On the heels of Jason Quick's stories about Nate McMillan's impressions of Rudy Fernandez (see here, here and here) I thought it might be interesting for you superfans out there to read what Mike Born, our Director of NBA Scouting, had to say about Rudy, along with his thoughts on Team USA.
Born was in Beijing for the majority of the tournament, seeing 20 of the 22 games live. What's more, Mike has probably seen Rudy play in person as many times as anyone on this side of the pond, so I'd consider him the foremost Fernandez authority in the United States. No offense Coach.
Here's what he had to say.
Center Court: What were your general thoughts on the quality of play in the Olympics?
Mike Born: I think the first thing is -- there were 12 teams over there -- I’ve seen the international teams play before like Greece, Lithuanian, Russia and it’s really high-level basketball. The teams really do a good job of passing the ball, really playing unselfish. I think one of the biggest things you notice is that all the players from the point guards to the centers -- and this is just European basketball in general -- are all very skilled. They can all pass it. They can all handle it. They can all shoot it. Obviously the guards shoot it better than the centers, but most of the centers are pretty capable of scoring the ball from the perimeter. So it’s basically like you have five real versatile players that are able to do things on both ends of the floor.
I really enjoy how the international teams play, especially the really good ones. They really play the right way. Again, especially when you talk about teams like Lithuania, Russia, Greece -- the teams that are real strong over there. Spain obviously is another real good team in that regard. Just really fun basketball to watch.
Center Court: How did you think Team USA performed?
Mike Born: They were really good. I saw them play four times live. I saw three preliminary games. So I saw Game 2, Game 4 and Game 5 of the prelims and then I saw the quarterfinals, and yeah, they played at a really high level. You could tell that they were a dominate team when it came to the size and athleticism.
They did a couple of things. One, I really felt like they guarded well. I know that was kind of their big push this year: really trying to get up into people and really trying to pressure them.
And I think the second thing they did; I thought they really did a good job of playing unselfish and guy’s kind of buying into maybe a little different role than they have during the NBA season. I think they had some spurts where they kind of regressed a little bit back into holding the ball. I think all of those guys on Team USA are all very capable and confident players and I think every now and then they kind of get into the mindset that, “I’m playing against a particular player and I know I can take this guy one-on-one and basically just beat him on my own.” So I think you got into that a little bit in spurts sometimes but it just kind of seemed like they eventually worked their way back into playing good team basketball, really trying to move the ball. I think overall they were really, really good. I thought they really had a strong tournament and was really happy to see them win the gold.
Center Court: So the question on everyone wants to know: What did you think of Rudy?
Mike Born: I think, when you look at the games -- again, I saw four games live and I did see the semis and finals on TV back in the states -- I saw him six times total. His last game against Team USA in the championship was his best game. When you look at what he did, 22 points in 17 minutes, the game that it was, Team USA playing at their highest level and for him to perform like he did, obviously we were very excited for him to play that well and excited for Team USA to still win the game.
All the games leading up to that, I felt like he played pretty well in every game. He had some games -- I think it was against Angola -- he played 15 minutes and had 9 points, but he was pretty efficient in all the games. I think that’s the thing that, for me, I was pretty happy about. He played pretty efficient in the four games plus the two I saw back here. So in the six games I saw, he had one game where he didn’t play maybe as well as I hoped, but the other five he was pretty good. He played pretty good against Team USA the first time and obviously he was really good in the championship game.
He’s going to be able to provide some things for our team that people are really going to be excited to watch. I know as a management team and I know Coach Nate is fired up to see him and how he’s progressed this season. He’ll be able to bring some nice things to our team. He’s a really good passer. Obviously he’s a pretty good scorer. He plays real unselfish and I think defensively he more than held his own against some pretty good players over there.
He’s 23. He’s got some things he definitely needs to continue to work on to help us and even become a better player, but I think he knows that. That’s part of the reason he wants to come to the NBA: to be challenged and be pushed. Hopefully he can be a big component of what we’re trying to do moving forward.
Center Court: Elaborate on a few of the things he could continue to work on.
Mike Born: I think continuing to get stronger is one. He’s got a thin build and I don’t think he’s ever going to be a player that’s going to overpower anybody, but that’s also part of what makes him successful is that he’s a slasher. He’s a guy that wants to quick curl to the basket. He’s a runner in transition where he can kind of knife in between lanes that maybe a bigger player couldn’t get into. I think just continuing to mature and get stronger. He doesn’t need to come in and add 15 pounds for next year. He needs to come in and get on our weight program and continue to grow stronger.
