When the Lakers bludgeoned the Blazers, 121-96, on Sunday, the disparity of the score wasn’t as concerning as the disappearance of a player.
Three-time All Star Brandon Roy scored just eight points for Portland that game, but more significantly — attempted only six shots. Hardly typical for a team’s No. 1 option, even if the league’s No. 1 on-ball defender was guarding him.
The situation reminded me of a yarn I heard regarding an interaction between Larry Bird and Reggie Miller, when Bird was coaching the Pacers and chided Miller after his 0-for-5 first-half performance.
“You’re not giving it to me, Reggie!” Bird yowled.
“Not giving it to you? I’m just not hitting my shots,” Miller retorted.
Answered Bird: “Yeah, but if you were giving it to me, you’d be 0 for 10.”
And that’s what seems to be the issue with Roy right now — sub-40-percent shooting percentage aside, the 26-year-old just isn’t quite giving it.
Please don’t misinterpret that. In no way am I suggesting that Roy lacks any effort. His 38.9 minutes per game lead the team and are 14th in the league, and as he said today, “I haven’t missed a practice.”
But Roy did say that he’s not as reckless as he used to be when driving to the basket, and often questions whether going hard to the rim is in his body’s best interest. He also hinted that his surgically-repaired knee isn’t where he’d like it to be, confessed that he’s lost some explosiveness, and “hopes” a reduction in minutes will allow him to return to the B Roy of old.
The thing of it is, the B Roy longing for the B Roy of old…is not very old. He’s 26, which makes quotes like this, at the very least, perplexing.
“Are my most athletic days behind me? I’ll let you guess. I’ll let you take a lucky guess about that one,” Roy said with a grin of acceptance. “Yeah, I gotta adjust. It’s time to adjust a little bit.”
Dwyane Wade is 28 and goes Peter Pan on his foes when finishing an alley-oop. Michael Jordan was 28 when he won his first NBA title. Roy is still two years removed from the aforementioned ages and has supposedly logged less “mileage” because he didn’t play an NBA game until he was 22.
Granted, Roy doesn’t bank on his athleticism. He’s among the more clever stars in the league and would find the basket if you put him in a 40-year-old’s frame a la “Freaky Friday.” But that extra burst was the difference between Bulls Jordan and Wizards Jordan, and the latter was still one of the most skilled players in basketball.
Nate McMillan was non-committal in discussing the future of Roy’s playing time. He asserted that most players don’t have their legs this early into the season anyway, that winning is more important than monitoring minutes, and that the sheer volume of recent games may be accentuating Roy’s level of fatigue.
Then Nate added: “Didn’t he have 26 or 28 two games ago?”
It was 26. And maybe McMillan’s right. Maybe this is an anthill we’re calling Kilimanjaro. Roy’s 20.3 points per game, after all, are only 1.2 points fewer than what he averaged last season.
Or perhaps in this hyper-concentrated market, Roy is just trying to drag down the expectations soaring well above his 6-foot-6 inch frame.
Or maybe there really is a problem.
Roy said Tuesday that he has talked to a few people recently via phone and experienced a “reality check,” learning that “this is what it is and (I) gotta make the most of the situation.” And when asked if this was difficult to deal with mentally, Roy said “very.”
Again, maybe this really is nothing. Kobe Bryant struggled mightily heading into last year’s postseason, but after having his knee drained, staged one of the great individual playoff performances ever through the first three rounds.
But assuming Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla return healthy and productive, the Blazers still need the complete Brandon Roy to get where they want to go — the Roy that Bryant and Ron Artest have each labeled the league’s toughest player to guard.
Besides his apparent addiction to philanthropy, what I’ve enjoyed most about Roy is his approachability and candor. He’s always smiling and providing thoughtful, straightforward answers. I hope that doesn’t change.
But fans of his team can’t be encouraged by what left his mouth Tuesday.
At this point in the season, the buzz was supposed about the Blazers looking ahead toward the good days to come, not Roy looking back at the days he’s left behind.
Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org