Remember 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.