Sergio Rodríguez is an off-the-charts basketball talent; one of just a few players capable of surprising even the most knowledgeable minds in the game with his moves. A very creative playmaker, he has a superb ability to generate offense, whether for himself or for his teammates, based on an outstanding skill set.
Not a superb athlete, nor a physical freak, Sergio fills the bill for the basic tools required to carry his game to the next level. At 6-3, he has good size to handle the position while showing a nice enough frame for a point guard. Even if theres still significant work to do, his body development in the past few years has been noticeable, particularly during the previous season. He wont blow anybody with his athleticism, but hes a fairly quick guy and he lets his skills do the rest.
As you can see, there is nothing particularly special regarding his physical profile; what really sets him apart from virtually every other youngster is his skill set. To start with, Sergio is a terrific ball-handler. More in the line to what we usually see in American playmakers, he dominates the ball. High dribble, low dribble, crossover, behind-the-back dribble, hes mastered every single variant at a young age with both hands. But hes not an exhibitionist; its only a matter of gaining advantages through this skill. Hes really quick driving the ball, and creative in order to get to where he wants.
With these credentials, its very hard to stop him whenever to decides to step into the lane. Hes a great one-on-one player. Even if hes not that explosive, he has a nice first step, terrific footwork, and the ability to easily change gears. Predictable is not a word in Sergios dictionary, although its true that he tends to go right looking the way for the basket. One of his patented moves is, once in motion, faking going right and then crossing the ball and slashing the other way right by his defender, a move that is very difficult to contest. Sergio also shows nice ability finishing his slashing moves. Although he might have his shot blocked from time to time, particularly when hes trying to drive past too many rivals, he usually finds the way to leave the layup, using the glass if necessary. He also has an effective short off-the-dribble jumpshot that he can release even over players that are significantly taller than him.
Perhaps the most spectacular among his skills, Sergio is a consummate passer. Enjoying outstanding court vision, its in those slashing situations where he probably shines the most. Whenever he forces a defensive rotation, he has the ability to find the open man, intelligently seeing the floor and utilizing the opposite side of the floor for a quick reverse to get the defense off-balance. Hes automatic in pick and roll plays, showing perfect timing to distribute the ball, or finishing himself if the defenders opt not to switch. Its needless to say how helpful this will be in the NBA, where theres more emphasis on individual defenses rather than team defenses. When Sergio is on the court, its not rare to see a wing cutting by the baseline while the pick and roll takes all the attention, and to be perfectly fed by Rodríguez.
Sergio is not only a drive and dish player; he can distribute from the perimeter, rewarding strong off the ball movement, not only for the players going outside looking for an open look from the three-point line, but also being able to deliver difficult entry passes on sharp cuts to the basket. Like weve said, hes not an exhibitionist, and you wont see him performing a fancy pass just for the sake of doing it. He does like to give the ball up with a no-look pass, but on one hand it helps to create confusion for the defense, and on the other, for him its as easy and natural as breathing. He can use both hands or just one in the delivery (usually the right), while he elegantly takes advantage of the bounce pass when he finds the opportunity. Behind-the-back passes or other things of that nature is not the most common thing to see him do; only when the situation requires it. Hes perhaps even a better passer in transition. He never gives up the chance of a full-court pass if it will create an advantage for his team. If he takes the ball up-court on a fastbreak, he shows excellent decision making looking for the best option, whether feeding the running wings, the trailer coming behind him or finishing himself.
Despite his tremendous passing ability, Sergio is not necessarily a pure pass-first point guard, even if his shooting struggles this season have sometimes driven him that way. He likes to score as much as the next guy. Besides his ability to score while slashing to the basket, hes not a bad off the dribble shooter at all, even with International three-point range. He shows nice confidence and quick mechanics releasing his jumpers, and can get very hot at times from the perimeter, although he hasnt done it regularly this season. He also shows a remarkable ability shooting in front of bigger rivals near the basket, managing to stay in the air and release the ball over them.
Sergio is a player that loves the up-tempo pace. He rarely wastes a chance to score two quick and easy points. While this tendency might result (indeed, frequently results) in excessively rushing, hes learning to control the rhythm of the game better. Still running whenever he thinks it can benefit his team, hes now more aware of when the team needs to take a break, run down the shot-clock and involve other players in major creating roles. Hes a player who tends to absorb a huge chunk of the offensive game, a troubling issue for a youngster playing pros; but hes now more comfortable sharing the ball, and more confident making decisions. He keeps taking risks, but shows better timing doing it.
