Sergio Rodriguez, affectionately known as El Chacho (The Dude, approximately), was a flashy yet conservative signing for the Sixers. A one-year deal for a veteran backup point guard is as anti-Process as it can get, since Rodriguez would get the benefit of a breakout season in his first year in the NBA since the aughts and wouldn’t hold much trade value in-season. But as backup veteran point guards go, Rodriguez is a creative choice that addresses multiple weaknesses within the team, presents a different dimension from other internal options, and becomes much more important given Ben Simmons’ foot fracture.
In his initial foray into the NBA, Rodriguez was a free-wheeling point guard with superior vision and passing skills capable of pulling off almost any pass out of thin air. For instance, about 50 seconds into this video, watch him split a double team on the pick-and-roll and make magic happen.
Spanish Chocolate, as he was known then, upped the fun quotient in any game he played in. But as fun as Rodriguez was to watch, he didn’t bring with it the stability most teams look for in their backup point guard. He only amassed a 2.3 assist/turnover ratio, not great for a player whose vision and passing were calling cards. That should have been expected for a young guard stretching his boundaries.
Rodriguez paired carelessness with average or worse skills elsewhere. His jumper netted 31% on threes, and he shot 50% TS% from the floor in four seasons, both well below league average for point guards. His defense came and went – he gambled too much for steals, wasn’t always in proper position, and didn’t have the athleticism to hang with elite guards. Steady, he was not.
After hitting free agency for the first time after year four, and without any great NBA offers, he returned to his homeland of Spain and signed with Real Madrid, where he had played for the last six seasons.
Six seasons later, returning to the NBA, the essence of El Chacho is the same. He’s got the flashy game of his younger self, but is far more refined and ready to face NBA competition. Four key things to know:
1. He has since been considered one of the best players in Spain and Europe
Rodriguez, since 2012-13, has been the lead guard and best player for one of Europe’s premier basketball teams, Real Madrid. Per 36 minutes played (the conversions are somewhat necessary given the minutes load for most European players), he averaged 18.0 points and 8.6 assists per game and was named Euroleague’s MVP in 2014.
2. He’s a markedly better shooter
Over his past four seasons, with games played in the Spanish ACB and Euroleague, Rodriguez has made over 40% of his three point attempts in over 900 shots. The most obvious changes are that his shooting motion is more fluid and, in doing that, his shot now has more arc. His jumper was pretty flat in the NBA and often missed left or right as his legs weren’t totally in his shot.
While the exact discount needed for conversion to NBA expectations, he’s undoubtedly a greater offensive threat now than before. Teams could comfortably sag off Rodriguez or go under screens, daring him to shoot. Now, he’s more likely to make defenses pay for that decision, as he’s an expert at shooting off the dribble in the pick and roll.
The Sixers desperately need shooting given their center-focused roster, making Sergio an appealing option as an off-ball player as well.
3. He’s slightly more careful as a point guard.
Rodriguez’s turnover rate hasn’t improved much from the 2.3 assist/turnover ratio baseline - it was about 2.5 from 2013-2016. However, NBA scorekeepers are considered especially generous from an international perspective for tracking assists, whereas turnovers are clear cut. Again taking into consideration discounts for court and officiating differences, Rodriguez should be less careless now.
Despite being more careful, he’s still more than capable of wizardry and crazy passes. He showed some of his skills during this summer’s Olympics; my personal favorites are his variety of behind the back passes with either hand, including this one in an exhibition against the Boston Celtics last year.
(Rodriguez has pulled off this pass, or slight variations of it, multiple times on this same set play. This will be delightful.)
4. He’s gotten older
Well, duh, unless he took a reverse aging potion or is otherwise Benjamin Button. The improvements above with age make him a good offensive fit on a team previously bereft of playmakers. But his age (30) and previously average athleticism do not bode well when facing the greatest athletes in the world. It’ll be hard to hide him against, say, Russell Westbrook, but even with the Jeff Teagues of the world it’ll be a challenge for him to keep up.
With Ben Simmons’ foot injury, Rodriguez suddenly becomes a much more important player for the Sixers in the short-term. Originally slated to be a backup point guard to starter Jerryd Bayless, Rodriguez is the Sixer most likely to pick up the bulk of shot creation that needs to be replaced with Ben’s injury. Bayless was signed specifically because he’s most comfortable as a secondary creator, and Dario Saric isn’t a ball-dominant player either. T.J. McConnell could do in a pinch, but he was overexposed early and often when commanding the offense.
Rodriguez is someone that the Sixers can grab the proverbial bull by the horns and make life easier for everyone else as a point guard. He’s no caretaker, as you might be able to tell when he zips a one-handed, behind-the-back pass to the opposite corner of the court through your tv screen. If his European statistical improvement translates, he could make the Sixers better AND significantly more fun. It might go against my Process instincts, but sometimes short-term gratification can be sweet, too. Sergio is that Dude. And he’s suddenly very important for this roster.