While Joel Embiid is deservingly getting the spotlight following a competitive loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday, his 76ers teammates did a decent job keeping up with the budding star in their fight for a win. Help came in the form of an unlikely presence for Sixers teams over the last handful of seasons: the point guard position.
Sergio Rodriguez, after a four-year stint in the NBA with stops in Portland, Sacramento and New York early in his professional career, has spent the last six seasons as a spark plug for the top team in the Spanish ACB League, Real Madrid. While it was just one game, Rodriguez proved to be a stabilizing presence for a young Sixers core to the tune of 12 points (45.5 percent shooting), four boards, and nine assists on Opening Night.
It didn’t take longer than the Sixers’ first basket of the season to notice an upgrade at point:
When Ish Smith is the paragon of competent point guard play for an entire era of Sixers basketball, there’s a clear problem and a low bar to clear in terms of talent. Rodriguez’s age (30) after spending the majority of his career in Spain doesn’t make him the point guard of the future (he’s also just on a one-year deal), but the Sixers truly might have their best distributor since Jrue Holiday was captaining the team.
I mean, look at all of these names: Rookie of the Year and Elite Point Guard Michael Carter-Williams (who is on his third team in less than two years), Tony Wroten, Lorenzo Brown, Eric Maynor, Darius Morris, Casper Ware, Isaiah Canaan, Larry Drew, Tim Frazier, Phil Pressey, T.J. McConnell and Kendall Marshall. Sheesh.
Rodriguez seemed to already have a bit of a repertoire with bench big man Richaun Holmes, a nasty offensive finisher in traffic and shot blocker (even if he’s a piss-poor defensive rebounder). They’ve already flashed some real potential for the second unit this season with their pick-and-roll play. Brett Brown should’ve called Spanish Chocolate and Holmes’ number even more often when they shared the court together. This a Nightshift-type bench that would get Malik Rose’s approval:
Rodriguez’s presence has the effect of putting his teammates in better positions with his passing. There’s one teammate who stands above all of them, both figuratively and literally, in Embiid. While Rodriguez didn’t assist on any of Embiid’s makes last night, their connection was on display in the preseason:
Until Ben Simmons returns, it’s imperative for Embiid’s development that he’s paired with at least one decent offensive initiator, and Rodriguez is the best the Sixers have currently. El Chacho may even fit to a degree in a Simmons-led offensive attack, as he shot 39.7 from three (781 attempts) during his last four seasons in Europe, allowing the team to deploy two skilled ball-handlers at once. When’s the last time that’s happened?
Is Rodriguez a league-average starter? Probably not. The point guard position has unprecedented depth in the NBA currently, which makes that a tough order. But the Sixers are no longer dealing with bottom-tier talent at the helm of their offense and it’s a welcomed addition for the betterment of their franchise cornerstone.