Sergio might sometimes produce the wrong impression, the feeling that hes out of control, and that hes not that smart on the court. But hes a highly intelligent player who only needs to find confidence and his rhythm playing the game in order to be effective. Hes absolutely nuts about basketball, which is easy to tell watching him play. Indeed hes a guy who loves big games, the decisive moments, and who never hides when the ball burns for other players in clutch situations. Hes a winner who already has an impressive resume for a player so young, having enjoyed starting status in the Euroleague and ACB League with Adecco Estudiantes, being called up to the Spanish National Team, or earning MVP honors in the European Junior Championships while leading Spain to the gold. Thats valuable experience at the most demanding settings of international basketball.
At this point, were just starting to scratch the surface on what Sergio can become as a player. He has still a lot of potential left to be fulfilled, showing flaws that he should be able to fix as he matures and keeps working on his game.
(April 2004, Juan Antonio Hinojo)
He's a point guard of, officially, 6 feet 3 inches tall, although he might actually be an inch shorter. He played for 3 years in the Federación Siglo XXI center; an academy in the mold of the French ones where Tony Parker was brought up. This year he signed with Estudiantes, and he doesn't play with the junior team, where he should be playing according to his age, although he will be playing in the Spanish Junior Championships. He also plays in the EBA team. The EBA is a sort of a fourth division league in Spain, where veteran and young players play. The level is not too good, but for a kid still 18 years old is not bad. Gasol and many other Spanish prospects played there before joining the ACB (Spanish first division) teams. On this EBA team he plays along with other Spanish prospects such as Jan Martín, Josep Mestres and Adrián García.
He's an absolutely spectacular player to watch. He has many of the characteristics of Raul López, handles the ball better than anybody in the ACB, with both hands as well, and he's very flexible and agile. His one advantage over Raul López, who I followed quite a bit when he was Sergio's age: he's much more of a scorer. Just so you have some context, as a Junior player Raul was actually considered a better player than Tony Parker, and along with Juan Carlos Navarro led the Spanish Junior Team to the gold medal in the World Championships and the European Championships. I've read in some places about comparisons being made with Navarro, to me he only resembles him in his fearlessness and pentration ability. Like Navarro he has the willingness to practically create his own shot going 1 on 5. But other then that his technical level is superior to Navarro's, especially his handles and passing ability. He's a pure point: he gets a lot of assists and controls the team around him. Navarro's assists also used to come more from dishing the ball off after or while penetrating, which is not bad at all, he is just not as pure of a point.
Rodríguez has very good shooting mechanics coupled with great quickness, but for whatever reason his shooting percentages are not very high from the perimeter. When he shoots the ball you think he will hit it, simply because of how smooth his form is, but then you see that his percentages are not exactly sharpshooter-esque. Other then that, he's reliable from the mid-range area, and I think he will eventually be a good shooter, like Raul López turned out to be. Physically he's very fast and explosive, like Raul López, but taller and with slightly superior leaping ability.
His physical characteristics, especially his agility, make him an ideal point guard. The combination he possesses of physical tools combined with his unbelievable handles, superior even to Lopez's, along with his enormous repertoire of technical skills to finish in the most difficult of situations, go a long way in confirming that. His penetrations to the basket, ability to change gears in the blink of an eye, and fantastic creativity make a tremendous scorer out of him. His passing game is also on par with the rest of his game: he has good execution and the technical ability to perfect a large array of passes, both from a static position and in transition. I think his court vision is superior to Lopez's (I always use Raul as a comparison to Sergio because of their position on the court and the fact that Lopez is the only Spanish perimeter player in the NBA). Rodríguez is probably the best Spanish passer I've seen at the youth level. I say Spanish because Panchi Barrera, from Uruguay, is the best passer I've seen at this level.
Sergio suffers a few very significant weaknesses that seriously question his ability to crack into many NBA-team rotations in the short-term future.
Defense has never been one of his virtues, but he has at least made significant strides in the last few years. The competition level hes facing in the ACB League has forced him to improve his effort: two years ago in the LHospitalet Tournament he was defending only with by anticipating, and now you can see the willingness of putting in the effort to do a decent job. Since arriving in the top Spanish league last season, he has showed a nice attitude denying the ball to his matchup, but he has particularly improved defending on the ball. Still, he isnt a reliable defender in Europe, let alone for NBA standards.
