A polite rebuttal: More on Roy, Drexler and Walton

Oregonian columnist John Canzano weighed in today with his opinions about Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy and an assertion I made in a column about Roy that ran in today’s Columbian.

Listen to Canzano and I discuss Roy and the Blazers during an appearance Thursday afternoon on Canzano’s “Bald-Faced Truth” on 95.5 FM The Game.

I agree with Canzano more often than I do not, and he’s one of the top columnists in the country. I also have a great deal of respect for his work. And … we’re friends. πŸ™‚ More importantly, I understand his points about Roy in relation to my column. And it’s nice and refreshing to take part in a good, old-fashioned, civil discussion about sports. (Who says you have to yell and scream and foam at the mouth to be heard?)

But, in the end, I believe Roy will become the greatest Blazer of all time.

And I think Canzano’s missing the mark with this one.

My main point was that Roy is on track to replace Clyde Drexler as the most-accomplished player in Blazer history.

Four years into his career, Roy already ranks in the top five.

Who’s better?

Drexler, Bill Walton, Terry Porter and Maurice Lucas.

That’s it.

(Note: It will be interesting to see where The Oregonian’s Jason Quick and Joe Freeman rank Roy in the paper’s rundown of the top 40 players in franchise history.)

As important as Walton was β€” and still is β€” to the Blazers, he is definitely not the greatest player in franchise history. And placing Walton above Drexler ignores facts while insulting The Glide.

First off, Walton does not rank in the top 10 in career points, games, minutes or rebounds. It’s hard to be the best ever when you don’t crack those categories.

Secondly, Walton only spent four years and played 209 games in black and red.

Granted, he led the team to its only NBA championship in 1977 and was named the NBA’s most valuable player in 1978. And his average numbers β€” 16.6 points, 13.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.5 blocks β€” during the four-year stretch were absurd. But Walton was not the only player on the 1976-77 team, and he does not receive an automatic ticket as the greatest of all time because he led it to the top.

More importantly, Walton’s time in Portland was short: Four years is four years. And as special as Walton was to the Blazers and helping create Rip City β€” and as meaningful as it was for him to return to Portland this season and apologize for his past mistakes β€” he simply did not spend enough time, nor make a big enough dent in the record book to go down as the greatest.

That’s also the biggest issue with so many talented players who rank in the top 20 in Blazerland. Even top-tier players such as Lucas (five seasons), Geoff Petrie (six) and Sidney Wicks (five) did not spend enough time in Portland to make the biggest mark.

Meanwhile, the best from the late 90s and early 21st Century β€” Rasheed Wallace, anyone? β€” are blocked out because their strong numbers are overshadowed by everything negative that surrounded their time in Portland.

Which leaves Drexler, who is still somehow underrated as a Blazer. (Closing out his career with Houston β€” a 1995 NBA title, aside β€” and then taking an announcing job with the Rockets has not helped the Glide’s stature in Portland.)

Drexler holds Portland career records in points (18,040), rebounds (5,339), steals (1,795), games (867), minutes (29,526), made field goals (6,889) and made free throws (3,798). And he holds 12 franchise playoff records, including everything from points (2,015) to rebounds (670).


Drexler also was an eight-time All-Star and four-time All-NBA selection.

And he was the unbreakable centerpiece of a remarkable Blazers run from 1983-95 that saw Portland make the playoffs 11 consecutive years while twice earning a trip to the NBA Finals.

Double damn.

Will Roy top that?

We’ll see.

The stats will be very, very tough. Drexler was the focus of the Blazers’ offense for more than a decade. But the biggest issue β€” style of play β€” is out Roy’s hands.

For example, Roy is averaging 23.1 points this season, while Portland is putting up 97.5 points per game. Compare that to Drexler in 1989-90. The Blazers (59-23) made the NBA Finals, losing 4-1 to Detroit. And while Drexler averaged a comparable 23.3 points, Portland put up a whopping 114.2 points per game during the regular season.

Drexler then peaked in 1991-92, averaging 25.0 points, 6.7 assists and 6.7 rebounds. Portland made the Finals again, losing 4-2 to someone named Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, and Drexler was rewarded with his lone All-NBA first-team selection.

Through three and a half seasons, Roy has made one NBA Playoff appearance and earned a second-team All-NBA selection. And he’s averaged 20.3 points, 5.1 assists and 4.6 rebounds during the run.

Canzano’s right: it’s early.

But the pace is what matters.

As does the timing.

It’s already becoming easy to forget, but it should never be overlooked: Roy saved the Blazers. So did Nate McMillan, Kevin Pritchard, Paul Allen and the team’s devoted fans. But mostly Roy.

When Portland acquired Roy in the 2006 NBA Draft, the team was coming off its worst season (21-51) in franchise history. And an organization that had severely alienated its fanbase in a one-horse town was still within looking distance of all things Jail Blazers.

Less than four years later, Roy has earned three consecutive All-Star selections. And the Blazers have turned everything around.

Portland made the playoffs last season (and likely would have moved into the second round, were it not for a little thing known as seeding and those pesky Rockets). And the Blazers should make a return appearance this year, despite dealing with a mind-numbing series of injuries and setbacks that people such as McMillan and athletic trainer Jay Jensen regard as the worst they have ever seen.

And through it all, Roy has led the charge.

Here’s the one stat that stands out and should not be ignored: Roy is one of just three players in the NBA averaging at least 23 points, 5 assists and 4.5 rebounds, joining Cleveland’s LeBron James and Miami’s Dwayne Wade.

That’s the highest of high company.

And then there’s this one: Roy scored a franchise-record 23-plus points during a 15-game run from Dec. 1 to Jan. 2, in which the Blazers played without injured centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla, who are out for the season following knee surgeries.

Both are outstanding. And they say everything about what Roy means to the Blazers β€” and where he could lead them.

However, Roy’s future standing in Blazer history depends largely on two things: winning in the playoffs and his health.

If Roy stays healthy and the Blazers stay on track, he should rival Drexler for the greatest of all time.

Factor in Roy’s strong ties to Seattle and the University of Washington β€” and the void left behind by the departed Seattle SuperSonics β€” and Roy is in position to become one of the biggest names and to ever play professional sports in the Pacific Northwest.

Four years in, and The Natural is looking pretty darn good.

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