A couple days ago, Trailblazers.com‘ guru Casey Holdahl wrote a very nice piece about how Nic Batum could gain a lot from playing with the French National Team in this year’s FIBA World Championships. I wholeheartedly agree with a lot of his points. His thoughts did get me thinking about the other Blazer who will be suiting up in those very World Championships: Rudy Fernandez. As different as their situations may be, the World Championships give both the opportunity to progress on the basketball court. My question is this: Who will it benefit more?
As you know, there are positives and negatives for playing International ball. There is a reason why the 08 Olympic Team decided to skip this summer’s events. The chance of an injury is always present (which is the worst case scenario) and International ball also could lead to fatigue during the season. The positives? The idea of guys having to be more focused during the off-season when it comes to improving their game because they are playing high-level basketball. It’s one thing to go to the gym and work on your game by yourself, or play one on one or pickup games. It’s another to play for your nation, to play at a high level in pressure situations against top competition.
For Batum, the sky is the limit. His potential is still unknown in the NBA and if you’re a Blazer fan that’s a good thing. Playing for France in the summer has proven to help his game as you saw the improvements from Year 1 to Year 2. As a matter of fact, who knows how good Batum was before his surgery? With the majority of the French NBAers sitting out the World Championships, Batum is now one of the main guys for that team. He gets to play a different, more important role on offense. He’ll likely be the main focus of many teams’ defense which has its pros and cons, but you can only grow from a situation like that. He will have more opportunities to score, handle the ball, etc. The Worlds will more than likely help Batum’s offensive game grow, and if that is the case, watch out.
In contrast, while the Worlds may be a chance for Batum to work on his on-court game, for Rudy Fernandez it could be a chance to work on his mental game. Playing for Spain (minus Pau Gasol) makes him one of the stars, an opportunity we all have come to find out he has missed. It could prove to be the thing he needs to re-find his game, re-find his focus and re-find his passion. I guess it might be a bit too much to say he’s lost those things, but there were some headscratching moments during last year where Rudy didn’t quite seem like himself. If you’re a Blazer fan, you should want Rudy to do well…not to increase his trade value, but to increase his capability to produce in a Blazer uniform. Basketball is a game of confidence and if Rudy Fernandez can find his in Turkey this summer, everyone will benefit. That’s my big hope to be honest. Sometimes as a basketball player you just need that swagger back which can help you excel in a different situation
To answer the question: I think the answer has to be Batum. He will benefit more from this experience than Rudy. It’s a chance for him to be more aggressive offensively, to carry a different role, to try different things and bring them back to Portland. Whether he plays great or struggles it’s an experience I believe he needs to go through to grow as a player. Rudy can certainly benefit from the Worlds,having an expanded role and more offensive responsibility, but I’m of the thinking that his gains will be more mental which is better in the short term.. The only problem is, Fernandez’s gains have a sort of ‘win-lose’ element to them. Sure he could re-find his swagger and come back and everything could be peachy keen. At the same time, Rudy could go over, play really well and feel even more disrespected by the situation in Portland.