2009-10 Season Review: Rudy Fernandez

Yup. That was the season.

I'm going to be up front with you.  This is going to be a hard review to write.  It's hard because I like Rudy as a player and personality both, because I'm mindful of the difficulties of switching countries, cultures, and leagues, because I'd like to think Rudy has the offensive potential to be the multi-talented, multi-positional reserve player that would focus the currently fuzzy picture among the Blazer smalls.  Despite all of that, two facts are staring me in the face.  With injury-inspired minutes begging to be taken and a firmer role hanging low to be grabbed Rudy Fernandez had more opportunity to prove himself this year than in his rookie season.  Not only didn't Rudy seize the moment, he actually appeared to regress in key areas.

Let's throw in a couple of mitigating circumstances up front.  Rudy himself was injured this year, playing in 62 games, at times looking limp.  Rudy was without his wingman, Sergio Rodriguez, author of so many baseline-cut alley-oop passes.  Between that and his expectations for role and playing time not being met Fernandez's confidence seemed to erode like a wind-swept sand dune.  Rudy relies on confidence more than any other Blazer.  Without the swagger he's just not himself.  The only time we saw the young hotshot emerge was when he was able to flick a devastating pass to a teammate.  Every once in a while we'd see quick-release three-point flurries.  But those moments were few and far between.

Fernandez did build modestly in the defense, rebounding, and assist categories.  Despite playing 2.4 fewer minutes per game his assists and rebounds remained even, resulting in a slight per-minute increase.  His steal, assist, and rebounding percentages all rose.  His points given up per 100 possessions fell by 2.  All of this shows that he was more comfortable with his place in the game, doing the basic things required of NBA players.  Observation confirmed this.  Rudy didn't stick out this year the way he did in his rookie campaign.  You didn't notice bonehead moves on offense or camping out in no-man's land defensively.  That's to his credit.  The guy can read a basketball court, an ability which should serve him well as he continues to grow.

This is where the wheels fall off, however.  Even with improved defense, rebounding, and a better sense of his place in the game Rudy is no better than average in any of those areas, and that's probably charitable.  Rudy will live or die in this league based on the offense he's able to generate.  Most of those numbers went into free fall this year.  Rudy was ostensibly working on a penetration game to complement his shooting.  In a season where that was supposed to be unveiled he ended up shooting 9 out of 10 shots from the perimeter.  Many of those were of the "well, I guess so" variety instead of the lethal daggers we saw in his rookie campaign.  His overall field goal percentage dropped from 42.5% to 37.8%.  True Shooting dropped from 58.8% to 54.0%.  Effective Field Goal percentage dropped from 55.2% to 49.4%.  His three-point shooting dropped from 39.9% to 36.8%.  Shooting 37% from the arc isn't horrible but that percentage comes from a mix of stellar and horrible nights.  He shot below 33.3% from the arc in 35 of his 62 games, hitting 0 or 1 three in 32 of those 62.  The only thing really shot was Rudy's reliability.  As a result his points per 100 possessions dropped from 120 last season to 108 this year.  His PER fell 2.4 points to 13.1 as well.  Bottom line:  Without any kind of back-up plan like easy shots or free throws drawn, Rudy struggled to an anemic 8.1 points per game.   That wasn't anybody's vision for his sophomore campaign.

The team stats don't change the impression much.  Rudy carried a plus-minus of +0.8 and held the third lowest plus-minus per minute among Portland's regular rotation players.  The team's net points per 100 possessions fell 6.4 when Rudy was on the court.  Though Portland's Effective Field Goal Percentage Allowed dropped a decent 1% when Fernandez played the team's own Effective Field Goal percentage fell an amazing 3.2% on his watch.  Assists went up and turnovers down when Rudy played, however. 

One redeeming feature to Rudy's season was improved playoff performance for the second year in a row.  His shooting percentages rose remarkably against Phoenix and his offensive points per 100 possessions rating hit 122, hearkening to his rookie year.  Unfortunately his defensive points given up per 100 possessions skyrocketed as well to 123.

Rudy's future with the Blazers has always depended on him being able to play multiple positions in multiple situations.  In limited minutes at the small forward and point guard positions Rudy was thoroughly outplayed by his counterparts, leaving shooting guard as his only productive position.  This was true last year as well.  The Blazers are still waiting for progress on this front.  Without it Rudy's future in Portland becomes tenuous.

It's no secret that Rudy himself has expressed frustration with his role and opportunities in Portland.  This was always going to be an issue with Brandon Roy on the team.  The unfortunate thing for Rudy is that he did little to convince anyone that his frustration was worth addressing this year.  As soon as you start losing traction you also lose claim to your position in the race.  This year Rudy spun out in the grass and never recovered speed.  Other players made leaps.  He didn't.  That's the bottom line.

While the Blazers might listen to offers, might even shop him around, they're not going to give Fernandez away.  The potential is still there.  The spark and swagger are still there, buried beneath the surface turmoil.  It's too soon to give up on him.  Both Rudy and his fans must remember that 2010-11 is a new season with new opportunities.  If Rudy continues to imrprove incrementally in his overall game and rediscovers his shooting touch he'll be plenty valuable and get enough minutes to keep him content.  But those minutes have to be earned.  Rudy can't give up.  It's on him to make something happen.  His summer should be spent planning for exactly that.

Season Performance:  D  (I have to grade him on his strengths first.  If he doesn't hit his shots and contribute offensively the other parts of his game aren't solid enough to pull that grade up.)

Trend:  Backsliding

Biggest Question Marks:  Confidence, aggression, ability to score on anything besides a jumper 

Future with the Team:  Could go either way.  He's not a must-trade by any stretch.  He's more likely to stay than to be moved.  But compared against his teammates he's one of the more likely to be talked about this summer. 

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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