Today we look at the third leg of our Big Three, Mr. Brandon Roy. Brandon's Rookie of the Year season last year needs little recounting here. 16.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4 assists, great attitude, incredible charisma, team leader...you know all about him. And who's to blame Blazer fans if they're expecting this season to be even better?
But I don't think it will be. At least not much.
I know a fair percentage of you are going to scream bloody murder about that right out of the gate, but look...it can happen. Everybody who's ever had a promising rookie thinks the same thing: this year he scored in the teens, next year it will be the twenties, then he's the next LeBron and we're winning championships! Sometimes that happens (see also: Dwyane Wade). Many times it doesn't (see also: Damon Stoudamire, Channing Frye, et al). And please don't bother titling a comment "Brandon is not at all like Damon!" I know they're different players. That doesn't invalidate the point that second-year improvement doesn't always happen. Toronto fans would have sworn to you up and down after Damon's rookie year that he was automatically the Next Big Thang. Blazer fans will swear up and down that Roy is automatically the Next Big Thang. I hope Roy does become a big thing, but it's not automatic and I think he's going to have a hard time this year. Take some deep breaths into a paper bag for a minute and at least check out why.
First of all, Brandon enters the season with bigger expectations as far as the fans go. Last year was all about seeing how good he could be and he exceeded every reasonable expectation laid on him. The delicious sauce on the meatloaf was his wonderful attitude at a time when the team was still somewhat defined by less that wonderful folks. This year people expect him to be great. Last year if he hit one out of four game winners people would have sung his praises. This year they'll wonder what's wrong with him. Last year when he scored 16 everybody sat up and took notice. By the time January rolls around a fair amount of people are going to be wondering if he can bump it to 20 and if not, why not? In short, as far as fan expectations, he's starting at a much higher bar. If he just goes out and does the same thing people are going to begin to shrug. Personally I will still consider that a good year but many won't. Plus his attitude, while still great, isn't going to bring as many brownie points this year because pretty much everybody is a good guy.
Brandon is also going to be receiving the lion's share of attention from defenders. He won't sneak up on anybody. The opponent's best small defender is going to be in his jock from the opening tip. People are going to reason that if they can keep the ball out of his hands or stall the ball when it's in his hands we're stuck with mediocre point guards and small forwards trying to generate offense, probably against the clock. What's more they're going to absolutely PACK the lane on defense. Much of that is out of respect for our big guys but a nifty secondary effect is going to be the clogging of Brandon's driving lanes. If they can't stop him entirely they'll settle for making him a jump shooter. I wouldn't be surprised if many times the defense looked like a squished together box and one from college, with the one watching Brandon. He's going to have to work very hard for his points.
There's also going to be a lot more on Brandon's mind this year. Last year he was kind of a leader but we still had veterans (OK. Zach) to fill that role or at least take the pressure off. This year he's going to be THE leader in the locker room and on the court. Since we're likely to go through our share of growing pains, including quite a few losses, he's going to have to tap his mental and emotional reserves big time. And really, who really knows if he knows how to walk a team through sustained losing if it comes to that? Either way it's a lot to have on your plate and when young guys--even great young guys like we have--end up with a lot on their plate their play often stalls.
A corollary to that last point: Brandon is a team player, not an individual superstar. He's not in the LeBron mold. Last year's Rookie-Sophomore game wasn't a fluke. That's his style. Brandon needs the team to click in order to click himself. Granted he's the instigator of the clicking most nights--the leader as we said--but the fact remains that if the team doesn't ignite he'll have a hard time showing his best stuff. With the team so young and not used to playing together there are going to be a number of nights when they just won't get it. In fact I expect we'll see a few complete fall-aparts before the season is through. That's going to hurt Brandon in the long run, much the way a landlubber crew will hamper a ship's captain no matter how good the orders he's giving.
Finally, Brandon has still not been tested physically with an 82-game NBA schedule. He was injured for more than a third of the season last year. He's going to be playing a ton of minutes this year and fatigue is going to become an issue at some point.
I absolutely don't expect Brandon to fall apart or regress. I don't expect we'll see anything besides the confident, engaging guy we've come to know and love. But I don't expect an exponential leap in production either. I think that will have to wait for his third or fourth year. I'd guess he'd be right around 16-17 points again, maybe with slightly fewer rebounds and hopefully with slightly more assists. To me that would be a fine year for him again. If he gets near 20 points a game it'll mean three things:
--The team is in a groove sooner than expected.
--They're running more.
--He's really developed an outside shot.
I hope that we'll see continued improvement in Brandon's defensive awareness and effort this season. I hope he continues to work for good shots and does his usual sterling job of being a good influence on the team. If he can give me those things I'm more than willing to work through some post-rookie bumps with him, knowing that it's all going to come good in the end.