Thinking Outside the Box: Roy as a Ginobili-Style Sixth Man?

At the end of a long post yesterday about Brandon Roy, Henry Abbott at TrueHoop wrote something very interesting, something that echoes my own thoughts over the last few days:

Coming soon: Some hard decisions about whether or not it makes sense to keep starting Roy, as he copes with these knee issues. Other than Roy, the Blazers' starting unit is very speedy. It might be an idea to set them free, while bringing in Roy like a designated hitter.
We all know that the Blazers under Nate McMillan play at a very slow pace. This season, true to form, the Blazers have the second slowest pace of any team in the NBA. It's hard not to notice, though, that with the exception of Brandon Roy, the Blazers' current active roster is stacked with the kind of players that would make fast-paced coaches like Mike D'Antoni and Alvin Gentry salivate.

Andre Miller is one of the very best open court point guards in the league, the master of the long outlet pass and the alley-oop lob. LaMarcus Aldridge may well be the best open court big man in the NBA, a 6'11'' player who runs like a gazelle and finishes effortlessly on fastbreaks. Nicolas Batum is likewise at his best when gliding down the court in transition. Camby, though not as skilled a finisher as Nic or LaMarcus, is also quite comfort in transition situations, particularly when trailing a play and looking for tip-ins off of misses. He's also a good outlet passer.

Moreover, as they demonstrated in the Detroit game on Tuesday, all four of the Blazers' primary bench contributors -- Rudy Fernandez, Wesley Matthews, Armon Johnson, and Dante Cunningham -- appear to be more comfortable in open court than in half court sets. Both Johnson and Fernandez have noticeably better court vision in transition situations and seem to make much better decisions in open court than they do in half-court sets. Dante Cunningham and Wes Matthews, like Aldrdige and Batum, run the court well and are excellent fast break finishers. 

In the current rotation, particularly without Oden or Przybilla, Roy really is the odd man out. So what to do about that? 

Though it may be a little unorthodox, I think there's a strong argument for having Roy -- at least in his current state -- come off the bench. If you think about it, Roy's skills as a scorer are the least necessary when he's playing alongside Aldridge, Miller, and Batum, all of whom can score. At the beginning of games, Roy expends a lot of energy running up and down the court while Miller does most of the ball-handling and Aldridge and Batum do a lot of the scoring. He's also forced to expend a lot of energy on defense guarding one of the other team's starting wings. Meanwhile, the Blazer second unit, while filled with energy guys, is devoid of anyone who can consistently create his own shot or function as a playmaker in half court sets. 

If Roy came off the bench, he could fill that void. He could concentrate his efforts and focus his energy on scoring, not having to worry about getting everyone else involved first. And he could log a good portion of his minutes while the other team's most dangerous scorers are resting, thus easing his defensive burden. 

This isn't entirely unprecedented. Manu Ginobili basically played this role for San Antonio during several of their championship runs, despite being a much more talented player than the various shooting guards the Spurs started ahead of him. Ginobili would come off the bench but also finish games, which is what I envision Brandon doing. 

If and when Greg Oden gets healthy, he too could come off the bench and play at a slower pace as Roy's pick and roll partner while the more nimble Marcus Camby continues to start. In Roy's place, either Rudy Fernandez or Wes Matthews could start and play a more traditional off-ball game while Miller runs the offense. During the stretches when Roy is on the bench, the team could play at a much faster pace, looking to run whenever possible. When Roy comes in, the pace can slow and the team can play a more half-court oriented game.

I'm not suggesting that this should be the permanent arrangement, but it would be an interesting experiment, particularly while Roy is less than 100% and Oden and/or Przybilla are just coming back from injury and trying to work their way into game shape. Obviously a major obstacle to such a plan is Brandon's ego. He'd have to embrace the role for it to work and that's a lot to ask of a franchise player. But if Brandon's minutes are going to be limited, at his own request, then even he has to wonder whether there might be a more efficient way to space them out over the course of a game. Coming off the bench might well be the best way to utilized Roy's skills without limiting his teammates.
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