Roundup: Rising Star Rudy

Roundup: Rising Star Rudy
Apr 27, 2007, 03:32 am
Another terrific week for Rudy Fernandez, with back-to-back 20+ point performances, coincided with him being crowned with the Euroleague Rising Star Trophy, recognizing the season’s best young player in the competition. Giving him our modest Player of the Week mention was a no brainer. Another Spanish shooting guard, Saúl Blanco, draws our attention with very solid outings in the ACB League.

Player of the Week: Rudy Fernandez

A pretty nice sign of maturity is to show consistency throughout a season; with logical picks and valleys, Rudy Fernandez is delivering game after game, week after week, finally emerging as the go-to player for DKV Joventut, a top-16 team in the Euroleague this year and currently a top-4 team in the Spanish ACB League. No other young player in Europe can compete with these kinds of credentials this season.

That's why there weren’t many possibilities of being wrong this time: Rudy Fernandez has been head and shoulders the best youngster in the Euroleague, and he has been rightfully rewarded with the Euroleague Rising Star Trophy. This is the third edition of this award, and previous winners were Erazem Lorbek and Andrea Bargnani, both deservedly, although also not nearly such clear-cut picks, even to the point of being questionable selections.

To feed the intrigue, Rudy continued with his franchise-player impersonation in the ACB League. Just once has he missed the 9-point mark in the domestic competition, and this past week he just recorded his third back-to-back +20-point performance. Actually, he’s going through a nice run, as he’s averaging 23 points in the last four games.

The week started against arch-rivals F.C.Barcelona, the hottest team in the second half of the ACB regular season. Joventut trailed for virtually the entire game, with gross differences in the first half, but they fought their way back, only to lose it by 5 points. Rudy was part of that comeback, with a superb fourth quarter and plenty of activity throughout the game. He surely suffered on defense against Juan Carlos Navarro in the first quarter (actually, the entire Joventut team did, which is logical when we talk about arguably the best scorer in Europe), but Rudy gave some serious headaches to Barcelona’s defense himself, finishing with 20 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals.

[c]Rudy has become a star in his own right on the Old Continent – Photo: Euroleague[/c]

It's stunning to see how he emerges all over the floor, perfectly combining the notable skill-set of a talented player and the high intensity of a hard-working guy. On one hand, he’s a very active presence on the offensive end, moving without the ball, asking for it, but rarely hogging it, staying aggressive to drive if he sees a good chance, running the court, feeding the open man, using his long-range stroke to get into a scoring flow, and usually taking good decisions (he can eventually become a bit anxious if his shots aren’t falling). On the other hand, rebounds, loose balls, passing lanes, he prowls for any chance to gain a possession for his team. He’s a very decent defender, even if Navarro made him pay for his struggles going though screens, and will surely step up as soon as he goes to the next level.

Rudy closed the week with a gross victory against the playoff team Gran Canaria Grupo Dunas. With 24 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals, he became again the leader of Joventut. Only he struggled a little bit with his three-point shot (actually, he achieved a very poor 3/14 during the week).

The Spanish shooting guard screams first-round any time you look at him. He’s still skinny and not the greatest player creating his own shot, and probably will never become an offensive reference in a NBA team, but he’s a very useful guy who brings many positive things to the table.

Taking a Long Look at…

…Saúl Blanco, an emerging youngster in the Spanish front who has managed to establish himself in Alta Gestión Fuenlabrada’s rotation in the last couple of months. Blanco is an athletic 6-5 shooting guard born in 1985, already a useful player in a very strong league as the ACB, but who also enjoys nice long-term potential.

Saúl is a very well built player, showing a great frame and already notable strength to go along with the aforementioned athleticism, which certainly makes up for his relative lack of size. He’s a rather fluid guy in terms of physical expression. Skill wise, he’s a work in progress, but with some significant results. He enjoys three-point range, with increasingly solid accuracy in spot-up situations. He can go for the mid-range jumper, even in off the dribble fashion, although he needs to gain consistency here. Surely intriguing is his ability to beat his match-up off the dribble. Although showing improvable ball-handling skills, he’s talented enough to get by his defenders going both ways, displaying a nice first step and long strides while slashing to the basket. Blanco doesn’t seem very confident finishing around the rim against opposition, which is something he should seriously work on; given his athleticism, he should learn to take advantage of his strong body to finish creatively with layups off contact and even gain some and-one plays in the process.

[c]Saul Blanco taking part in a slam-dunk contest early this season[/c]

Anyway, when Saúl drives towards the basket, his first option is dish the ball. Fortunately, he’s a very nice passer, as he easily finds his open teammates and enjoys a quick mind to take decisions, therefore becoming a sort of catalyst (up to a certain degree) of his team’s offensive game. Everything is in place for Blanco to play good defense, and actually he does a fine job in this department, even if his lateral quickness doesn’t always keep up with his overall athleticism.

