Thursday, November 20, 2008

Spanish not-so-surprise

John Hollinger of (who has made quite a few appearances in the blog over the last few days) runs down the Top 15 surprises of the young NBA season. The play of our boy Rudy "I don't need a nickname" Fernandez comes in at lucky number 13.
OK, most folks aren't surprised by the idea that Fernandez can play, not after he lit up the U.S. squad in the second half of that epic gold-medal match in Beijing. But few expected this much this soon. Fernandez is fifth among rookies in PER at 19.74 and has played far more minutes than the four men ahead of him on the list.

Additionally, he has taken to the longer NBA 3-point distance much more readily than most European imports have. Fernandez is hitting 44.3 percent from downtown, and he's not just a long-range specialist, either. He has shown the athleticism to score in the paint and draw fouls, and he's at 94.4 percent from the line.

Although it remains to be seen whether his percentages can stay this freakishly high in the long term, Fernandez is likely to make other improvements as he acclimates, and if he does, he'll be one of the top dogs in the rookie of the year hunt.
Hollinger says he's surprised by Rudy producing "this much this soon" but I'm not. I knew it was coming.

The reason that pundits like Hollinger are astounded by how good Fernandez has been seems to boil down to Manu Ginobili. Hollinger implied during a chat this preseason that there was simply no way Fernandez could be better than Ginobili in his first season. "Down play your expectations," they'd say, because it's ludicrous to think Fernandez could average better than the 7.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2 assists that Manu averaged his rookie season.

At the time, I remembered thinking to myself, "Why can't Rudy's rookie season be more successful than Manu's?" Rudy was just as experienced on the international stage, a higher draft pick, and joined a team not nearly as veteran or successful as the '02-'03 Spurs. If anything, I'd be surprised if Rudy didn't have a better rookie campaign than Manu.

I'm not arguing that Rudy will or won't be the player that Manu is, but it's foolish to define Fernandez's ceiling based on that of Ginobili's. Sure they're both thin, hot-shooting swingmen who made their bones in Europe, but so what? That makes them similar, but not the same, and certainly not bounded by what the other did.

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