch - he never stood still for a moment, he was always moving without the ball and made a lot of spectacular finishes around the basket thanks to his athleticism. He played with flair and enthusiasm just as he does today. He was also one of the best open court players in Europe. After that he simply continued to get better over the years. He really raised his game during the 2004-05 season when he became a starter for Joventut Badalona. At that point he was just a better jump shot away from being a 1st round pick. When he added a more consistent 3-point shot to his game during the 2006-07 season he was clearly the best prospect at his position in Europe. As we watched his game evolve in the last few seasons we loved his energy. He was always on the move, played unselfishly, had improved his shooting from the perimeter, and was a terrific passer. There was so much to like about him and how he would fit with our team.
Blazersedge: From what you know or surmise, was this a case of hoping and praying he'd be available when the Suns' pick came up--was he THE target--or were there other players that Portland would have been just as happy with at the time?
Mike Born: We had two players we had targeted...both international players. But we as a staff hoped we could get Rudy. He was the guy we wanted. We felt we had done our homework and targeted the right players...but at draft time you just hope that your guy falls into your pick. Rudy fell to pick #24 and we were extremely happy. As I said last time with Batum, we also felt we got terrific value in pick #24. We knew moving forward that we had some work to do. Rudy still had one year left on his contract and this was part of the reason we were able to pick him at #24. There were teams in front of us who liked him but did not want to wait for him to finish his last season in Joventut and also take the chance that he would not come over that next season. If Rudy were to have a really good 2007-2008 season he would be sought after by plenty of the top European teams willing to pay him one of the top player salaries in Europe.
Blazersedge: Are you surprised Rudy has done as much as he has early and earned this kind of role and playing time?
Mike Born: Not after seeing how he played last year in Europe and also how he played with the Spanish national team. Rudy was terrific for his team last season. They played in three major tournaments and Rudy was the M.V.P. of all three. He helped his team to a very successful season and did it with a target on his back each night. I also had the opportunity to see him play four times when I went to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics. I was in Beijing for eight days to watch all the teams play and to see how Rudy would fare. After watching him play that week I knew he would come in and help our team this year. The minutes, the point production, the stats...that was for our coaches to decide but he was going to help us win some games...no doubt. Because of his energy, his high BBIQ and his ability to shoot we knew he was going to come in and be a contributor. Because of his ability to share the ball with his teammates and play unselfishly we knew our guys would like playing with him as well. Another factor post-Olympics was that Coach McMillan really liked what he saw in Beijing and was already trying to figure out how he could incorporate him into our team. That is a good thing! If you saw his dunk on Dwight Howard in the finals...we liked what we saw, yes we did!
Blazersedge: How vital is the Rudy-Sergio connection to both of their production? To the team?
Mike Born: You can see that there is obviously a connection on the floor because they have played together before. You can see the lobs that Sergio throws to Rudy. Sergio has been here before and is in year three of his N.B.A. career. Having been through two full N.B.A. seasons he understands the rigors of the season. Just having Sergio here for the on-court stuff is helpful...but I think that the off-court transition has been even more helpful for Rudy, coming as he did all the way from Barcelona, Spain to Portland, Oregon. That is more than just a few time zone changes! Rudy and Sergio speak the same language, played on the same Spanish national team for years together, are both from Spain, are about the same age...it is obvious that having Sergio here is helpful to Rudy. But I also think having Rudy here has helped Sergio as well. Sergio has had a very nice start to the season through the first 29 games. Sergio worked very hard this summer to improve his game and much of the credit should go to Sergio...but adding Rudy to our team I think has helped Sergio as well.
Blazersedge: Rudy moves well without the ball. How much of a lost art is this in the NBA? Is his ability solely a matter of his experience in Europe or does he have particular characteristics that make him good at it?
Mike Born: This is why Blazers Edge is such a great website. What a great question!
First, yes it is a lost art simply because the N.B.A. is made up of so many plays that are either pick n roll plays or isolation plays that do not involve ALL of the players, all of the time. If you think about how many guys actually move really well without the ball and can create offense for themselves or their team by using screens/ball movement...there are definitely more that want to dribble the ball than those who move without it. Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Michael Redd, Sasha Vujacic, Kyle Korver, Kevin Martin are some of the better ones who move without the ball.
Second, Rudy's experience in Europe helped him become proficient at moving without the ball. But it is not like all European players play like Rudy. The European teams are big on ball movement to find the best shot available. I love watching the good European teams play. The way they move the ball and move the defense is a beautiful thing! They use pick and roll plays but they do this to occupy two defenders to guard the ball just for a moment...then the offensive team tries to take advantage and play you 4 on 3 and attack you. So Rudy learned this from the European style of play and the coaches he played for.
Third--and I think this might be the most important factor for Rudy--he is slender, quick and very light on his feet. He is able to go places on the court and squeeze through creases because he can knife his way to get open on offense, track down a quick rebound, or jump into a passing lane for a steal. It is just taking advantage of his physical tools. BUT...another factor here is taking full advantage of his BBIQ and passing. When you move as much as he does you hope to lose the defender so you are playing 5 on 4 or 4 on 3, getting the opponent to help on Rudy and thus taking advantage of his intelligence/passing on the floor. I think this is one part of his game that is still evolving not only for him but for our coaches who are working out ways to take full advantage of his strengths.