Indeed he will never be a great defender for two main reasons. First, although he will work not to become a serious defensive liability for his team in the future, he doesnt have a defensive mentality. His efforts are calculated, and he rarely goes beyond the essentials, lacking a bit of aggressiveness. As an example, he very quickly gives up chasing a rival on the fastbreak. Second, hes not that gifted physically, not enjoying the most exuberant legs. His lateral quickness is average at this point, although its currently improving. As is usual with players his age, he suffers getting through screens, and he also isnt always focused on his defensive work. On the other hand, he reads the passing lanes quite well and is a smart guy who comes away with a few steals on some occasions.
Sergio has also raised serious concerns about his shooting. He has never been very consistent, but he could frequently get streaky with his jumper (lets remember that he led Spain to the European Junior Championships in 2004 by shooting at a 50% clip). Curiously, he has always felt much more comfortable (and shown better accuracy) shooting off the dribble rather than in static fashion, even when it comes to firing from the three-point line. Anyway, his general inconsistency knocking down his perimeter shots has made him reluctant to try for a bigger role from behind the arc this season. It seems that his improved decision making at some point of the campaign came along with more careful shot selection, indeed probably too careful, resulting in a certain lack of confidence that was feeding his inconsistency.
Still, Sergio has lately caught up in this department, apparently having found his confidence again and his willingness to fire from all over the court. We will likely see him struggling again at some degree sooner or later, though. But these episodes should tend to disappear as he grows as a player. He doesnt have the most polished mechanics, but they are not terrible either. He likely wont make a living as a pure shooter from behind the NBA 3-point line, but once his confidence is back and he adds polish in practice, he should be fine.
The third big concern about Sergio is his decision making, his ability to effectively run the teams offense. Hes a player who takes significantly more risks than your average point guard, while absorbing a huge share of the offensive flow. He also loves the up-tempo playing style, which can eventually increase the turnover figures and make the team lose control of the game. Indeed, Sergio commits too many turnovers while running the point.
Nevertheless, this shouldnt be considered a big problem for Sergios game in the mid term. Were talking about a smart player who is still adapting to top-level basketball. Indeed he has made noticeable improvements during this season. Hes learning to share the ball better, to be a little bit more patient, letting the game come to him instead of permanently settling for abusing his skills. For Sergio, basketball is so easy that he has problems recognizing when he should stop looking actively for a basket or the definitive pass, and letting his teammates take some decisions instead. This is no junior stage where hes substantially better than any of his teammates; Estudiantes is a playoff-caliber team in the top European domestic league and features quality players who also want to have a share of the ball. Not to mention what he will face in a NBA team. Sergio needs to involve his teammates in the offensive game beyond dominating in a way that inflates his assists. So its good news to see him doing it more actively at this point, and feeling rather comfortable in the process.
However, chances are he will always be a relatively high-turnover producer. His eagerness for playing at a fast pace and looking for assists will cost him in the form of throwing away possessions. But this isnt necessarily bad for the team. Its a calculated risk where the reward comes in the form of easy baskets, and probably easier to put in practice in the NBA, with more spaces, better athletes, the defensive three second rule and a different kind of pressure coming from the audience.
Beyond these three areas, theres not much more to say about him. Perhaps just to mention that he rarely uses his left hand finishing around the basket. And while its always a limitation not to use both hands, in Sergios case it barely comes back to haunt him. Hes very skilled using his right in different situations, with awesome coordination to use his footwork in different ways while going towards the basket and leave the layup, so hes not giving more chances to get it blocked than he would using his left.
(April 2004, Juan Antonio Hinojo)
The main one is his defense. In the L'Hospitalet tournament he didn't defend anything, even showing some pure apathy sometimes. But that didn't stop him from coming up with 7 steals against the Junior Barcelona team. Those were offensive steals, though, the kind that once you get you are guaranteed of scoring two points, and I think that's what motivated him. In Siglo XXI (the youth academy) he did defend at a good level, which leads me to believe that he has the tools to be a good defender, with his good lateral defensive movement and his ability to avoid screens.
As noted above, Rodríguez needs to become a better outside shooter if he is to make it in the NBA. A Spanish ACB fan recently pointed out to me that he almost always puts the ball on the floor before shooting, and I think that's absolutely true: he never really receives and shoots, he always dribbles first. That's both an advantage and a disadvantage: to create your shot off the dribble is much more difficult as it requires a lot more skill, and he has perfected this technique. But there are times when if you have the space, you must square up your shoulders and shoot as quickly as possible. So he might be complicating things more then necessary. But this is a fixable weakness, and I think its cause is closer to an unconscious movement (he's very used to create his own shot) than to a technical defect, because the second kind of shot (the stationary one) is much easier and it's also the more conventional one.
