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The Book on Sergio

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We haven’t even played pre-season game one yet and already the Sergio rumblings are starting.  I said it a couple weeks ago and it’s true:  never has there been this much fuss about a 10th-11th man on a team.  I assume for most of us the early chatter brings up the specter of last seasons all-out firefights surrounding Mr. Rodriguez.  I, for one, am not eager to see those repeated.  While I’ll not be banning Sergio conversation or anything like that, I’m going to attempt the next best thing.  I am going to give you the truth--complete and unadulterated--about this guy, his possibilities, and the fan-storm that surrounds him.  If you’re tempted to start a Sergio conversation, read this first, ‘kay?

 

There are plenty of legitimate things to like about Sergio.  His passing is prescient.  He’s the kind of guy everyone loves to play with on offense:  unselfish with the ball, nonchalant about getting his own shot.  He loves assists more than points.  He’s also quick as a hiccup and twice as annoying to defenders that try to contain his dribble.  That combination of vision, unselfishness, and speed made him an NBA first-round pick even when he was as raw as a month-old cow.  It wasn’t an accident that the Blazers drafted him.  The potential they saw in him definitely is there.

 

Furthermore, Sergio is doing nothing to harm this team.  He doesn’t cost much.  He isn’t taking a roster spot that somebody else could fill better.  He’s not keeping more deserving players on the bench.  There’s no reason to dislike having him on the roster.  There’s simply no downside to it.  Blazer fans don’t even have the incredibly weak “But we could have had…” draft pick argument with Rodriguez.  He was picked 27th in 2006, a draft pick purchased outright from the Phoenix Suns.  The only players of note that came after him are Paul Millsap and Daniel Gibson.  However Portland had two picks following #27, either of which could have been used to take said players.  You might as well get mad at Joel Freeland or James White.  Unless you really have a hankering for Mardy Collins or Maurice Ager, the two players in between #27 and #30 when Portland picked again, there’s no reason on earth to hold Sergio’s draft pick against him.

 

Perhaps people were expecting more from the guy, given his flashes of skill.  Personally when the Blazers pick a guy at #27 and when that pick was flat-out sold to Portland, meaning the team that gave it up couldn’t find a single player they thought was worth a minimal guaranteed contract, I expect the guy to be a project.  This was not a Cliff Robinson slippage pick.  This was a guy who didn’t start or play major minutes for his national team.  Plus he plays point guard.  Other than center, you can’t name a position that screams project louder when the pick comes that late.  The definition of “project” is:  takes a long time to develop and may or may not pan out.  Sergio hasn’t done anything more or less than that.  He hasn’t underperformed.  He hasn’t shed the label either.  He is pretty much what he’s supposed to be.  Calling Sergio a bust at this point is flat-out unfair.  He’s just a guy who had a promising rookie season, couldn’t progress on that promise, and ended up still needing to work on his game.

 

This brings up the other side of the coin.  Sergio does need to work on his game.  There are plenty of holes in it.  Multitudes of players have one or two skills that rise to the NBA level…that would even let them succeed at the NBA level if those were the only criteria.  Those guys are long on stories and short on tickets to the Show.  The Sergio we last saw was not ready to be a big-minute NBA player yet.  He may not have been as ready for small minutes as the guys in front of him who actually got most of them.  His defense, his shot, his recognition when he didn’t have the ball in his hands…when you’re playing a team game you have a hard time absorbing those flaws and still keeping integrity.  If those flaws are still there, if they continue to be repeated, there is no particular reason to award him more minutes this year either.  This is not a developmental team.  It wasn’t really last year and it’s certainly not this.  The team is not there to make sure Sergio gets better as much as Sergio is there to make the team better.

 

I say this clearly to illuminate an important point:  there is no conspiracy against Sergio.  Believe me, that would be an interesting story and blogs thrive on interesting stories.  If this guy really were the Next Big Thing being kept down by The Man and The Evil Media we’d love to write that post.  It’d get Truehooped.  It’d get tens of thousands of unique visitors if we did it well enough.  The problem is, it would be bogus.  If there’s a conspiracy against Sergio, everyone is in on it.  Nate McMillan doesn’t play him.  Kevin Pritchard doesn’t pressure him into it.  Sergio’s countrymen conspired to keep him off of the Olympic team.  He should have been starting when he did play for them.  29 other teams in this league employ managers and scouts who thrive off of reading players’ abilities.  Right now if he was a star in the making and not being valued or used he could probably be had for a steal of a trade, either in isolation or as a throw-in with one of the Blazers’ other young players.  Apparently nobody has made that phone call yet.

 

Some Portland fans expect Sergio to be farther along than he is and they react to the current situation by bashing him.  Some Portland fans expect Sergio to be farther along than he is and they react to the situation by bashing everybody else around him.  The second is as misplaced as the first.  Read a Channing Frye or Greg Oden thread and you’re going to hear talk about positions, strengths, experience, and expectations.  Read a Sergio thread and you’re going to hear words like “conspiracy” and “bias” and a lot of invectives thrown against people who comment or observe, even when those comments and observations are honestly-made and legitimate.  This often makes following the guy frustrating…even when you want to root for him.  It also provides an easy target for naysayers who want to rile people up.  Ironically, Sergio supporters have helped create the monster of Sergio detractors.  It’s pretty much guaranteed that without the vitriol against Coach McMillan, the media, and other fans nobody would be talking about the significance of trading our second or third string point guard any more than people talk passionately about trading Martell Webster or Ike Diogu or (when they were here) Von Wafer or Josh McRoberts.

 

And that’s it.  Those are the ins and outs of the Sergio situation.  Here’s the point.  We haven’t seen a single thing that would suggest this situation is changing and we’re not going to for quite a while.  Pre-season doesn’t prove much conclusively.  Training camp counts even less.  When Sergio is averaging at least 12 minutes a game and is making a consistently measurable impact while doing so, then we’ll have a basis to re-evaluate.  Until then there’s not much else to say.  For those who want to make the Sergio story more negative than that, I don’t see how his impact can be that negative unless, you know, he actually plays.  For those who insist that he’s a budding superstar being held down…sorry.  He’s had two years to show it and it hasn’t come out yet.  That doesn’t mean he can’t be, it means we have to see it first on the court before that claim can be believed or given credence.

 

Until that point, when he has either garnered enough playing time to merit further evaluation or been traded or fades from the league, I believe the response to Sergio is simple.  You give him credit for the things he does well, basically shading towards giving him the benefit of the doubt, much like you’d give anybody learning their trade.  You don’t get that worked up about his mistakes…in fact at this point they’re just assumed until proven different.  This is not Lamarcus Aldridge or Brandon Roy.  The team is not going to rise and fall with his play.  He doesn’t have to shoulder that kind of burden or endure that kind of scrutiny.  He gets a polite clap for the things he does well, a rousing cheer for those wonderful passes, and nothing else is a big deal until he becomes a key guy.  No slamming…no conspiracies and great injustices…no “Sergio sucks!”…no “I can’t believe Nate didn’t put him in!”   He’s not a disappointment.  He’s not a Jermaine O’Neal-like wunderkind.  He’s just the 10th-11th man on this team struggling to make it like everyone else in his position.

 

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)