Chacho bides his time on the bench
As other Blazers get the call, Sergio Rodriguez is seeing fewer minutes
As the Trail Blazers' 10th man, Sergio Rodriguez is in an odd situation.
He gets to play every game, but usually not much. And unlike the other nine members of coach Nate McMillan's rotation, Rodriguez is nearly as likely to sit the entire second half as to play.
It's frustrating for the flashy Spaniard, known in his home country as 'Chacho' (short for muchacho, or boy) and around the globe as 'Spanish Chocolate' (a play on Jason Williams' 'White Chocolate' sobriquet). But you won't hear the eternally happy 21-year-old bellyache about it.
'I'm in the rotation, I'm playing every game, we're winning, the team is excited, the city is excited - it's been a good season so far,' says Rodriguez, whose English has improved dramatically since coming to Portland last season. 'Of course, I want to play more. I want to be more important, you know? I want to help more for us winning. But it's my second season, and I have to work hard every day to get better.'
As a rookie, Rodriguez averaged 3.7 points, 3.3 assists and 12.9 minutes. But Steve Blake, reacquired in the offseason, has pushed his standing back a notch. This season, Rodriguez is averaging 3.0 points, 1.9 assists and 9.7 minutes playing point guard with the second unit.
'Sergio is the fourth point guard on this team,' McMillan says, including Brandon Roy in the discussion. 'In reality, he shouldn't even have been playing. You're trying to rotate four guards, and you can't do that in this league.
'Blake and Jack are the point guards, and we're sliding Sergio some minutes behind Brandon. You don't play every guard on your roster.'
Why, then, play Rodriguez at all?
'With the second group, Sergio can help us some,' McMillan says. 'That's a faster team, a team that can spread the floor. We can get up and down, and he can create some opportunities. But normally you would rotate those minutes between Blake, Jack and Roy.'
General Manager Kevin Pritchard probably would add another reason to find playing time for Rodriguez: development.
Owner Paul Allen paid $3 million to buy the 27th pick in the 2006 NBA draft from Phoenix to land Rodriguez, whose flair and ability to see the court and find open teammates is not only the best on his team but among the best in basketball.
'He has a future with us'
Despite some no-look and chancy passes, Rodriguez finished fifth in the league last season in assist/turnover ratio (2.70) and third in assists per 48 minutes. But his assist/turnover ratio (2.13) is down, and his number of unforced errors seems up.
'Sergio has flashes where it's like, 'Wow, this kid is really something,' ' Pritchard says. 'He knows we feel good about him. He has a future with us. But we've always said patience is the key. We've seen what has happened with Travis (Outlaw) and Martell (Webster), and we'll see it with Sergio.
'Right now, he's a very small part of what he's going to be. He's going to be a heck of a player.'
One could argue that with as many minutes as Jack - whose assist/turnover ratio is 1.62 - Rodriguez would be more productive. Obviously, McMillan doesn't see it that way.
'They're totally different,' he says. 'Jack gets to the basket, is a little better defender, a little better shooter. Sergio creates opportunities. He sees the floor better.'
Rodriguez is nonplused about his situation, and refuses to question his role in McMillan's scheme.
'Some moments are very hard,' he says. 'Some games I don't play very much, and I want to play more. When we lose, I think maybe I could've helped us win.
'I don't know if I should play more. That's a decision for the coach. I work every day to (put himself in a position to) play more. I'm doing things the right way. If I keep working, I know things are going to happen.'
Rodriguez gets the best of advice from his parents, Sergio Sr. and Consuela, whom he speaks with by phone every day - 'sometimes twice or three times a day,' he says. 'They're teachers, but they should be psychologists. They're always there for me.'
Room to improve
McMillan wants Rodriguez to improve his defense, shooting and decision-making. The Spaniard acknowledges that need, at the same time saying he won't alter his style.
'My game is fast,' he says. 'The most important thing is to have the confidence of my teammates, and I have that. That helps me to take risks in the game.
'To be a great player, you have to take risks sometimes, but you have to be smart about it, too. If I don't take risks, I don't have fun and I don't win.
'I've learned from my mistakes, but I'll keep taking risks. That doesn't mean turning the ball over; it means making some good things happen.'
Portland ranks 29th among the NBA's 30 teams in fastbreak points. The Blazers have shot superbly from 3-point range and the perimeter, but a few more easy baskets in transition a game would provide balance for the team's halfcourt offense. Rodriguez's style would seem well-suited to helping facilitate that, but McMillan points to the Blazers' standing at No. 27 in rebounding percentage.
'If you don't rebound, you don't get fastbreak opportunities,' he says. 'When Greg (Oden) comes in next year, that should help us start our break.'
McMillan isn't promising any more minutes for Rodriguez.
'He has the potential to be a pretty good guard, but he's only 21,' McMillan says. 'When he's 24, 25 and gets stronger, he could be better, but you're talking about a third point guard. That's like really talking about (rookie) Taurean Green.'