Portland’s Rodriguez upbeat about second year in NBA

By Jeff Taylor Special to PA SportsTicker

TENERIFE (Ticker) - The learning curve in the NBA is steep for most rookies, and Sergio Rodriguez was no exception in 2006-07.

Fresh off a world title triumph with Spain, the 20-year-old Rodriguez arrived in Portland as the 27th overall pick in the 2006 draft, and had to bide his time before starting to make important contributions off the bench for coach Nate McMillan.

He would end up appearing in 67 games and averaging just under 13 minutes per contest.

If Rodriguez could hit a rewind button and make any changes, one would be this.

“I wish I had played in the (NBA) Summer League with Portland last season,” Rodriguez said. “It would have helped me in every sense.”

The 6-3 guard will play in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas this year.

Despite being one of Spain’s biggest talents after progressing through the ranks of Spain’s national youth teams, and starting for top flight side Estudiantes as a teenager, there were concerns in Europe that Rodriguez was going to America too soon.

Those doubts were quickly erased in Japan, where Rodriguez evolved into one of Spain’s most explosive players at the FIBA World Championship. Rodriguez’s jaw-dropping performance against Argentina in the semifinals stunned everyone.

In the first half, he was the best player in a game which included numerous NBA players like Argentina’s Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Carlos Delfino and Fabricio Oberto, along with his Spain teammates Pau Gasol, Jorge Garbajosa and Jose Calderon.

Rodriguez came off the bench and tore apart Argentina’s star-laden team, knifing his way into the lane for lay-ups, hitting shots from outside - he was a perfect 3-of-3 from long range and 5-of-6 overall from the floor - and handing out assists.

He did have some fine moments as a rookie in the NBA, and had it not been for a badly sprained ankle that forced him to miss the first three weeks of February, he might have finished the campaign with a flourish.

In a January 14th game against Denver, the Blazers lost 109-93 but Rodriguez raised eyebrows with 23-point, 10-assist performance and 10 days later he poured in 18 in a 101-98 victory over Minnesota.

After the injury, though, his performance fell off and Rodriguez played as if he’d hit a rookie wall although he did enjoy a nine-point, nine-assist effort against Washington on March 20 in a 100-98 victory for the Blazers.

In Tenerife, the beautiful Canary Island where Rodriguez grew up, most people expect him to make it big in the NBA.

That is why there is a real buzz on the island ahead of the playmaker’s first basketball camp which tips off on June 25 and lasts for a week.

“I am really excited about it,” Rodriguez said. “I think it will be a huge success and many of my friends are coming. I hope that I can continue to have this camp for many years.”

The camp will have a Spanish, and NBA, flavour.

Spanish internationals Pau Gasol, Carlos Jimenez and Fran Vazquez will attend, as will fellow Blazer LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge was also a rookie last year.

Rodriguez will then return to the United States to link up with the Blazers in Las Vegas, where the NBA Summer League will be played from July 6 to 15. He will travel home to Spain again to play at the EuroBasket in September, then fly back to the States for his second season in the NBA.

Portland won 32 games this season - 10 less than Golden State, the team to grab the last play-off spot in the Western Conference.

But hopes are high.

The Blazers won the draft lottery and are widely expected to select seven-foot center Greg Oden, although Kevin Durant has an outside shot of being the top pick.

Oden and Durant have turned pro after their freshman years at Ohio State and Texas, respectively.

“I think next season we can compete in the playoffs,” Rodriguez said. “We will be a very young team but with a lot of hunger for success.

Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Martell Webster, Greg Oden or Kevin Durant and I … I can’t wait.”

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Updated Tuesday, Jun 12, 2007