When talking about the international NBA draft prospects, its impossible to ignore the consistency that Rudy Fernández has been showing day in and day out with DKV Joventut in the ACB League this season. Hes delivering an excellent campaign displayed with surprising maturity and all-around effort. Fernández currently ranks third in efficiency while playing for a playoff contending team in arguably the strongest domestic league in Europe.
LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS EASY FOR A YOUNG STAR...
After a strong 2003-2004 rookie season with a dramatic peak in a spectacular 2004 Kings Cup performance (earning him MVP honours), last season was rather difficult for Rudy. He had to deal with the huge expectations and hype he had amassed with his excellent play early on while at the same time battling with nagging injury problems. He entered the 2005 NBA draft and visited the States for training, private workouts and measurements in Chicago, but didnt get too much love from the pros and was forced to pull out when it became uncertain that he would be drafted high enough to satisfy his buyout.
The hype had definitely cooled off around him. Even this summer was rather strange for Rudy, for some moments looking like he should have been a major contributor for the Spanish National Team in the Eurobasket, but receiving little confidence from the coach in the form of scarce playing time.
This season has brought back the early Rudy; the hopes and the intrigue about a very bright future. And it was long overdue for us to give him some special attention to let the world know about his progress.
THE OPPORTUNITY ARISES... A DUEL WITH NAVARRO
We found the perfect scenario to watch him live while staying in Barcelona, a couple of days after finishing the LHospitalet Tournament. DKV Joventut would pay a visit to one of the main European powerhouses and also a historic rival, Winterthur F.C.Barcelona, with these being the two most important teams in Catalonia. Rudy in particular would have to deal with one of the most feared scorers in the Old Continent: Juan Carlos Navarro.
Navarro is going through the sweetest months of his career from an individual perspective. This summer, he fell a few points short of beating out Dirk Nowitzki as the best scorer at the Eurobasket in Belgrade, while in this current season he has delivered some astonishing offensive efforts, particularly in the Spanish ACB League.
Picked by the Washington Wizards in the second round of the 2002 draft, hes a very quick and an extremely skilled shooting guard, equally dangerous behind the three-point line and driving towards the basket looking for his trademark contested layups in traffic. Navarro is truly a nightmare for any defender, and certainly a difficult task for the young Rudy Fernández.
Everything started as expected, with Juan Carlos Navarro tirelessly running without the ball all over the court, particularly through screens as hes known for being one of the best off-the-ball players in all of Europe. Rudy did his best to try and keep up with him. This was the part of the game where Rudy suffered the most, as he found troubles a couple of times trying to avoid these screens, while allowing Navarro to get an easy assist and to score a three pointer.
However, while still in the first quarter, Rudy geared up to deliver three consecutive excellent passes; feeding a cutter, in transition and for a coast-to-coast assist that produced the first run by DKV Joventut, forcing Barcelona to ask for the first timeout. Joventuts dominance on the scoreboard would last all game long.
Barcelona is rather dependant on Navarros performances, but the Spanish scorer didnt enjoy his best day. Rudy was partially to blame for this. The only time Navarro attacked him, Rudy came away with a steal, showing his remarkable lateral quickness and producing a fastbreak finished with an alley-oop by Rudy himself. This happened in the third quarter, and actually put an end to his highlight reel calibre plays. What didnt stop was his extremely solid play on both ends of the floor, rarely committing any mistakes.
His perimeter shooting was the exception, though. Rudy forced a couple of ill-advised three-pointers that didnt fall. However, he perfectly netted an open one, showing his reliability when he enjoys a good situation. He was way more successful slashing, wisely taking advantage when the rival defense was out of position, finding his way to the basket and finishing in contested situations with some skilled layups.
The game finished with a 71-76 triumph by DKV Joventut. It was an important victory considering Barcelonas strength, the fact that it came on the road in the roaring Palau Blaugrana, the rivalry between them and also because it has virtually secured a coveted spot for Joventut in the Kings Cup, after missing out on the event last season. Rudy had 11 points (4/8 from the field, 2/2 from the line), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, no turnovers, no personal fouls committed and 3 forced, summarized in an efficiency rating of 21 points. Quite representative of his usual display.
PUTTING OUR THOUGHTS IN ORDER
Rudy gets regular scoring production (he has scored in double figures in all but one game in the ACB season) because he has diversified his offensive game. Unlike other European guard draft prospects (Marco Belinelli is the first who comes to mind,) he doesnt only settle for jumpers even if his shooting touch is excellent. He also attacks the basket whenever theres a good enough situation. On the other hand, he usually doesnt force penetrations, keeping his percentages high (at 46% from the field) and his turnover figures low (1.4 per game). Still, hes a good shooter, reliable when hes open out to the three-point arc. He can also create his own shot, although his accuracy still suffers a bit in the process.
