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Expectations: Sergio Rodriguez

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I'm going to be blunt from the get-go and say that I fully expect this to be a tough year for the Spanish Sensation.  I absolutely think Sergio is skilled.  I think he's exciting.  I think he's brilliant.  I think he brought energy last year that was sadly lacking from the rest of the team and its offense.  But even with all that he's still a long way from being a reliable NBA point guard.

The expectations of a second-year player are different than those of a rookie.  They're not all the way cooked yet, but you should see the timer counting down.  They should know the plays.  They should be in position most of the time.  Mistakes should be fewer.  Their game should start narrowing and refining.  Everyone is excited to see a rookie do just about anything well.  More developed players need to be bankable if they want to be called upon to play more (and more important) minutes.

I foresee Sergio having trouble with all these things.  In fact I think everyone would be better off to just see this as Rookie Year Part Deux for him.  I'm fully prepared to be happy with anything I get because I think glimmers of hope are all we're likely to see.

A Nate McMillan point guard needs to run the offense without mistakes, hold their own on defense, hit a couple shots when necessary, and show a lot of grit.  It's pretty basic, but Nate's not really patient with guys who make a lot of mistakes and he absolutely hates flash at the expense of fundamentals.  Sergio finds people on the break well but he still breaks the offense as much as he conducts it.  Half the time it seems like nobody knows where he's going to be on the floor...not even him.  He makes passes like he's thinking about Europe or ESPN.  When they work they're great.  Most times they don't.  His defense has miles to go before it's considered acceptable even at the point guard position.  His shooting is streaky and his grit and conditioning were poor last year.

I say this not to down the guy but rather to highlight why I think he's going to see a lot of short scrub stints again this year.  Nate may try to give him a bigger role but the temptation of the much steadier Jack and Blake combo will likely prove too much to resist.  They both sit nearer the center of his comfort zone than Sergio does.  From a coaching standpoint the odds are stacked long against Sergio.

As if that's not enough, Brandon Roy needs to handle the ball a fair amount to be effective and so does Sergio.  Brandon is more established, more reliable, and wholly indispenable for this team.  If there's a clash there's no doubt who will play.  

The final nail in the coffin will likely be this:  We're already nursing young guys at every...single...position.  Brandon only semi-counts but there's Lamarcus, Oden, Frye, Webster, and Jack to consider.  All the growing leeway, all the coaching attention, and a bucket full of Nate's grey hairs are going to be attributed to that group.  How much room will there be for one more wild card kid to get minutes and make his mistakes?

Most of my expectations for Sergio this year revolve around what he'll do in practice.  First he needs to have enough conditioning to be able to play full-speed for more than five minutes without getting gassed.  Second he needs to run that second (or third) team practice squad like he was running a real game.  The plays need to be sharp, the passes crisp and on time.  Third he needs to bother the heck out of the other point guards on defense.  Even if his form isn't perfect he needs to show the effort.  Finally he has to do all this without losing his zest for the game or his ability to make those inspired passes on the run.

When he does get in the game I'd like to see that same, basic style and effort at least 80% of the time.  I don't need to see Sergio cross from one side of the court to the other and back dribbling the whole way ever again.  He's only going to get 5-6 minute stints so he should be able to focus the entire time, stay in the game on offense, and give full effort on defense.  He's fast enough to be the first person back guarding the hoop in transition every time.  Little things like that--the commitment to them--will make all the difference because they'll buy him more of that leeway.

I say all this not because I think he'll do it but because every Sergio fan needs to hope this is exactly what happens.  Barring trade or injury, that's the only way he's going to earn non-garbage minutes.

If you want to know what I think actually will happen I'd say few minutes, a fair amount of yelling, and probably some head-hanging after the first couple months of the season.  It's just going to be hard for the young fella to feel like he's developing, or even getting a fair shake, unless he plays.  Best guess:  the season ends with Sergio muttering and giving unsettled interviews to Spanish papers, with Nate shaking his head, with the fans wondering openly why Nate doesn't play him more, and with Kevin Pritchard saying, "It was a tough year for him but he's young and we still believe in him."

This is one of the times I hope I'm wrong but the reality is that not everybody on this team is going to get the chance to develop and shine.  Sergio just feels like the odd man out in the equation.  Bummer.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)