The Season in Review: Sergio Rodriguez

This weekend we look at the last of our point guards, Sergio Rodriguez.  Undoubtedly the hottest topic of the 2007-08 season, Sergio has almost been "back-burnered" in both excitement and controversy by the arrival of Rudy Fernandez and Jerryd Bayless.  The comparatively limp response to his play and his prospects with the team have masked a relatively decent season for him.  This could be a more interesting discussion than it appears at first blush.

If you haven't read the conversation rules for these threads, please take a look before commenting.  As is standard with the point guards, we'll remind you that this is a Sergio Rodriguez thread, not an "I hate Sergio because I heart Bayless" thread.

Sergio Rodriguez 2008-09 stats:

Statistic

2008-2009

2007-2008

Net Change

Games Played

80

72

+8

Games Started

13

0

+13

Minutes per Game

15.3

8.7

+6.6

Points per Game

4.5

2.5

+2.0

FG ATT per Game

4.1

2.7

+1.4

Field Goal%

39.2%

35.2%

+4.0%

3PT ATT per Game

1.4

0.8

+0.6

Three-Point%

32.5%

29.3%

+3.2%

FT ATT per Game

1.0

0.5

+0.5

Free Throw%

79.2%

65.8%

+13.4%

Off Rebs per Game

0.5

0.2

+0.3

Def Rebs per Game

1.1

0.6

+0.5

TOT Rebs per Game

1.6

0.8

+0.8

Assists

3.6

1.7

+1.9

Steals

0.7

0.3

+0.4

Blocks

0.0

0.0

---

Turnovers

1.5

0.7

+0.8

Personal Fouls

1.7

0.8

+0.9

Effective FG%

44.8%

39.5%

+5.3%

True Shooting%

49.1%

42.3%

+6.8%

PER

12.5

9.0

+3.5

Plus-Minus

+0.08

-1.44

+1.52

Assist/Turnover Ratio

2.40

2.43

-0.03

As is evident from the right-hand column of the stat table, Sergio Rodriguez registered improvement in nearly every aspect of his game this year.  The raw production numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt, as he did play more minutes this year than last, so you'd be aghast if you didn't see plus signs on those.  But his assists rose proportionately above his minutes gained, which is a key stat for him.  Also his shooting percentages saw significant gains.  His plus-minus was up as well.

The key point for me, though, doesn't lie on the stat line.  However Sergio performed, he played with more controlled aggression basketball than we've yet seen from him.  Gone were the forehead-slap-inducing plays.  We saw a player who shot confidently, moved his feet on defense, and looked like he was in control of the situation instead of the other way around.  His play allowed Nate to sub him in consistently and made him the clear back-up point guard for the season despite whatever pressure came from Jerryd Bayless.  The statistical results may not have been overwhelming when measured against the ideal, but Sergio definitely made progress.

On the other hand it's fair to say that despite the progress, he's not there yet.  Confidence or not, those shooting percentages are still low, even with the leaps.  And the grain of salt you take with Sergio's numbers becomes bigger when you consider that last season was an unmitigated disaster for him.  Single-digit PER, shooting percentage at 35%, effective field goal percentage below 40%, three-point percentage below 30%, free throw percentage at 66%, negative plus-minus...had these things continued he might not have had a place in the league anymore, let alone with the Blazers.  He better have gotten better.  Even with the improvement you're still not madly in love with anything besides his assists.

Sergio's ratio of jumpers to close shots is 70-30, which really isn't bad compared to some of the perimeter players on this team.  One of Sergio's problems is that he still has trouble finishing inside.  He developed a little fake and pop jumper which served him quite well.  But he still gets 18% of his inside attempts blocked.  Having 1 shot in 5 off the drive not see the light of day is not good.  He doesn't have the strength to create contact nor the threatening power to draw fouls.  In short he can drive but opponents are probably not too worried about it.

To balance that, Sergio showed a clear understanding of Rudy Fernandez's motion offense from the beginning of the season, for obvious reasons.  Those Spanish Armada alley-oops became legendary.  Rudy made Sergio's game more relevant.  If that's the style of offense Portland is trending towards they may need Sergio to make it work.  As it is, Sergio assisted on approximately 36% of his teammates' field goals when he was on the floor, which is a decent number.

In the few times he was on the floor during clutch situations Sergio wilted.  This is not unexpected given his lack of familiarity with those situations and the team's lack of familiarity with him in those situations.  Still you want to have a point guard who is bankable when the chips are down.  It also became obvious as the playoffs ensued that Sergio wasn't going to be part of the rotation.  Dependability likely had something to do with that as well.

The team did far better offensively when Sergio was off the court than on.  We always mention with second-unit players that the offense isn't prone to be as great overall because the stars are often sitting.  But the difference was a loss of 7.8 points per 100 possessions, which is pretty big.  The team also did slightly better defensively when Sergio was sitting.  Effective field goal percentage was pretty much a wash whether Sergio played or not.  Offensive rebounding went up when he was in the game.  Assists skyrocketed.  However defensive rebounding and free throw attempts went way down and turnovers went way up.  The latter was probably not due to Sergio mishandling the ball as much as his teammates still not quite knowing what to expect of him.

There are a lot more reasons to love Sergio and far fewer reasons to complain about him this year compared to last.  However there aren't enough reasons yet to truly celebrate him as a complete NBA player.  More minutes did give him a leg up, but they didn't revolutionize his game.

The elephant in the room is Sergio's post-season commentary about half-wanting, half-expecting to be traded.  There's been a long-standing argument in Blazer Nation about Sergio's talents versus the fact that he's ill-suited to the Blazers' current offensive system.  Both sides of the debate have merit.  Sergio does have more talent and probably more production than we've seen on a consistent basis.  On the other hand he's probably not good enough to change around your offensive system to suit him.  The popular sentiment among Sergio's fans and critics alike seems to be that a change of scenery would do him good.

The kangaroo in the room is that Sergio's chances for advancement seem pretty small given that both he and Brandon Roy are most comfortable when handling the ball.  In fact Brandon basically bowed out of the offense during the times that his playing time and Sergio's overlapped.  He probably needed the break anyway, but obviously that issue would have to be resolved were Sergio to earn even more minutes.

Despite all that, I'm not entirely sure a move is a foregone conclusion.  You don't trade players, especially young ones, just because they want it.  A deal has to make sense, bringing value to both teams.  Truthfully what happens to Sergio may have to do more with the players around him than his own talents or needs.  He doesn't have enough value to be the centerpiece of a trade outside of maybe a second-round pick or, on the outside, the same low first-rounder that Portland spent on him.  If he's moved he will probably be a throw-in with somebody else's deal.  He's not guaranteed to end up in a better situation that way.  If, on the other hand, Jerryd Bayless or Steve Blake are moved (and they both have higher general trade value than Sergio at this point) then Sergio may find himself sticking around as the second or third point guard on this team, like it or not.  He'll be in the third year of his rookie contract in the coming season, so the Blazers still have a year to decide what to do with him.  There's no pressure to move him.

How would you rate Sergio's season, his overall game, and his chances of remaining a Blazer?  Are you done with the Sergio experiment?  Would you like to see it continue?  Would you like to see it expanded?  Share your best observations below.

See more stats at 82Games.com and Basketball-Reference.com.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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