Blazersedge: Rudy also appears to have a very quick release on his shot. How does he compare to the average NBA shooter? Also is his release quick solely because of his shooting mechanics or does it also have something to do with how he positions himself on the floor and how ready he is to shoot? What makes him so good?
Mike Born: He has a very quick release. He does not elevate really high on his shot so he has to shoot it quickly. If you watch him you will notice that because he does not shoot with a high bounce on his jump shot when he faces strong wing defenders he will shoot some of his shots with a step back move where he creates space and then fires his jumper. This is a tough shot to make consistently and part of the reason his three-point shot fluctuates. We are confident his shooting will become more consistent with time. Remember that he went from an international 3-point line of 20'6" to 23'9" so it takes any rookie time to adjust, even one with Rudy's experience. He is now over 40% from the three-point line this year and is our best free-throw shooter. Any first year player is going to have shooting inconsistencies and Rudy is no different. He has cooled down some since his hot shooting start. Some of this is just his numbers coming back to his realistic shooting percentage (he shot around 45% from international three-point line last season) and part of it is teams now game planning to take away his three-point looks.
Blazersedge: Rudy has had great success shooting jumpers, running the court, and getting free for passes and subsequent dunks or layups. He's been less successful taking the ball off of the dribble and creating his own shot. Is this consistent with what you guys saw in your scouting evaluation? Why isn't he able to get a better shot off of the dribble? What will he need to do for that part of his offensive game to develop?
Mike Born: No doubt this is a work in progress for his game but it's something that we believe can be developed. He was able to drive to the lane more in Europe but the strength of his game was similar to how he is playing here: slashing, running the court, high flying dunks, spectacular passes, sticking jump shots. He played in a tough Spanish league and in some of the best Euro leagues as well but he is facing many of the best players in the world on a nightly basis here in the N.B.A. He is 23 years old and has a ways to go before he becomes the player I am sure he wants to become. When we saw him play in Europe in April 2008 and were recruiting him to come to Portland it was time for him to take the next step and play in our league. His is a competitive player (and person) and you felt he just needed to be challenged more. He is a good worker and will get better. We love his future with us.
Blazersedge: How far along is Rudy's defense? What is he good at and in what areas does he need to improve?
Mike Born: For me personally he has actually done a decent job. And I love defense! Rudy has pride in himself and his game so he competes. And if you watched him play vs. Team USA in the Olympics finals when he was matched up with Kobe, just like with his movement without the ball he uses his smarts/quickness to guard on the ball and off. He does stab and take chances. This is part of the reason he gets steals but also part of the reason he is out of position and offensive players penetrate to the rim. He also finds ways to take charges because he is a smart player. He has work to do on his defense because he has to play versus some elite wing players. So far he has more than held his own on the defensive end and will hopefully continue to improve. At the end of the day Rudy plays winning basketball and might be the best trait about him as a player.
Blazersedge: Much of the summer talk about Rudy involved him gaining mass and strength. Do you see that as necessary still? If so, how would it help?
Mike Born: Bobby Medina, our outstanding strength and conditioning coach, had this to say about Rudy:
Our goals for Rudy are to improve his overall body strength and to gain some muscle mass. He feels like he is stronger than he has ever been and knows that this is necessary to compete at the NBA level. He will continue to get stronger but his body weight will level out. We are excited about his progress so far and his willingness to do whatever it takes to be a great NBA player.
One last note in reference to all our rookies regardless of age or experience (and obviously we have young ones in Batum, Bayless, Oden and Rudy being our "veteran" rookie). We started this season by playing our first five games vs. teams who had won 54+ games the previous season. I believe this was the first time this had ever happened in N.B.A. history. Of our first 24 games this season, we played 16 games on the road against a terrific schedule. This is a tough schedule for any player and especially for any rookie. I did speak to Rudy about this and he said that he did not feel tired from the schedule but as we can imagine it is still tough. We will have played 32 games by the end of December...almost a full college season in two months. That is an average of a game every other day for two straight months. There's an adjustment for any first year player coming into the N.B.A. regardless of previous experience. I am not telling you this as an excuse because every N.B.A. team plays a tough schedule and I am not a believer in excuses anyway. But this is just the reality of our schedule this year. We are the 2nd youngest team in the league and while our goal is to make the playoffs and have a great season, we want to make sure we allow the chemistry of our team to grow together and for our coaching staff to see what they have to coach with so many new and young guys on our team.
Thanks again for allowing me to give you a little insight to our team. This is just my view of how I have seen these players early into their rookie seasons. We see plenty of positive things so I am not trying to sugar coat our view. I hope everyone has a super holiday season and continues to support us in the Rose Garden and in the community. I travel all over the states watching N.B.A. games and can tell you that we have no doubt the best fans in the league! Not just the number of people that show up but the level of interest at the game and the knowledge of the fans are terrific. We continue to ask for your support in every game and to keep that home court advantage strong!
Wishing everyone a safe and blessed holiday season! GO BLAZERS!
Thanks to Mike Born for joining us. I'm sure we'll all look forward to the next edition of Born's Corner!