Whatever happened or didn't happen in last night's pre-season contest against Phoenix a couple of lines from the boxscore are going to cause people to start chattering.
- Andre Miller: 9-15 shooting and 25 points
- Brandon Roy: 4-13 shooting and 11 points
Both lines continue the general pre-season trend for each player (Miller upwards, Roy in a funk). This is going to bring discussion. Is there something wrong with Roy? Can Roy and Miller co-exist?
I won't believe anything is wrong with Brandon himself until this trend continues deep into the regular season. He's given too much, too often to begin doubting him over a couple exhibition outings. Most likely he's not taking training camp and pre-season as seriously as he used to, which is certainly his right. Perhaps he's not in practice, having taken most of the summer off. I can live with that as long as he's ready in a couple weeks. It's also possible that the Blazers aren't going with their "A" options yet. Six guys on the team took double-digit shot attempts tonight. That means the Blazers are stretching their legs and exploring their possibilities. It's possible in a real game that Brandon's 4-13 performance would have morphed into a 10-20 night via some serious second-half intensity. To the extent that the Blazers continue to feed Oden and get shots for Miller Brandon will have to adjust. He may not be as dominant of a #1 option as he has been in the past. But he'll still be the clear #1 and the team will work that out once the shakedown cruise is over.
The only long-term malaise I have even a ghost of a fear about is the dreaded "Just Signed a Big Contract Dropoff". I don't believe for a second that Brandon would abdicate his responsibility and passion just because he's a rich man now. We're not talking Bonzi Wells here. Money does change things, however, and it's hard to adjust from young and hungry to older and more satisfied while still finding the same intensity. Conscientious players also tend to push a little too hard after signing that first big deal. If Brandon's game waggles a little in the short term we'll just have to live with that. He has enough talent around him to pick up the slack.
The issue of Roy and Miller co-existing is an open one. From the beginning we said that playing with Andre would be a serious change from playing with Blake. Miller handles the ball more. Miller drives more. Miller treads on Brandon's territory more. But Miller is also an experienced point guard. He knows on which side the toast is buttered. Any offensive tension won't last long because one of two things will happen. Either Miller will see his responsibility as keeping all three big dogs on this team happy, which means putting the ball in Brandon's hands plenty, or the team will be forced to phase out Miller to bring Roy's game back to full. There's not another option. There's no way the team sacrifices Brandon for anyone. They go nowhere serious without him.
The issue I'm more worried about is defense. Brandon likes to conserve energy for offense. Miller is a better offensive than defensive player. I don't know if you caught it, but Ben had an amazing get from Nate McMillan on pick and roll defense in particular in his Monday Practice Report. The Blazers are adjusting their coverage to keep the centers more grounded and in less foul trouble. This puts some pressure on forwards but the primary responsibility lies on the guards. They have to stay in front of their men on the drive and stay with them off of screens. If they can't handle it the defense falls apart before it starts. I know it's pre-season but I'm looking at Steve Nash with 23 points and 15 assists in last night's game and Leandro Barbosa with 25. Those are "Eeeek!"-inducing numbers not just for Roy and Miller but the entire defense. And this comes in a pre-season where the primary emphasis is supposedly on defending.
While the offensive adjustments for Roy and Miller individually and collectively will probably happen quickly, if not entirely smoothly, the defensive implications of the pairing (and maybe any Blazer pairing in the backcourt) trouble me. I'm not sure lapses there are going to melt away so surely. And if they don't the Blazers will have a stronger current to swim against each game which is not conducive to compiling the astonishing win totals many are hoping for.