It seems that ever since a certain former European league MVP stormed into the Blazer team this past year, that we've been constantly bombarded with comparisons to another former European league MVP who plays for the San Antonio Spurs. These comparisons drive me insane, because, aside from being white SGs who played in Europe, there is almost no similarity to either their games, or their situations. In hopes of lessening the onslaught of these comparisons, I thought I'd take a second to punch holes in some of the most common axioms in this debate.
First off, though, I want to explicitly say that I don't mean to argue that Manu or Rudy are better than the other, just that they are two completely different players in two completely different situations. Saying they're very similar or in similar siutations would be no different than saying that Reggie Miller and Clyde Drexler were very similar players.
Myth 1: Ginobili was equally poor at getting to the rim as a rookie, so Rudy will develop that part of his game later.
Comparing their rookie seasons over at 82games.com (Ginobili and Rudy), it's apparent that even in his rookie year, Manu got to the rim a fair amount of the time, shooting 40% of his shots from inside. This is a similar percentage to Jerryd (48%) or Russell Westbrook (42%), both guys who were acknowledged to be excellent at getting the ball inside. At 16%, Rudy was much more similar to guys like Battier (21%), Ben Gordon (20%), or Webster last year (17%). The lowest % of inside shots that Manu has ever had was 26% (in 2007/2008), after he had slowed down considerably and was hampered by an ankle injury. Prior to that, he had never failed to shoot at least 34% of his shots inside.
Moreover, on those inside shots, Rudy was assisted on 67% of them, no doubt largely due to Sergio assists on alley oops. This isn't a bad thing, as one of Rudy's strengths is movement off the ball and taking advantage of defenders poor posiitoning, but it indicates that even when Rudy did get a shot attempt from inside, it didn't come from him beating his man off the dribble, but instead off of motion and backdoor cuts, indicating that he wasn't really able to effectively beat people off the dribble.
In contrast, only 44% of Manu's inside shots as a rookie were assisted, indicating that he was getting the ball, and even as a rookie, was able to put it on the floor and get inside for his own shot. For comparison's sake, here are Roy's (30%), Wade's (28%), Kobe's (37%), and Melo's (48%) assisted rates on inside baskets.
Finally, the other way to judge an ability to create a shot would be to look at how well they drew fouls. Rudy drew a foul on approximately 6% of his shot attempts last year, similar to Nic (6.5%), Battier (6.6%), Jameer Nelson (5.2%), OJ Mayo (6.6%), and Derek Fisher (5.2%). All good players, but all guys who were primarily jump shooters and didn't get inside a whole ton. As a rookie, Manu drew fouls on 15% of his jump shots, similar to Roy (13.8%), Wade (16.6%), Paul Pierce (15.5%), and Iguodala (16.2%) this year. All guys who can get to the cup fairly regularly.
Of course, I would be delinquent if I didn't not Rudy's VASTLY superior perimeter shooting here. Rudy had an eFG of 10% higher than Manu's on jumpers, mainly due to not only shooting 5% better from deep, but also taking more than twice as many triples, which is a pretty massive gulf any ways you look at it.
So to conclude, Manu's been able to get to the rim basically his entire career, although he's never been as good a shooter as Rudy is now. Still, assuming Rudy will develop that part of his game because "Manu did it" would be like assuming Sergio can learn to finish at the rim as well as Bayless because "Bayless developed it". Manu didn't all of a sudden start putting on the floor in his second and third years. He was always good at it, he just got better.
Myth 2: Manu's never had to start, so Rudy will be fine being a sixth man as long as he's in Portland.
This is perhaps the most confusing of all the comparisons for me. I think it's become so ingrained in popular belief because we're constantly bombarded with stories like "Manu okay moving to the 6th man", while ignoring the fact that every time one of those stories crops up, it's because he's being moved back to the bench from being a starter. In a strange coincidence, Manu has started exactly as many games as he's come off the bench for in his career. After sitting on the bench for his rookie year, when they won the title, he started for the first half of his second year before being moved back to the bench, and then after losing to LA in the playoffs, became a fixture in the starting lineup for the next two and a half years, including the title year in 2005 and the heartbreak in 2006 (when he gave Dirk an and 1 to send game 7 to OT). It was only midway through the following season that he was moved back to the bench.
