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Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Countdown: Ranking the Mavs -- No. 7

By Jeff Caplan

With players threatening to take their talents to Europe as the NBA lockout creeps into a fourth week, one Euro NBA player actually had the gall to say no thanks.

New Dallas Mavericks shooting guard Rudy Fernandez had a chance to give up the NBA and become the highest-paid player ever in the Spanish ACB, the strongest league in all of Europe. But Fernandez, traded from Portland to Dallas on draft night, opted instead to keep his options open. No matter how long the lockout lasts, Fernandez will not suit up overseas -- at least for this season.

He enters the final year of his contract, and with a breakout season he can possibly earn more on a new contract in the NBA than playing in his home country for a reported $4.3 million a year. And if he doesn't have a breakout season, well, he can always choose to return home.

As you might have guessed, the dashing, stubbly-faced Mr. Fernandez is next in line in my roster countdown. For the uninitiated, I am ranking and analyzing the 16 players currently on Dallas' 15-man roster, one a day, from least critical to most critical to a title defense (with likelihood of being on the roster next season playing a significant role in the ranking).

So, at No. 7...

Jason Kidd
Instead of facing Jason Kidd, Rudy Fernandez will be teamed with him in the Mavericks' backcourt.
Rudy Fernandez
Pos: SG
Ht/Wt: 6-6/185
Experience: 3 years
Age: 26 (April 4, 1985)
Contract status: Signed through 2011-12
2010-11 salary: $1.2 million
2011-12 salary: $2.2 million

His story: The last Mavs fans saw of Fernandez, he was laying bricks in the first-round series on his way to averaging 2.8 points in 13.5 minutes. It was the second consecutive postseason in which Fernandez's minutes and points nosedived, which has to be a concern. Still, Fernandez is an intriguing player, especially for a team like the Mavs that has constantly been undersized at shooting guard. There's a thought in Portland that coach Nate McMillan's low-possession offense wasn't a good fit for the lanky Spaniard and Dallas' flow offense will be better for him. Fernandez has never been a terrific shooter, topping out at 42.5 percent from the floor as a rookie and falling below 38 percent in each of the last two seasons. He is a decent 3-point shooter, although he struggled from beyond the arc last season, too, making just 32.2 percent after a career-best 39.9 percent in his first season. The Mavs say their plus-minus analysis of Fernandez bears him out to be a better-than-average defender whose team thrives when he is on the floor.

His outlook: Fernandez instantly becomes the top candidate to start at shooting guard, something he did just nine times in his three seasons with Portland. His arrival would seem to signal the departure of tough-guy DeShawn Stevenson, a valuable defensive weapon and a surprisingly accurate 3-point shooter in the postseason for the world champions (as well as put into question a role for Rodrigue Beaubois, who seems nowhere near ready to be the backup point guard). Replacing Stevenson's defensive tenacity won't be easy and Stevenson, an unrestricted free agent, was also respected by the team's core veterans. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry twice campaigned for Stevenson to start at shooting guard, once early in the season and again before the playoffs. Fernandez can ingratiate himself by playing solid defense and providing an offensive dynamic the team has been missing at that position. Re-signing rugged small forward Caron Butler would ease defensive pressure on Fernandez and allow him to concentrate more on the offensive end. If the Mavs don't re-sign Butler and Stevenson moves on, Dallas could very likely lose a defensive edge it worked hard to attain last season.

The Countdown
No. 16 DeShawn Stevenson
No. 15 Peja Stojakovic
No. 14 Dominique Jones
No. 13 Ian Mahinmi
No. 12 Brian Cardinal
No. 11 Rodrigue Beaubois
No. 10 Brendan Haywood
No. 9 Corey Brewer
No. 8 J.J. Barea
No. 8 J.J. Barea
No. 7 Rudy Fernandez
No. 6 Coming Thursday