Something that might be holding him back is the fact that he's so far superior to the rest of the Spanish point guards his age, I sometimes think he needs a great rival to motivate him. I've seen Rudy Fernandez in a lot in youth competitions, and because he was always the best shooting guard on the floor he had to force things against some rivals and it wasn't impossible to stop him, or better said, to contain him more or less. But the difference Sergio has is vast, it's just humiliating how easily he beats his rivals, he just does with them whatever he wants. Every rival player looks down after facing him; you can feel that they just want to finish the nightmare of defending him as soon as possible.
Sergio Rodríguez was one of the recruits of the eventually frustrated project called Siglo XXI, a basketball school promoted by the Spanish Federation and some Spanish regions in the mold of the very successful French INSEP, which allow kids to combine studies and intense basketball practice. A controversial project, some people consider them the best talent developers in the last years (our collaborator Juan Antonio Hinojo among them), while other voices blame them for spoiling talented kids. A number of reasons, including competition with ACB teams to recruit youngsters or disagreements between different public organizations put an end to it. Sergio spent three seasons there, from 2000 to 2003, years for which he always has good words.
Rodríguez signed with Adecco Estudiantes in 2003, spending his first season there playing for the second team in the EBA League (fourth Spanish division), averaging 13.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.6 turnovers in 25 minutes per game. He also had time to shine in the LHospitalet Tournament, having the chance to play against Josh Smith and Rajon Rondos Oak Hill Academy. He had 15 points and 5 assists there, although his impact on the game went far beyond those stats, being an incredibly creative force in the offense for his team. He also played in the 2004 Hoop Summit as Roko-Leni Ukics backup (5 points and 1 assist in 14 minutes), and the Albert Schweitzer Tournament in Mannheim, leading Spain to third place while averaging 15 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5 assists and 4.4 turnovers. He even made his debut in the ACB League at the end of that season, in the fifth and last game of the Finals, although everything was decided by then. He only played a couple of minutes, but he had time to score a basket in transition.
Sergios name started to sound familiar around that time, especially on DraftExpress, but it wasnt until the European Junior Championships in Zaragoza in the summer of 2004 where he made a huge splash on the basketball scene with an incredible performance that took Spain to an unexpected gold medal. He averaged 19 points, 4.6 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 2.1 steals and 6.3 turnovers, while shooting 50% from the three-point line. Of course, he earned MVP honors for his efforts.
Sergio went from playing in fourth division to splitting minutes with starter Nacho Azofra in the Euroleague during the 2004/05 season. In his debut season in the top league in the world outside the NBA, he averaged 6.4 points, 2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.5 turnovers. In the domestic ACB League, he settled for 8.5 points, 3.2 assists and 2.1 turnovers. It was a good rookie season, finished in strong fashion, as he was a key factor in his teams quarterfinal victory over FC Barcelona. Indeed, he earned a spot in the senior Spanish National Team for the 2005 Eurobasket.
Right before that, Sergio played in the U-20 European Championships, although it wasnt a good experience for him. Arriving a few days before the competition started, he couldnt mesh with his teammates, and Spain finished a disappointing ninth. Sergio averaged 11.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 6 turnovers. Things didnt go better with the vets, as Sergio barely entered the court in the Eurobasket.
The bad streak followed during the beginning of the 2005/06 season in the ACB League, with Sergio showing painful inconsistency and Adecco Estudiantes collapsing with consecutive losses. Sophomore seasons are always difficult for young players who impress in their debut. Expectations are high and they start feeling the pressure. That bad start affected their performance in the ULEB Cup, failing to advance past the regular season, where Sergio only averaged 5.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 3.1 turnovers in almost 20 minutes per game.
However, somewhere during the season, first the team and then Sergio, they went back to their old selves, sneaking into the ACB playoffs with a very strong final rush. Rodríguez has just finished the regular season, averaging 9.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 3.1 turnovers in 23 minutes per game. In the last 10 games, he improved to 12.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 3.6 turnovers in almost 28 minutes per game, completely taking over the point guard position. He also impressed mightily in the first round of the ACB playoffs.