Although he was part of the Spanish National Teams in youth categories, Blanco never really stood out that much in order to draw serious attention. He spent three years in Siglo XXI (a national basketball school in the line of the French INSEP that also produced the likes of Fran Vazquez or Sergio Rodríguez), and a couple of seasons in the LEB, the Spanish second division.

This is the second season in the top Spanish competition for Saúl, but injuries and lack of playing time hurt his consistency. March meant a turning point for him, particularly a game against Polaris World Murcia, where he scored 20 points with excellent percentages (5/6 from the three-point land). Prior to that game, Saul had achieved a combined 1/7 shooting behind the arc in 16 games of the regular season; since then, he credits a terrific 12/21 (57%) in just 8 games, although those are mostly open static shots. In that very same span, he averages 10 points, 1.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists (5.5 in the last 2 games), always staying on the court for over 20 minutes per game.

These are not spectacular numbers, and to be selected in the draft doesn’t look a realistic option at this point. Saúl needs to become more of an offensive force, showing more aggressiveness while attacking the rim and improving his versatility and accuracy while shooting the ball. Still he would be a very interesting player to showcase in a setting like the Treviso EuroCamp, where he might be able to turn some heads.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Hot

Nicolas Batum is enjoying more prominence in Le Mans' rotation ever since coming back from his successful Hoop Summit showcasing. You might say someone might have realized what they have on their hands --which would be really sad, by the way; in our opinion Batum has always been ready this season to assume a bigger role on his team. He averages 29 minutes per game since that exhibition game, while previously less than 14 minutes. You might also think he was being hidden by his team, but I hardly believe in those theories about hiding players in international basketball. Anyway, significantly contributing to his team’s victory, Batum had 17 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists against Besançon and 10 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals facing Bourg.

Romain Duport recorded a career-high 16 points against Orleans this week before fouling out after only 19 minutes on the court. He still had time to grab 4 rebounds and dish out 2 assists, although Le Havre eventually lost the game. Duport was fairly impressive on the offensive end, netting most of the balls that fell into his hands, while showing interesting moves. For example, he nicely finished a couple of pick-and-roll plays, one with a left-handed layup (not the most common outcome for him) and the second one after a reverse move in the paint, showing notable coordination. It’s always encouraging to see a big guy showing some aggressiveness, and Romain delivered plenty in a great offensive rebound that he easily transformed into two points. However, he particularly shined with his shooting touch, as he converted a three-point basket and a fade-away mid-range jumper. On the negative side, he looked slow on defense, being exploited by the opposing guards and getting into foul trouble trying to stop his own matchups.

We also had the chance to watch Duport’s previous career high, a 15-point effort against Gravelines that happened one month ago. This time he probably had a bigger impact on the defensive end, particularly during his first minutes on court; despite being regularly outmuscled or sometimes shying away from stepping in the way of penetrating guards (he tends to settle for elevating to challenge shots instead of simply rotating), his great length pretty much stopped the bleeding his team was suffering from the paint early into the game. Offensively, he stuck to off-the-ball moves, setting picks and rolling inside or just staying alert to take advantage of any defensive rotation to receive on the paint. Only once was he fed in the low post, where he nicely found the way to the basket. Nothing really very different from what we reported in previous roundups, but another example of Duport’s ability to step up as a useful contributor for his team right away.

Carlos Suarez is doing a good job taking advantage of the increased role he’s enjoying in MMT Estudiantes since starting SF Hernan Jasen fell injured. This past week he delivered very solid back-to-back performances, although he finished with a sour taste, as both games ended in losses. Against Gran Canaria Grupo Dunas, he had 12 points and 5 rebounds, but really stepped up facing Tau Vitoria, with 20 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists. Suarez emphasized his best offensive assets: his perimeter stroke, as he’s a rather reliable spot-up three-point shooter with fairly quick mechanics (he combined 5/9 in both games), and his low post skills, cashing in off his length and skills (he played power forward when he was younger) against smaller match-ups. We’re still missing significant off-the-dribble skills, a department that seriously hurts his potential and development. He’s not able to create his own shot or offense yet unless he takes his man to the low post, which is fine, but probably not enough for a high-class perimeter player. Anyway, he’s not a great athlete, so it wouldn’t be easy for him to beat his match-ups on a regular basis. However, he’s a tough guy, smart, and a serious worker, so we still trust Carlos Suarez to become a very good player in the long run for international basketball.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Not

Souarata Cisse hasn’t been able to materialize his hopes of playing time as he moves out of Pau Orthez on loan to Paris Basket Racing. Only 6 minutes per game, not even seeing the floor in many of them, and less than 2 points per contest are very disappointing numbers for a guy who fared pretty well last summer in the U-20 European Championship.

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