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Bayless and Fernandez

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Moving ever onward in our chain of comment-related conversations, in Wednesday’s podcast thread we saw some discussion about the roles and potential of Jerryd Bayless and Rudy Fernandez.  Specifically folks were wondering how much impact they’d make and where.  Much of Blazer Nation is fired up about one or both.  Is it worth it?

 

Of the two, I’d say it will be much easier for Jerryd Bayless to claim a role on this team.  I saw him play live in Las Vegas.  To tell you the truth, I didn’t give a rip about his 30 points.  I watched Marco Belinelli and Von Wafer score that many last year too.  What mattered was the way he scored his points, the situations he scored them in, and the intensity and fire he displayed while doing so.  Plus he showed effort and movement on defense…a trait often lost on rookie lottery picks.  Bayless is not going to shatter scoring records with the Blazers next year, but his traits and skills should endear him to Coach McMillan early on and keep him in the mix.  It doesn’t hurt that he has a ready-defined role waiting for him:  the one that Jarrett Jack filled last season.  This team needs a guard off the bench who will drive and create contact.  This team needs a point guard scoring threat in the fourth quarter.  This team needs more hard-nosed play.  The table is set for him almost perfectly.  If Bayless can’t get at least a few minutes something probably went pretty wrong with him.

 

I suspect I’m going to end up liking Rudy’s overall game even more than Jerryd Bayless’ personally.  I love multi-talented offensive guards who keep the game in motion.  Nevertheless I suspect Rudy may have a harder time carving out a niche next season.  I have not seen him play.  I am looking forward to the Olympics for just this reason…though I offer the caveat that even that level of play doesn’t translate one-for-one to the NBA.  The U.S. game is different (not necessarily better) than anything else out there.

 

Even going by what people say and don’t say you can still glean some information, however.  Almost everybody I’ve talked to has had the same, basic story.  Rudy Fernandez is one of the finest players in Europe.  He has the skill to make it in the NBA.  That’s pretty much exactly how it’s been phrased.  Note the inflection:  very good player, one of the best.  Most Blazer fans who talk about him speak in tones more awed than the people who have actually seen him.  This is not to say he’ll be disappointing.  But we’re not talking the European Michael Jordan here.  He’s not likely to dominate immediately.  Indeed he may take a while just to fit in.

 

Eyewitnesses also agree that he’s a fantastic offensive player.  Unlike Bayless he doesn’t come with the defensive credentials that will earn him a base level of playing time.  This will be his biggest adjustment.  I think it’s safe to say that Nate will have to pick spots for Rudy somewhat carefully at first.  I’m sure Fernandez will not back away from any challenge, but at the same time it’s awfully easy to envision, “Rudy, meet Kobe Bryant.  Say, have you ever had 600 dropped on you in a game?  Well tonight’s your night, my man!”

 

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, there’s not the automatic space in the rotation for Rudy that is open for Jerryd.  I think everybody would rest easier if Brandon Roy could play fewer minutes per game while still keeping Portland viable.  It would keep him fresher for a hopeful playoff run and perhaps ease the likelihood of injury.  That would appear to give Rudy a chance for 12-15 minutes of time, providing Bayless doesn’t encroach onto the shooting guard side of the ledger.  But even if Rudy gets those minutes, with whom is he playing?  He probably doesn’t have the type of body or the type of game to play the Roy shooting guard role right now.  His value will be as a guy in motion or a guy who is catching and shooting rather than a ball-dominating playmaker and driver.  (I know he can drive some but he’s going to be matched up against quick defenders and he’s going to get banged around in the lane, which will probably encourage him to shoot jumpers more.)   In order to do those things he needs to have somebody getting him the ball.  Yet if he plays with a true second unit rotation then he’s got Jerryd Bayless (scorer) on one side and Travis Outlaw (scorer) on the other.  At this point there’s little evidence that setting him up will be high on their priority list.  He’d probably play more naturally with Steve Blake or Brandon Roy himself.  But you worry about the defense with both of those combinations.  If the frontcourt is able to cover, well and good…but they better be able to cover hard.  Plus if Rudy is playing alongside Brandon, what position is he playing and how does that affect the rest of the team?  If he’s the shooting guard then Brandon is either at point guard or small forward, which is not going to happen very much or for very long.  (Rudy is not a point guard and would get eaten up and spit out by NBA small forwards, so Brandon would have to be the one to move.)  That leaves a pretty specific set of circumstances in which both the team and Rudy himself will find natural advantage.

 

Mind you, I think all of this is going to change as Rudy grows accustomed to the NBA game and as he develops more strength and perhaps a little bulk.  But that isn’t going to happen overnight.

 

The easiest thing Fernandez can do to ensure a spot in the rotation right away is to hit his jumpers when presented with them.  If he can get open and can some twos and threes he’ll fit in well with almost any group Nate throws out there.  A secondary bonus would be showing proficiency on the break, provide we generate some.  The only other thing that would get him guaranteed minutes is if Roy goes down to injury.  At that point he would become like gold to us.  Obviously nobody wants that to happen.

 

In the long run both of these players will probably have an impact on this league.  It’s easy to envision each of them being incredibly valuable to the Blazers.  But if you’re just looking at next season’s impact, Bayless has the inside track because of his skill set and team circumstances.

 

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)