Sports

The Blazers and the Roy-Miller Conundrum

One of the ongoing topics of discussion surrounding this year’s Blazers is the notion that Brandon Roy and Andre Miller are incompatible on the court. The theory is that both of them need the ball to be effective, and that’s physically impossible until they change the rules of the game.

This is a theme that has lingered throughout the season: When Miller wasn’t playing in the fourth quarter because that’s the time for Roy to take over at point guard; when Roy, Miller and Steve Blake were in the starting lineup together for a three-guard setup; even now, when Roy and Miller are both playing well, leading pundits to say, “We need them both but they can’t play together. What will we do?”

The odd thing is that there’s a weak foundation for the notion that Roy and Miller are incompatible. According to the plus/minus statistics at nba.com, the Blazers’ most successful lineup this year has featured Roy, Miller, Blake, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Greg Oden. That group outscored opponents by 38 points when it was on the floor.

It’s a bit misleading, because those five also played 134 minutes together, the most of any grouping for the Blazers. So, per-minute, it hasn’t been the team’s most successful lineup. And it’s kind of beside the point, seeing as how Oden is injured.

But the second most successful lineup for the Blazers also includes both Roy and Miller. So does the fourth, and so does the fifth. Miller, in fact, is part of the five Portland lineups that have outscored opponents by the most this season; Roy is part of four of those.

According to the list of two-man combinations, Roy and Miller have been on the floor together for 912 minutes this season, and the team has outscored opponents by 66 points during that time. That’s .072 points per minute, which ranks pretty low among Portland’s combinations; on the other hand, I’m guessing most of those minutes came at the beginning of games or at the end — against the opponent’s best lineup.

As if we needed to dig deeper into the numbers: With Roy and Miller on the floor, the Blazers are averaging 99 points per 48 minutes and allowing 95.5; with one or both of them on the bench, those numbers are 95.1 points for, and 85.2 against. Just in case you were wondering.

In the end, I think the notion that Roy and Miller can’t play together is a matter of selling both players short. Aren’t they both professional enough and adaptable enough to maximize each other’s talents? Isn’t their ability to do so going to be important to Portland’s playoff hopes? Roy is most effective when he has the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter of games. But does that mean Portland must allow him to play only under that scenario? Does that mean he should never be pushed out of his comfort zone?

It seems that having Roy spend some time improving his off-the-ball skills will only help him and the team in the long run. Miller is less versatile than Roy; he’s not a threat if you put him in a corner for spot-up 3s. Roy would be; he also would be deadly coming off a screen for a catch-and-shoot; he also can post up most defenders he will be facing. And when the playoffs arrive and Portland is facing a team capable of taking away what it most wants to do, the Blazers will have additional options. But only if they start developing those options now.