Believing or Not Believing in Sergio Rodriguez

For so long we as a fanbase have longed for a creative, pass-happy point guard in the mold of Jason Williams. Once Mike Bibby hit the skids (in a literal sense), the most selfless triggermen have occupied our wishes. Perhaps Rubio Love wasn't universal; it was, at the very least, infectious. Last spring, readers of this very site actually split a Griffin-Rubio vote right down the middle. The final weeks of the pre-draft hype machine twisted fate, and we ended up with diametrically different Tyreke Evans. I believe we all are contented, though I, for one, will always wonder what would have been different. (I hope that doesn't make me a bad man.)

The consolation, of course, was a different Spanish point guard: Sergio Rodriguez, acquired by trading down in the second round. The initial trade made me beam; I think I had fellow riders in the gulf stream of understated pleasure. Sergio was wasted in Portland, a fact no one disputes. A hummingbird can only make it so far in the fog. Here, under Paul Westphal, under the gavel of liberty, he could thrive.

Amid Reke's ascension and Beno Udrih's improbable rejuventation, Sergio was immediately lost. But, in his brief opportunities, he has in fact thrived. Very much so.

He's third on the team in Hollinger's PER metric, behind Evans and Kevin Martin. Sergio is seventh in the league in assist rate. Sergio sits head and shoulders above any other Kings in +/-, adjusted or raw. He has had faults -- his turnover numbers are insane (3.9 per 36 minutes), his defense is exactly as billed (decent in the passing lanes, not particularly stout anywhere else), he shoots rather inconsistently. But on the whole, looking at it all, the team has played brilliantly with Sergio on the court.

He hasn't had a negative plus-minus in a game since Jan. 12. Granted, he received DNP-CDs in a few of the games since then. But against Denver? Plus 6. Charlotte? Plus 14. Miami? Plus 2. Orlando? Plus 11. On the season, in 35 games, he's plus 110. Plus 3.14 per game. The team as a whole? Minus 182 in 47 games, or minues 3.87 per game. The Kings, they have been bad usually. When Sergio plays, the Kings are good.

I can't explain it fully, or decisively. Evans, for example, registers assists less frequently than does Sergio. But Evans and Rodriguez have similar splits in terms of what shots they assist: both do well in setting up teammates at the rim and behind the arc, which is where you want teammates to be set up. But Evans turns the ball over far less, is a better man defender and scores/shoots far more efficiently. How the team be so much better with Sergio? Is it the teammates each shares the court with? Is it those players' specific strengths and weaknesses?

The Kings shoot 55 percent (eFG) when Sergio's on the floor. The team shoots 48 percent (eFG) when Sergio sits. Is that on Sergio, or is it noise? The team assists on 59 percent of its shots when Sergio plays, and 51 percent when Sergio sits. Is that on Sergio, or is it noise? The offense is a full nine points per 100 possessions more efficient when Sergio plays than when he doesn't. Is that on Sergio, or is it noise?

I'd place varying bets on each. But the great thing is that the Kings -- Westphal, more specifically -- don't need to place bets. The team can find out if it's real or noise ... by playing Rodriguez more. Westphal has the political cover (a string of losses), and it need not come at the expense of the ongoing Evans-Martin experiment. Beno is practically a shooting guard as it is -- in those minutes in which Evans and Martin sit, try out the two back-up PGs together. Let Sergio get a shot with Evans and Martin in the three-guard line-up. Give him a whirl with each of Martin and Evans. Play him as much as is possible.

Because, to tell the truth, if Sergio's performance is more truth than noise, this is a player the Kings need to find space for. Beno has made me believe in the goodness of people again, but he's still expensive and repetitive (with respect to Evans). If Sergio can be the flashbang the Kings offense needs in spurts, then he needs to be the offense in spurts. I hope we get a chance to see this fleshed out.

Various stats used in this post came from Basketball-Reference, 82games, Basketball Value and Hoopdata.

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