Hes also one of the best passing wings you will find in the entire draft (averaging 2.4 Euro-assists in the ACB League). Rudy is an unselfish player with really nice court vision and good criteria to distribute the ball. However, and contrary to what you might have heard, hes no point guard and hardly will ever be one, even in the NBA if he makes it there. He would need to learn the position almost from scratch, while hes an excellent shooting guard already.
The picture wouldnt be complete if we didnt talk about his defense. He had been a rather solid defender ever since making his debut in the ACB League, but this season he has taken a step beyond in this department. With his lateral quickness, wingspan and intelligence in his effort, Rudy can challenge almost any shooting guard in Europe. In a weeks span, he faced two of the best scoring off-guards in Europe, Marcus Brown and Juan Carlos Navarro, doing a nice job on both. If this wasnt enough, hes also an active guy who is ready to help in the rebounding department.
You cant really ask for much more. Indeed his glaring flaws have a lot more to do with an eventual NBA future rather than the competition he faces now. Rudy is a bit undersized at 6-5, even if his wingspan makes partially up for it, and also too skinny. His thin frame wont likely allow him to add too much weight, but he should be able to get along well enough.
All in all, the way this season is going, Rudy has firmly established himself as first round material in this years draft.
AN NBA SCOUT GIVES HIS TAKE
One International NBA scout who is back in the States after 3 months of intense European scouting gave us his professional opinion: I got the chance to see Rudy Fernandez in the month of December and was extremely impressed by the ways hes improved. We always knew he was quick, had a great feel for the game, could really pass and could also create his own shot, but its impressive to see how that is all coming together for him to make him into a very complete player. His outside shot is much improved and he is always around the ball. You cant argue with his production against that type of competition in the ACB and ULEB Cup. He absolutely made the right move pulling out of the draft last year. Fernandez is a definite first round pick in June.
UNEXPECTEDLY... RICARD RUBIO!
Only two days after facing kids one or two years older than him in L'Hospitalet, the Spanish wunderkind was asked to take over the playmaking duties on one of the toughest courts in Europe. The thing is, anyone who has seen Rubio in action knows that he isn't a player that shies away from a challenge.
Ricky delivered what he was asked to. He avoided complications on the offensive end, feeding the wings to start running plays. Of course, he didn't hesitate to score, finishing a coast-to-coast play himself where he might have opted to pass the ball if he wasnt confident about putting in to the bucket. All in all he stayed pretty cool in the set offense.
Rubio had to matchup with a pair of Euroleague stars in former NBA player Shammond Williams and Italian national team guard Gianluca Basile.
Williams made Rubio lose his balance by attacking him in one play, getting an easy assist as a result. But Ricky answered back by blocking his shot from behind the arc. However, Williams got the last laugh by stealing the ball from him later on.
Basile, who is a very good defender with an excellent wingspan, was a tougher bite. Early on, Ricky pressed Gianluca while he was taking the ball up-court, almost getting a steal. On the same situation in the opposite direction, it was Ricky who provoked a defensive foul by Gianluca. Not a bad start for the kid. Nevertheless, Basile had his revenge in the second half, as he forced Rubio to foul him on a penetration, scored a three pointer on him and pressed him defensively while he was bringing the ball up the floor, resulting in a poor pass and ultimately a turnover for Joventut. It was at this moment exactly when coach Reneses thought it was about time to bench Rubio.
The 9 minutes Ricky spent on court resulted in a 15-12 run for DKV Joventut, scoring 2 points (1/2 from the field) with 2 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 turnover, 1 block, 1 personal foul committed and another received.
As we have told you in past occasions, Ricky usually holds his own against veterans despite his tender age. Perhaps the main factors for this are his quickness, ball-handling, solid defense and fast mind. All these combined allow Ricky to not be a liability on the court, and coach Reneses to put him on the floor without fearing a disaster for his team. Rubio stays cool and doesn't feel intimidated, even benefiting from situations where veteran rivals want to take quick and easy advantage of playing against a 15 year old, over-defending or over-attacking him.
Another different matter of discussion is whether it's the right time to start playing such a young boy against top European competition. He already plays in the junior category (U-18) despite still being a cadet (U-16) age-wise, and also plays U-20 tournaments periodically. Besides, there are a number of areas where he needs to significantly improve (shooting, game direction or left handles for example). The rumour says that there might be some other interests concerning Ricky's future besides what's strictly his development as a player. However, it's just speculation at the moment.