Smoother than ever, Roy's game is all about body control
Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy described the game-winning move in detail nine hours before it happened.
During Portland’s Friday morning shootaround prior to a contest against Washington at the Rose Garden later that evening, the right-handed Roy spoke with pride about how he had trained himself as a child to dribble with and attack defenders using his left hand.
Roy even reminisced about how a high-school teammate had once likened his on-the-court moves to those of a counter-boxer. When an opponent leaned heavily toward Roy’s right side, attempting to cut off his path to the basket, Roy immediately drove the other direction. When someone was playing Roy straight up, the future three-time NBA All-Star would use a cross-over move to gain freedom.
“A lot of people, I think even since I was younger, they’ve always said I had good control,” Roy said. “I’ve always been on balance.”
Balance and body control were the foundation for Roy on Friday, before he delivered a last-second knock-out blow against the Wizards.
With eight seconds remaining, Roy dribbled the ball about five feet away from the top of the key. Then The Natural went to work.
He used a cross-over dribble to get going. Then the counter-boxer jumped right and left without moving forward. Two seconds later, Roy was gone. He drove hard toward the left wing, establishing himself just beyond the 3-point line with the game tied at 74. Roy noticed, though, that Wizards forward Alonzo Gee was strongly guarding him — tight enough to be trouble, but doing so in a manner unlikely to result in a foul call.
So Roy improvised. He dropped his shoulders, ducked under Gee, and leaned toward the basket. With just seconds remaining, Roy sent up a 22-foot jump shot. The ball hit the back rim hard, then fell softly through the net with 0.3 seconds left on the clock.
It was classic Roy. A shining example of the uncanny blend of footwork, ballhandling, strength and touch that have come to define his game.
As Roy’s skills and technique have evolved, the 6-foot-6, 211-pound former Washington standout has become regarded as one of the premier scorers in the league. Moreover, Roy has used his fourth season in the NBA to prove that his old-school array of offensive assets are rivaled by few, topped by only the biggest names in the game, such as Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant and Miami’s Dwayne Wade.
“It’s more of a feel thing; it’s a sense. I start to feel how a guy is guarding me. I’m starting to pick up a rhythm, more and more,” Roy said. “A guy when he’s guarding you, he has to give you something. Nobody’s perfect. And my mentality offensively is, ‘How fast can I pick up what he’s giving me, to take advantage of it.’ ”
Roy started taking advantage of other players when he was eight-years-old. As a child, Roy relied on his right hand. He dribbled with, shot and passed with it. But even at a young age, Roy realized that special things could happen if he challenged himself.
A conversation with his father, Tony, opened Roy’s mind. Roy went through a stage where, after playing basketball, he would walk inside his family’s house and say, “Dad, I can’t dribble with my left hand.”
Tony asked his son how often he worked on it.
Roy’s reply: “Uh. What do you mean, ‘Work on it?’ ”
The switch-handed Roy — who years later would become notorious for driving with his right and finishing with his left — was born.
Soon, Roy was practicing by himself, using only his left hand. And when he would play one-on-one and pick-up games, Roy would secretly tell himself that he was going to go through an entire session without using his right.
“Growing up, no kid at a young age can use his opposite hand. It’s rare,” Roy, 25, said. “So, when I was playing in games, kids were like, ‘Push him left!’ And then it became my strength. I started going left all the time.”
Roy’s game changed again when he was a junior at Garfield High School in Seattle. The future NBA All-Star was known as a “leaper.” To the point that his skills and talent were knocked, Roy said, because many believed all he could do was jump and dunk.
But when Roy tore the meniscus in his left knee, his offensive mindset was forever altered. Due to the lure of recruiting, Roy put off surgery for two months. During that time, he was forced to create a new playing style. One that was based more off balance and ballhandling than speed and power. One in which he broke opponents down off the dribble, and used pregame research and instinct to read plays and defenders. And one in which Roy, contrary to modern trends, played slower, not faster.
“I couldn’t win with just my strength anymore or my quickness,” Roy said. “I had to outthink a guy or outsmart a guy.”
For the past four seasons, Roy has been doing just that.
He still has moments of inspiring power. During plays that are as random as they are exciting, Roy will sometimes gain a step on a defender, spring toward the rim, and then leap up for a tomahawk-style slam that looks so un-Roy the scene is hard to believe. More often that not, though, Roy will get fouled before he completes the move. And he has been seen smiling, shaking his head and laughing to himself during the aftermath.
“He’s very explosive, very athletic,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “And the play sometimes forces that to come out of him, or forces him to use it.”
For the most part, though, Roy’s offensive game is all about smooth control. As a child, Roy was told he had amazing body control when he played youth soccer and Pop Warner football. As an adult, Roy’s ability to command and control his body is seen nowhere clearer than when the guard drives into the lane, stops on a dime, and goes to work.
Sometimes, Roy pulls up for a quick floater. Others, he uses a pump fake to create space, and then sends up a fall-away jumper. But the most unique move — the move that is pure Roy — is never set in stone.
The play almost always begins with a pivot move. Then a body fake often follows. Next is anyone’s guess. Roy will contort his body to meet his demands, bending his frame so that he can wrap himself around a defender and get as close to the basket as possible before sending up a shot.
“When I get into the paint, I think my senses go up a little bit more. Maybe I’m focusing a little bit more than if I was on the perimeter,” Roy said. “And it’s just, yeah, things up open up. Like, if I beat a guy, it’s, ‘Oh, he’s leaning too hard right.’ And the game may look like it’s going fast. But to me, I’m just basically slowing it. I know he’s going to come in, and so it’s a quick spin.”
Blazers lead assistant coach Dean Demopoulos said everything Roy does in the lane comes down to “timing” and “feel.”
“He uses his body. He’s got eyes all over it,” Demopoulos said. “Like, for a pivot player, we used to say you have to have eyes in your (butt.) He’s got eyes all over his body. If he feels you, he knows where you are. And all of a sudden, adjustments are made. And he’s great around the basket with both hands. And his slow to fast is as big as a discrepancy as anything.”
For Roy, every move he makes, every decision he greenlights is done to create an advantage. After playing youth, high school and college ball; after offseason pick-up games and the NBA’s 82-game seasons, Roy said there is nothing he has not seen from a defender.
He has even begun to break opponents down into types: Bruce Bowen, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Monta Ellis. All have the same agenda, all have the same goal. So, Roy uses every offensive weapon at his disposal to find space. First, he slows the game down. Then he goes to work. And then he scores.
At the core of everything Roy does and every move he makes: confidence.
“The best players have it. The best scorers have it. You have to it,” Roy said. “You can have all the talent in the world. But if you don’t have that confidence, it’s going to be tough.”
Who: Brandon Roy
Stats: 22.2 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds
Vitals: 6-foot-6, 211 pounds
Roy on using his left hand: “Growing up, no kid at a young age can use his opposite hand. It’s rare. So, when I was playing in games, kids were like, ‘Push him left!’ And then it became my strength. I started going left all the time.”
Roy on driving the lane: “When I get into the paint, I think my senses go up a little bit more. Maybe I’m focusing a little bit more than if I was on the perimeter. And it’s just, yeah, things up open up. Like, if I beat a guy, it’s, ‘Oh, he’s leaning too hard right.’ And the game may look like it’s going fast. But to me, I’m just basically slowing it. I know he’s going to come in, and so it’s a quick spin.”
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