Player of the Week: Rudy Fernandez
That's why there werent many possibilities of being wrong this time: Rudy Fernandez has been head and shoulders the best youngster in the Euroleague, and he has been rightfully rewarded with the Euroleague Rising Star Trophy. This is the third edition of this award, and previous winners were Erazem Lorbek and Andrea Bargnani, both deservedly, although also not nearly such clear-cut picks, even to the point of being questionable selections.
To feed the intrigue, Rudy continued with his franchise-player impersonation in the ACB League. Just once has he missed the 9-point mark in the domestic competition, and this past week he just recorded his third back-to-back +20-point performance. Actually, hes going through a nice run, as hes averaging 23 points in the last four games.
The week started against arch-rivals F.C.Barcelona, the hottest team in the second half of the ACB regular season. Joventut trailed for virtually the entire game, with gross differences in the first half, but they fought their way back, only to lose it by 5 points. Rudy was part of that comeback, with a superb fourth quarter and plenty of activity throughout the game. He surely suffered on defense against Juan Carlos Navarro in the first quarter (actually, the entire Joventut team did, which is logical when we talk about arguably the best scorer in Europe), but Rudy gave some serious headaches to Barcelonas defense himself, finishing with 20 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals.
[c]Rudy has become a star in his own right on the Old Continent Photo: Euroleague[/c]
It's stunning to see how he emerges all over the floor, perfectly combining the notable skill-set of a talented player and the high intensity of a hard-working guy. On one hand, hes a very active presence on the offensive end, moving without the ball, asking for it, but rarely hogging it, staying aggressive to drive if he sees a good chance, running the court, feeding the open man, using his long-range stroke to get into a scoring flow, and usually taking good decisions (he can eventually become a bit anxious if his shots arent falling). On the other hand, rebounds, loose balls, passing lanes, he prowls for any chance to gain a possession for his team. Hes a very decent defender, even if Navarro made him pay for his struggles going though screens, and will surely step up as soon as he goes to the next level.
Rudy closed the week with a gross victory against the playoff team Gran Canaria Grupo Dunas. With 24 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals, he became again the leader of Joventut. Only he struggled a little bit with his three-point shot (actually, he achieved a very poor 3/14 during the week).
The Spanish shooting guard screams first-round any time you look at him. Hes still skinny and not the greatest player creating his own shot, and probably will never become an offensive reference in a NBA team, but hes a very useful guy who brings many positive things to the table.
Taking a Long Look at
Saúl is a very well built player, showing a great frame and already notable strength to go along with the aforementioned athleticism, which certainly makes up for his relative lack of size. Hes a rather fluid guy in terms of physical expression. Skill wise, hes a work in progress, but with some significant results. He enjoys three-point range, with increasingly solid accuracy in spot-up situations. He can go for the mid-range jumper, even in off the dribble fashion, although he needs to gain consistency here. Surely intriguing is his ability to beat his match-up off the dribble. Although showing improvable ball-handling skills, hes talented enough to get by his defenders going both ways, displaying a nice first step and long strides while slashing to the basket. Blanco doesnt seem very confident finishing around the rim against opposition, which is something he should seriously work on; given his athleticism, he should learn to take advantage of his strong body to finish creatively with layups off contact and even gain some and-one plays in the process.
[c]Saul Blanco taking part in a slam-dunk contest early this season[/c]
Anyway, when Saúl drives towards the basket, his first option is dish the ball. Fortunately, hes a very nice passer, as he easily finds his open teammates and enjoys a quick mind to take decisions, therefore becoming a sort of catalyst (up to a certain degree) of his teams offensive game. Everything is in place for Blanco to play good defense, and actually he does a fine job in this department, even if his lateral quickness doesnt always keep up with his overall athleticism.
Although he was part of the Spanish National Teams in youth categories, Blanco never really stood out that much in order to draw serious attention. He spent three years in Siglo XXI (a national basketball school in the line of the French INSEP that also produced the likes of Fran Vazquez or Sergio Rodríguez), and a couple of seasons in the LEB, the Spanish second division.
This is the second season in the top Spanish competition for Saúl, but injuries and lack of playing time hurt his consistency. March meant a turning point for him, particularly a game against Polaris World Murcia, where he scored 20 points with excellent percentages (5/6 from the three-point land). Prior to that game, Saul had achieved a combined 1/7 shooting behind the arc in 16 games of the regular season; since then, he credits a terrific 12/21 (57%) in just 8 games, although those are mostly open static shots. In that very same span, he averages 10 points, 1.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists (5.5 in the last 2 games), always staying on the court for over 20 minutes per game.
These are not spectacular numbers, and to be selected in the draft doesnt look a realistic option at this point. Saúl needs to become more of an offensive force, showing more aggressiveness while attacking the rim and improving his versatility and accuracy while shooting the ball. Still he would be a very interesting player to showcase in a setting like the Treviso EuroCamp, where he might be able to turn some heads.
State of the Prospect: Whos Hot
We also had the chance to watch Duports previous career high, a 15-point effort against Gravelines that happened one month ago. This time he probably had a bigger impact on the defensive end, particularly during his first minutes on court; despite being regularly outmuscled or sometimes shying away from stepping in the way of penetrating guards (he tends to settle for elevating to challenge shots instead of simply rotating), his great length pretty much stopped the bleeding his team was suffering from the paint early into the game. Offensively, he stuck to off-the-ball moves, setting picks and rolling inside or just staying alert to take advantage of any defensive rotation to receive on the paint. Only once was he fed in the low post, where he nicely found the way to the basket. Nothing really very different from what we reported in previous roundups, but another example of Duports ability to step up as a useful contributor for his team right away.
State of the Prospect: Whos Not