Rudy Fernandez has been given his chance, but has lost his confidence

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nba_fernandez_250.jpgRemember the Rudy Fernandez from the gold medal game in Beijing? The one with 13 points in nine minutes on the court. The one that made you think “Damn, Portland has another one, another great young player.”

That Rudy Fernandez has gone missing. And Portland could really use him, as he is starting in place of the injured Brandon Roy against the Suns (a series that tied up at one game a piece).

That Fernandez was confident, the kind of guy that women chase. But after rewatching all his plays from the first two games of the Suns series, he looks like a player without any belief in himself.

He is 2 of 9 from the floor for the series, 1 of 7 from three.  He has not driven the lane with any authority — all his shots have been jumpers, the closest he has gotten to the rim is a jumper from the elbow (he made that). He has four assists, but they are not things he created. Look at the two from Tuesday. One was a simple drop off to Marcus Camby as he moved through the offense, but the Suns defender dropped off Camby and dared him to hit the 18 footer (he did, the Suns should know better than to give him that shot near the top of the circle). The other was not really an assist, in early offense off a Suns miss Fernandez made an ordinary pass to Batum at the three point line, who held the ball for a second, took a couple dribbles left and when his defender stepped back to slow penetration he hit the pull up three.

Fernandez is playing passive, he is clearly unsure of himself. His issues with the Blazers system and coach Nate McMillan are well documented. He said he was frustrated that he was not getting enough minutes.He has talked about wanting to go back to Europe to play.

Well he’s getting his minutes in the playoffs, but all of that stuff from the past is clearly still impacting his game.

Credit the Suns for part of Fernadez’s struggles, they took Andre Miller out of the game by putting Grant Hill on him, which forced Fernandez into a more point guard role, one he is not suited to. The Suns Jason Richardson talked
about this
in a radio interview with KTAR in Phoenix yesterday.

“We know Andre is not only their playmaker but they rely
on a lot of scoring from him because Brandon Roy is down.  Make sure to
get the ball out of his hands making tougher to ask for anybody else to
get into their offense and then deny him the ball and make somebody else
beat us.  It will be a great scheme and it actually worked last night.”

Part of Fernandez role is to be the feared spot up guy, or a guy coming off screens and getting the shot if open (or making the post pass inside if not). The ultimate goal for the Blazers is to get the ball inside to Camby or LaMarcus Aldridge. But to get the ball inside means someone has to be an outside threat. There has to be balance.

Fernandez is supposed to be that balance. Right now he is not.

ESPN’s John Hollinger talked with Blazers coaches who had some ideas about how to get Fernandez involved.

To an extent, Blazers insiders will tell you that their offense makes it difficult for Fernandez to put up big numbers, and it hides some of his contributions. He’s usually not a primary ball handler, and often his main responsibility is to run a curl to set up a post-up for Aldridge before retreating to the opposite corner. When he does get touches, most often they’re for an immediate post entry to Aldridge — a tricky type of play that he executes as well as or better than anyone else on the team.

That said, the general sentiment before Game 2 was that Fernandez should attack the basket a bit more and not settle to be a jump shooter. This was particularly true given that the Suns were guarding him with Nash, one of their most vulnerable defenders, as he gives up 3 inches to Fernandez and can’t hope to match him in the air. For Fernandez to finish without a field goal in that matchup borders on embarrassing.

Without Roy, the Blazers are going to need Fernandez to step up, to make an offensive contribution and force the Suns to adjust. He has the game to do it.

But his head and his confidence seem to be back in Spain.

Watch Kyle Lowry’s tip-pass alley-oop to Jimmy Butler in USA win

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There were a lot of ugly things for Team USA in its exhibition win over Venezuela — the 4-of-25 shooting from three comes to mind. There was more, it was not a strong offensive performance from Team USA.

But like usual, we can overwhelm teams with athleticism, and that means wins and highlights. Like Kyle Lowry‘s tip-pass alley-oop to Jimmy Butler.

Or DeMar DeRozan‘s late-game windmill dunk.

Kyrie Irving helps USA to ugly 80-45 win over Venezuela

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 26:  Kyrie Irving #10 of the United States Men's National Team looks to make a move with the ball against the China Men's National Team during the first half of a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at ORACLE Arena on July 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 13 points, DeMarcus Cousins powered a dominant performance in the paint, and the United States pulled away from Venezuela for an ugly 80-45 exhibition victory Friday night.

Coming off three straight flashy victories in Las Vegas and California, the United States shot 42.4 percent from the field and committed 13 turnovers in by far its worst offensive performance of its five-city tour in preparation for next week’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics. But the Americans used their superior athleticism to limit Venezuela to 24 percent shooting and owned the interior with a 54-29 rebounding advantage.

Returning to Chicago for the first time with the U.S. national team, Bulls star Jimmy Butler was cheered every time he was announced at the United Center. He had four points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes in his first start with Team USA.

Butler had one of the few electric plays for the U.S. when he ran out on the break and dunked Kyle Lowry‘s tip pass in the fourth quarter. DeAndre Jordan also had a vicious dunk off a lob from Kevin Durant, and DeMar DeRozan drew chants of “USA! USA!” with a windmill jam in the final minutes.

Klay Thompson also scored 13 points, and Cousins finished with seven points and 12 rebounds. Durant had nine points of 3-of-9 shooting.

John Cox scored 14 points for Venezuela, which will play the U.S. again on Aug. 8 in the Olympics.

Irving and company were greeted with a round of hearty cheers when they came out for pregame warmups. Fans lined the side of the court where the Americans had their layup line, and Anthony and Durant posed for pictures with a couple of eager boys.

Before Butler’s introduction drew the most applause of the night, former Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau received a thunderous ovation when he was announced with the U.S. coaching staff. Thibodeau took a year off after he was fired by the Bulls in May 2015, and then was hired as Minnesota’s coach and president of basketball operations in April.

The star power also extended to the sideline near the U.S. bench, where former Olympians Scottie Pippen and Dwyane Wade watched the action attentively. Wade was joined by his wife, actress Gabriel Union, hours after he held his introductory press conference for his new contract with his hometown Bulls.

Pippen played on the 1992 Dream Team that rolled to gold in Barcelona, and also helped the U.S. win gold in 1996. Wade was on the Americans’ gold medal-winning teams at each of the last two Olympics.

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

Monty Williams is back coaching with Team USA, ready to get back on NBA sidelines

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 18:  Draymond Green #14 of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team drives against assistant coach Monty Williams of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on July 18, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Watching Monty Williams back on the court at the USA basketball camp/practices in Las Vegas, you could see he was at home. He’s easily the best 44-year-old defender on the planet — he went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and the rest, was physical, and made them work for buckets. Then he’d instruct. He’s just a natural.

Back in February, Williams’ wife was killed in an auto accident. It devastated the devout family man, in ways it’s hard for us to understand who have never experienced it. He walked away from coaching the rest of the NBA season with the Thunder, and nobody questioned it for a second.

Now, after getting his feet wet with Team USA (where he is an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski), he told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman he is ready to get back on the sidelines.

“I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to; my kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back. I’m so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”

He is one of the better respected assistant coaches in the league, and a guy who will get another shot at a top spot someday. Soon. Can’t wait to see him back on the sidelines.

Ben Simmons says he plans to work on shooting, handles, getting stronger before camp

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons cheers from the bunch during the first half of the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.

Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.

He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.

New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.