The question is, will Rudy ever have that same kind of opportunity to start games here, which is doubtful with Roy and Nic around. Not that Nic is a better overall player, but it seems that would be Nate's preference. It's one thing to be okay with being moved to the bench, but it's an entirely different thing to be okay with going your entire career never having the opportunity to start. Maybe he's okay with that, but as we heard with some of the offseason rumblings with Trout over the last year, even if guys don't vocalize it, it's clear that starting is one of their goals. It should be noted that every recent sixth man of the year outside of Barbosa and Bobby Jax, either started, or went on to start the majority of their NBA career (Terry, Ginobili, Gordon, Miller).
I don't mean to say this is a deal breaker with Rudy or anything, but again, just that the Manu comparisons don't really fit. Manu has had ample time as a starter in SA, something that may never be available for Rudy here with the way the team is built.
Myth 3: If Rudy wants to play more, fine, Manu's averaged 28 mpg throughout his career, how come we can't give Rudy the same amount?
As stated before, Manu has spent extensive time as a starter for the Spurs. If you just look at his minute averages as a reserve, it gets a little dicier. Over his career, Manu has averaged 25.2 mpg coming off the bench, less than Rudy averaged this year (25.6). Moreover, there's only been one year in his career that he averaged more than 27 mpg off the bench (29.1 in 2007/2008). His career average is brought up by the fact that he's never averaged fewer than 28.5 mpg as a starter, so even if we were to keep Rudy in a "Ginobili"-type role off the bench, it would most likely be with a marginal increase in minutes, and not the moderately large one that I've heard rumblings about Rudy wanting.
Second, the other issue is that our set of wings outside of Rudy is substantially better than the Spurs wings outside of Ginobili. While the Spurs have always played with a defensive stopper (Bowen) for 35+ mpg, the only times that Ginobili has played alongside a decent third wing have been early in his career (Jackson and then Turkoglu), but that was before either was considered the player that they are now, and certainly neither were anywhere close to as good as Brandon is. Since his second year in the league, only one wing on the Spurs has played more mpg than Ginobili when healthy (Bowen). With Brandon here, that can never be the case for Rudy.
Even in theory, assuming Brandon plays 37 mpg (which he has the last two seasons), and Nic and Rudy play the entirety of the rest of the wing minutes, it's impossible for them both to play 30 mpg. In practice, though, teams will almost always split up the wing minutes between four players, even if one of them is only playing spot minutes (Lakers with Ariza, Kobe, Vujacic and Walton, Magic with Lee, Hedo, Pietrus, and Redick, Denver with Jones, Melo, Smith, and Kleiza/Carter, Cleveland with West, LBJ, Wally, and Sasha). Even though Vujacic and Pavlovic are only averaging about 10 mpg in the playoffs, if you assume that's what Webster will play filling in as the 4th wing, you're down to Nic only playing around 20 mpg again in order for Rudy to be around that 28 mpg threshold, and I'm sure all of us would expect Nic to play more than that next year.
Again, this point doesn't mean to dog on Rudy, just to point out that their situations are completely different. Manu has been the Spurs best offensive wing during his entire career there, something we'll never be able to say about Rudy as long as Brandon't on the team.
And to end up, I really don't mean to say this is a call to trade Rudy, that he can't fit, or that he's an inferior player at all, just that there are very real differences between not only their games, but also their situations that are deeper than just dismissing any concerns with "well, it works in SA with Manu". Rudy's an excellent player in his own rights, and by all measures seemed to work well with Brandon, but once you get beyond the "white player from a European league" point, comparisons to Manu just fall apart if you bother to look at them a little deeper. If anything, it just strikes me as lazy stereotyping, like Adam Morrison or Keith Van Horn getting compared to Larry Bird, or Rubio getting compared to Sergio. Feel free to rebut away, though.