Rudy talk is all over the place this weekend…radio, TV, newspaper, online, you name it. Everybody is stoked. So let’s take a look at what we’re getting.
First, though, a caveat. I know what’s been reported and announced, but until we get official word that a buy-out has been agreed to be aware that there’s still that hurdle left. It’s not unheard of for “intentions to play” to get foiled by financial reality. I assume that this has been planned for, if not taken care of, and we’re going to talk as if it has. But you know what happens when you assume.
Why Rudy Will Excel With This Team
Note the qualifier in the section head: With This Team. With all of the hype surrounding Rudy which really started after his fantastic Copa Del Rey showing and continues to this day, it would be easy to crown Rudy as the Next Big Thing to hit the league no matter where he lands. He’s got talent, but he’s unlikely to be dominating single-handedly. That’s not his game…which is part of the point. The Blazers don’t necessarily need someone to come in and dominate single-handedly, whether that be controlling the ball, shooting and scoring, or even taking team leadership. We have those bases covered. Rudy’s strengths (and there appear to be many) are exciting not just because of their nature, but because they will probably blossom on this squad.
The most obvious attribute Fernandez has is his scoring. He’s got great range on his shot. As we showed last year that’s always going to be valued on this team, at least under current management. With a couple capable drive-and-dish guys in the backcourt and a monster body in the post, those defense-spreading marksmen are just what the doctor ordered. But Rudy is also valuable because, unlike some of our current shooters, he’s not limited to the stand-still jumper. If you give him a seam he will take it to the rim. Even you give him only half a seam he can rip the rest open. He’s likely to be a dangerous offensive option. This bolster’s
Several of Rudy’s more fitting gifts lie beyond the obvious, however. He is almost universally acclaimed as a team player, a guy who sees the court, and a guy who knows how to move without the ball. Rewind two years ago to the pound-it-to-Zach offense and those gifts are useless. But picture a guy who knows how to move and create opportunities, a guy who has the confidence to shoot but will also make the extra pass, alongside a bunch of players who make it their business to find the open man wherever (and whoever) that may be. Imagine Sergio, Blake, or Brandon with the ball while Rudy makes a backdoor cut. Someday imagine Lamarcus and Greg Oden drawing doubles in the post while Rudy fakes the perimeter cut and then floats through. Imagine a defense that already has three other guys to concentrate on now being bugged by a rangy guard who can score from anywhere and just won’t stand still. This could open up a whole new dimension to our halfcourt offense, giving Nate McMillan a whole new shelf in his toolbox.
Being an excellent foul shooter doesn’t hurt in any league and it’s something the Blazers particularly prize. We need more extra points and Rudy should be able to convert some.
Rudy also has some intangibles gaining notice. He’s acclaimed as coachable. His desire and work ethic are praised. Most importantly of all, scouts who have covered him over time (and write about it in public) repeatedly come back with the impression that they’re seeing a new and better Rudy every time they watch him. One of the keys to NBA greatness is that you do not let success spoil you or make you plateau. That continued sense of pleasant surprise among observers shouldn’t be underestimated. The last guy we saw go through a progression like that is our team leader and can now call himself an All-Star.
Why Rudy Won’t Excel as Much as People Think This Year
Even with all of that, it’s unlikely we’ll see a repeat of Brandon Roy’s growth curve in Fernandez. As impressive as the YouTube highlights are, it’s highly unlikely this guy is two years from All-Stardom.
The first and biggest focus is his body. He’s thin. He lacks strength. As the irredeemably estimable Gavin Dawson pointed out on his Overtime show last night, there have been a few guards who excelled with thin bodies and plenty of motion: Reggie Miller and Rip Hamilton to name a couple modern examples. This is true, but those guys also had overwhelming offensive games and unerring shooting ability which made up for their lack of overall play. Rudy may have that kind of game, but it’s a fair bet he doesn’t have it in the NBA yet. He’s never played against guys this strong, big, and fast. He may find that many of the shots and passes that used to be gravy are now being stuff back down his throat. It’s also a fair bet that even if he develops that kind of game quickly he won’t get the chance to show it right away on this team which still centers around Roy and Aldridge and whose first priority in every way will be to assimilate Greg Oden into the fold. The problem is not just getting shots. It’s getting on the floor. Keep in mind that several of our wing players--Roy, Webster, Outlaw, Jones--don’t have clearly defined positions yet. They’re all in flux in one way or another. Where they land will determine in large part where Rudy fits in this year. It won’t be an issue forever, but right now Rudy’s role depends heavily on how wedded Brandon Roy is to that shooting guard position and whether the two of them can play together.
Swinging this back to the body issue: Rudy is going to need to produce on the offensive end in order to cover for the near-certain shortcomings he’s going to have on defense with his lack of bulk and strength compared to his counterparts. We don’t know how much time he will get to produce. We don’t know how many shots he will get in that time. One of the key things he could do for this team is draw fouls and convert conventional three-point plays but his body could hold him back there as well. Despite what it looks like when superstars shoot, most of the time you don’t draw fouls in the NBA by getting nicked and then converting. You draw fouls by getting hammered hard on the drive. You draw and-ones by getting your arms ripped off but having enough strength to hang on to the ball and muscle it through anyway. You convert three-point plays by having a guy come centimeters from a blocked shot with the ball in your hand, but being able to absorb the body contact, move those arms, and covert right around him before hitting the deck. It’s a tough game in there and Rudy may not be equipped for that right now. It’s dead certain that hanging around passively at the three-point line isn’t going to get it done for him or for the team. But his first year in the league is going to give him great incentive to do just that…providing he survives the bumps and bruises.
I don’t think anybody expects Rudy to be great on defense against NBA guards or small forwards his first year, and it may never be a strength. We all assume he’ll be great at offense but it’ll take time for him to adjust to the NBA game physically and time for him to earn whatever minutes are available (which is an open question right now). Even if the guy is just as brilliant as advertised his progress is likely to be incremental at first.
We have been dazzled by some extremely-well-adapted European players in recent years, Manu Ginobili and Dirk Nowitzki being the prime examples. But Ginobili averaged 7.6 points in 20 minutes his rookie year and 12.8 in 30 minutes in his sophomore season. Nowitzki averaged 8.2 points in 20 minutes his first season, in which he was widely considered a bust. He’s Canadian, not European, but it took Steve Nash five years to get enough minutes and shots to break into double-digit scoring. No doubt Rudy is good, but those are some pretty dazzling names. To progress faster than they did would be a feat indeed.
The semi-bad news is Rudy may not make as big of an impact right away as his YouTube highlights and fan-generated publicity promise. The good news is he has tons of time and incentive to adapt to the NBA, his tools are such that his adaptation should be effective and profitable, and his weaknesses are probably 60-70% treatable by a couple dedicated years with a good Strength and Conditioning Coach. He’s also coming to a team that’s pretty much built to take advantage of his strengths--a team filled with players who have proven themselves willing to do so--which may be the most important point of all.