Breaking down Brandon Roy’s comeback.
by Tracy Weissenberg / @basketballista
It was just one season ago when Brandon Roy poured in 24 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter, to pull the Blazers out of a 23-point hole in Game 4 of the 2011 Playoffs against Dallas. It made possibilities multiply in the imaginations of basketball enthusiasts, rooting for Roy to reclaim his identity as the face of the franchise.
In reality, the game, and the comeback, was more of an outlier than a promise. Dallas went onto win the series, and eventually the NBA Championship. The Blazers lost in the first round, and eventually lost Roy to a (now short-lived) medical retirement.
Roy spent his time in Portland as the first option, despite mounting knee problems that led to career-lows of 12.2 points and 27.9 minutes in ‘10-11, his last season with the team. The words “bone-on-bone” to describe the state of his knees seemed to modify any passage written about the three-time All-Star. While limited to 47 games and just 23 starts, Roy continued to bristle at his limited role.
Occasionally, he vented frustrations to media, which revolved around the slow style of play as well as his collapsed role. One of the more publicized issues centered around his on-court relationship with cagey point guard Andre Miller. Miller, whose methodical rhythm fit Portland’s half-court style, took the ball out of Roy’s hands in order to be effective. Perhaps, if Roy embraced this partnership, the results of the season could have been different. For a player with knees that betrayed him, what better than to have a walk-it-up, pound the ball point guard?
In Roy’s five seasons with the Blazers, the team averaged just over 79 field-goal attempts per game, which ranked 26th in the NBA. The number stayed nearly identical during Miller’s two seasons with the team. Perhaps the frustration had more to do with Roy’s view of himself in the end, instead of his view of Miller, and being forced to come to terms with new—and daunting—limitations.
As great a player as Roy was, he was not willing to make adjustments. Many players learn the need to change their styles to fit waning athleticism, but for Roy, it came too soon and he wasn’t ready. The question is—will he be ready now?
After a year away from the game, Roy’s comeback begins with an up-and-coming Minnesota team that is trying to claim its place in the West. The Wolves’ rebuilding has largely centered around promising talent from high Draft picks and two-time All-Star Kevin Love. Last season included 2009 No. 5 overall pick Ricky Rubio’s first year with the team. It was a long-awaited debut, but Rubio’s court vision and flashy passing impressed around the League. He averaged over 10 points and 8 assists in 41 games before a devastating ACL tear cut his NBA season short.
While Rubio will be out to start the ‘12-13 season, the Wolves will have to consider how much to highlight Roy. Roy usually had the ball in his hands in Portland, and stated multiple times he preferred to play that way. But now, with a team centered around two others, where does that leave him?
If Roy is given the load to shoulder during the early part of the season, how easy will it be to take the offense out of his hands when Rubio returns? The Timberwolves had waited a long time for Rubio’s arrival, and although injury curtailed an otherwise successful rookie season, they are going to put the ball in the hands of the player they plan to build around. The Timberwolves need Rubio to come back strong, and they will make a concerted effort to guide him back into his rhythm.
So for Roy, more questions remain than a physical bounceback. He has shown his ability to overcome shaky knees, but a shaky morale is a different challenge. While knee injuries are largely circumstantial, identity is a product of intense introspection. If Roy can make adjustments to his as a basketball player, the Timberwolves may have picked up a gem this offseason.