Rudy’s a good shooter right now. I think he shot 40% from the three-point line in the Olympics over eight games. If you look at what he shot this last year I think he was close to 50% from the field, over 40% from the three-point line and over 90% from the free-throw line, so he’s more than capable, obviously, of being a really, really good shooter. But if he can become a stone-cold, knockdown perimeter shooter it’s just going to make him that much tougher because when you’re playing guys like that you can’t give them open looks so you end up really trying to get out on those guys and that really falls into allowing him to attack the basket, which is something he does really well.
There are a few other things he can continue to clean up on. I think maybe the third thing would be defensively. Just getting with Nate and getting with our team and try to clean up a few things he does. He tends to maybe stab a little bit and gamble a little too much at times. But again, I think that’s stuff that Coach McMillan and the staff will kind of help him with. Again, he’s got a lot of things that can really help up this season.
Center Court: You mentioned his passing. What makes him a good passer? What skills does he have that allows him to initiate some of those exciting assists?
Mike Born: I think its two things. Actually, three things.
One is he’s a good passer. Two is he’s got a really high basketball IQ. And I think he sees things on the floor; he understands where players are going to move to, either towards the basket or away from the basket. He understands defensively where people are at. Being a good passer isn’t just about knowing where your guys are at, it’s also understanding how defenses are going to play the position. If you see a certain guy rotate then maybe a guy that is diving to the basket then you might know that another guy is going to fill his spot. If you see two defenders underneath the basket then you know that guy on top is there so he’s able to find that guy and I think, again, that just comes from his knowledge of the game.
I think the third thing that you see with really good passers -- Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, John Stockton, some of those guys -- is their confidence and their ability to make a pass that an average person would look at and be like “How does he even think about throwing that ball?” Jason Kidd -- I just remember following Jason Kidd the last couple of years really closely -- he throws balls out there sometimes, you can’t believe that he would even take a chance throwing that ball and it just lands right on the money to a guy. I think you have to have confidence in your ability to complete a pass because you don’t want to be turning the ball over all the time. So I think it’s a combination of all those things. I definitely think his passing is one of his strengths that going to help us and also make him a guy that fans are going to appreciate and like. But I also think it’s going to be something where the guys are really going to enjoy playing with him because he’s a good passer and he plays very unselfish as well.
Center Court: A lot of people were impressed by Rudy’s fearlessness against guys like Kobe, LeBron, Dwight Howard. Did you see anything in that game that you hadn’t seen before?
Mike Born: Not really. If you think about what he’s done, he just turned 23, he’s playing at the highest level of basketball in Europe for the last five years. It’s one of those things were you’re looking at him, you say he’s 23 but he’s playing against grown men.
When he was 20, 21, 22 years old when typically he would be in college in the United States playing against a bunch of people his own age, but he’s playing in Europe, he’s in there as a 21, 22 year old player playing against Diamantidis and Papaloukas from Greece, playing against Jasikevicius. So he’s playing against guys who are 30-plus years old at the age of a sophomore or junior in college. So I think there’s carryover from that experience because I think what experiences does is it gives you confidence that you have the ability to perform against those types of players. Rudy’s played the last four or five years at the international level, the highest level. If it’s the World Championships or the Olympics or whatever, he’s played against those guys. So I think the fear factor is different for him.
We look at Rudy and we look at him coming to the NBA next year, we definitely know there’s going to be an adjustment period for him just because he’ll be playing against guys in the NBA every night. But I also think when you look at him performing against people in the NBA, he’s played against those types of players all the time. So that fear factor, that intimidation factor isn’t there for him like it might be for some other players his age that are just coming into the NBA.
Center Court: What was your take away from Beijing? What’s going to stick with you?
Mike Born: Just being at the Olympics was an awesome experience. I saw 20 games in four days. They played six games a day in the prelims with a day off in between, so there was a chance to see 22 games and I saw 20 of them.
I love the international play and their style, their unselfishness. It was also terrific watching Team USA and the talent we had on the floor there, how hard they played and how unselfish they played. Again, just the bond that those guys had. So from the basketball standpoint it was great.
Just being over there. It was the first time I’ve been to the Olympics. Beijing is a huge city but it was a first-class deal in the eight days I was there. I had a chance to go see Michael Phelps win his eighth gold. I had a chance to go to the Bird’s Nest and watch some track and field. I got to see the Great Wall of China. Just overall the experience for me was fabulous. The Chinese people were great and I thought they did a great job of running the event.