(April 2004, Juan Antonio Hinojo)
I saw the game against Oak Hill (Josh Smith's school amongst many many others- the #1 high school in America) and he absolutely held his own. Rajon Rondo scored 55 points, but Sergio was never defending him. He was defending KC Rivers, who was playing as a SG [Rivers scored 22 points on 7/13 from the field, 6/9 for 3's]. Rajon Rondo did defend Sergio, and the Spaniard beat him one on one every time. This game was to me a confirmation of Sergio's status as a young superstar. No one from his team (Estudiantes) was capable of beating his defender one on one. The Americans quick hands were just too tough for them, and they were afraid to dribble. At best, they dribbled a little just to take a couple of steps but never shaking loose of their defender. They never broke the defense to force rotations and create open shots for others. So from the fifth minute of the game, Estudiantes' coach understood that it was impossible for the rest of the players to beat thier defenders with their static offense, and decided that every Estudiantes play should start with Sergio beating his defender (not with the typical pass to a wing player). The result: he had to play an unbelieveable amount of one on one basketball, perhaps 80 times, and he almost always succeeded. To me, just the simple fact of thinking about the mental and physical challenge of having the duty to break and create on every single play is exhausting in itself. The boy played 40 minutes and he did it on almost every possession. From that point (5th minute), Estudiantes held it's own against Oak Hill: Sergio started splitting the defense and passing the ball wonderfully. The passes would sometimes be to a perimeter player, who then had a good amount of space from his defender who was recovering his position from rotating. In these situations it was possible for the Estudiantes players to beat their matchups by attacking the basket when they were unbalanced coming back from the help, so they could force more helps from other players. Sergio wreaked havoc, and could have dished out about 20 assists to the paint players. The problem was: Estudiantes' big men are all under 6-7, and very unpolished, so they got blocked every time they went up because they were trying to pump-fake and just generally shooting with fear. Had his teammates been better, capable of dunking from a static position under the rim if they received the ball alone (like Josh Smith was doing) he would have got 20 or 25 assists, and I'm not exaggerating. Everything Estudiantes did started with him. The few plays that (in order to get some rest) he passed the ball without breaking the defense, ended with a turnover, a block or an airball. Estudianes, with Sergio and Carlos Suárez aside, is a pretty poor team. Somehow they managed to get to halftime down by just 2 points, after actually leading after the first quarter. They were only down by 12 after the third, but ended up losing by 36. For Oak Hill this was their only game in Spain that they actually had to break a sweat to win. Estudiantes with Sergio Rodríguez was the only team that played them to win, not to lose by as few points as possible. The entire game Rodríguez was playing with a huge amount of flair- behind the back passes, using screens to throw split passes between two defenders (ala Ginobili), dribbling between his legs and then taking the ball with the same hand and then behind the back... Rodríguez wanted to prove to Josh Smith, Rajon Rondo and the rest of the fantastic Oak Hill team that he was one of them.
In an unexpected move, Sergio declared himself eligible for the 2006 draft. He might be only testing the waters, but theres a scarcity of point guards this year, and this anyway doesnt seem to be the strongest draft class around. Sergio himself is impressing with his play as of late, so he might decide to stay in in the end. His buyout is reportedly affordable.
Despite probably not being ready to make the jump to the NBA, hes such a great talent that theres no way he could fall out of the first round did he decide to stay. Depending on how strong he finishes the season in the ACB playoffs and/or private workouts, he could finish in the mid-late first round or even sneak into the late lottery. He would need to put on a real show to go higher than that.
No European player has come into the NBA featuring such an outstanding talent level (physical gifts aside) for a long time. Sergio is a very special player who draws affection, but although sometimes disdain too. Not everybody is happy putting up with bold moves and risky decisions on the court. However, his spectacular style puts fans in the seats. We shouldnt reduce what Sergio is as a player to a flashy act, though; hes a great player who should bring wins with him when/if he manages to adapt to the NBA game and fulfill his potential.
Reportedly a very serious kid, its not clear whether he might be rushing things a little bit by declaring this year. He has still a lot of work to do, and hes in an excellent position to keep improving while playing at high level in Estudiantes, a playoff-caliber team in the ACB League. In a hypothetical NBA scenario, Sergio could suffer having to share the ball with his teams stars while being asked to get the job done on defense and hitting his open shots regularly.
(April 2004, Juan Antonio Hinojo)
Well, this is Sergio Rodríguez. A genious of a player, really. I think that if things go as they should and he gets the minutes Navarro or Raul got in the ACB when they were 19 or 20 years old, his future is the NBA. Several coaches consider him him the best junior point guard in Europe. Let's see if he can confirm that at the European Junior Championships this summer. As you can probably tell by now, I love this kid. I'll tell you something: the way he plays is a lot more suited for the NBA then it is for the ACB. He is a great point guard and is very capable of controlling the game. But that ability to play one on one is more characteristic of the American guards. Let's see if he can do it, because he plays a position where there are many American players with similar abilities in regards to his handles and speed. Hopefully his
2004-2005 ACB Revelation player of the year (Top youth player in Spain).
Headshot courtesy of Euroleague.net