Serendipity struck yesterday in the form of Rudy Fernandez' interview with Marca wherein the suave Spaniard said he was excited to start the new season with the Portland Trail Blazers. This changed course from several months of quotes from Rudy's agent--most under a veil thinner than a computer science major's booty call list--stating his strong preference was to leave Portland. I don't believe for a second that anything has changed. It's far more likely that all sides have come to the realization that the available offers aren't attractive enough to make the Blazers move and Rudy will begin his season here willing or not. Under those circumstances it makes sense for Fernandez to resurrect his passion for Portland and the league, or at least fake it well enough that nobody knows the difference.
Having thus opened the list of expectations for Fernandez as he begins the 2010-11 season we can now check Item 1 off of the list. That would be, "Whatever is going on inside of you or wherever else you wish you were, play like you care." Granted, Rudy hasn't played a minute yet. But if he can sell the "excited" image to the media you'd hope he was smart enough to sell it on the court as well. It will make everybody involved (including Rudy himself) happier. It's also the smartest thing he can do to facilitate a trade if he still desires one. Rudy's game is full of emotion. That's part of the excitement. That's a large part of the reason fans adore him. Burying that emotion doesn't serve him well. He just needs to channel it away from frustration and "might have beens" and into those minutes on the court, however many or few they might be. Part of growing up in a job or any other situation is realizing the difference between things beyond your control (number of minutes you get) and things in your control (how well you play during those minutes). On the heels of that comes the realization that when things are in your control you are best served by giving the best you possibly can regardless of external circumstances. These precepts define not only the good life but a winning athlete, as winning seldom happens without adversity and the need for perseverance. So, the first expectation on Rudy is that we shouldn't hear or be able to notice anything except him giving his all.
Rudy's offensive game fell apart as the 2009-10 season progressed. By far the most disappointing part of the disintegration was the decline in his three-point shooting percentage from 39.9% to 36.8%. The 3% drop doesn't tell the whole story either. He vacillated between a few stellar shooting performances and plenty of near-empty nights. Three-point shooting is his raison d'etre in this league. Buying a ticket to see him miss them is like seeing Kim Kardashian and realizing she doesn't look that good. What would be the point, then? She's not on TV because of her literary skills or her facility with calculus. I don't expect Rudy to be a stellar defender, to get to the hole with regularity, or to bully his way to 600 rebounds. I do expect Rudy to hit the quick-release three, thus spreading the floor for his teammates. I expect him to be able to hit them without 20 minutes of playing time to warm up first. I expect him to look for that shot every chance he gets without second-guessing himself or his role in the offense because no matter what else happens that will always be the heart of his role with the offense. If he manages even that much nobody should quarrel when Coach puts him in.
Fernandez also has facility at running and passing. Both should come more into vogue in Portland's offense this season. The critical equation is "more experience = more freedom". Even if Rudy himself isn't that much more experienced his teammates are. This is the year I expect the defense to settle in and the rebounding to become overwhelming, leading to quick offense opportunities. That should play to his strengths.
We just said that Rudy isn't expected to become a great defender. The Blazers' 2010-11 landscape (and Rudy's reality) now includes Wesley Matthews, however. Matthews can also shoot deep and he's quickly making defense a calling card. Rudy needs to defend competently enough to make the choice between them viable. If you need defense you're always going to go with Matthews but in ordinary, run-of-the mill minutes Rudy can compete as long as he's not clueless at the defensive end. Solid lane defense from the centers should free Fernandez to take more risks, including going for those steals he appears to excel at.
As I have said before, fans were far too quick to jump on the Rudy is Great bandwagon when he was a rookie and have been far too quick to jump off it into the Rudy Sucks swamp as he has faltered. This year should reveal whether and how much Fernandez figures into Portland's plans. Here's hoping he jumps on every opportunity he gets.
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