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2009-10 Review: Brandon Roy

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Is that reach long enough to capture a trophy in the next few years?  We're going to find out.
Is that reach long enough to capture a trophy in the next few years? We're going to find out.

We start our individual reviews with the captain and superstar of the team, Brandon Roy.  Up until this year Brandon's end-of-season reviews have reached near-boring status.  He's amazing.  He's the heart and soul.  Everybody's toes are curling in ecstasy.  Woot.  While Roy still turned in a respectable season, even by his high standards, people's toes are a little straighter this year than usual.

Make no mistake, there was plenty to like about Brandon's season.  His 21.5 ppg scoring clip led the team.  We take his offensive prowess for granted nowadays but we should remember that he's scoring at this rate with a huge bullseye on his jersey every night...a feat which isn't as easy as it looks as LaMarcus Aldridge et al. proved when Brandon was out and that attention switched to them.  His 47.3% shooting percentage is masterful for a guard.  His 6.8 foul shots per game lead the team and it isn't close.  He added 4.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game this year.  These are all good numbers.  More to the point, you saw what chance the Blazers had against the Suns in the post-season without him.  Portland was 42-23 this season when Roy played.  They went 9-11 without him.  Project that out over 82 games and it's the difference between a 53-29 season and a 37-45 one.  Whatever criticism one has of Brandon has to include that reality.  He is the Portland Trail Blazers right now.

That said, Brandon clearly left less of an impression this year than he did the year before.  The most disappointing number by far was the 65 games played in the regular season and the de facto absence in the post-season.  After durability concerns plagued his rookie season the Blazers breathed a sigh of relief as Brandon played 74 and then 78 games in his second and third years.  Between the hamstring and meniscus people are now questioning whether Brandon has the body to make it through another 10 NBA seasons, or even the next few.  Part of that is understandable nervousness surrounding a roster that needs another injury-plagued player like they need a snuff box full of the swine flu.  But the concern is legitimate precisely because of the effect Brandon has on Portland's chances of winning.  You can live without an appendix or even a functional limb for a while but you start getting really concerned when your heart only functions intermittently.

Even Roy's shiny numbers have a hint of tarnish to them this year.  His 47% shooting percentage is down seven-tenths of a point.  His three-point percentage tumbled 4.7 points this year.  His free throw percentage dropped 4.4 points.  He took 1 less shot and scored 1 less point per game than last season.  His assists were only down .4 per game from last year but have dropped a full 1.1 per game from two seasons ago.  The advanced stats don't tell a better story.  True Shooting and Effective Field Goal percentages were close to, but still down from, a year ago.  Assist and Rebounding Percentages were down.  Turnover Percentage was up.  Passing Rating?  Down.  Hands Rating?  Down.  Brandon's Net Points dropped almost in half for the season.  His plus-minus per game in 2008-09 was +6.5.  In 2009-10 it was +3.8.  About the only stats that improved were his clutch numbers, a category in which he's seemingly impeccable no matter what happens.

Is Brandon good?  Undoubtedly.  Is Brandon great?  Yes.  That's not the issue.  The real question is whether Brandon is Brandon.  He seemed less so this year.  Or at least he was less of the miracle worker the Blazers have come to rely on.

One of the questions surrounding Brandon's game is how well he's able to play with others.  When he and LaMarcus Aldridge were head and shoulders above everyone else this wasn't an issue.  Whatever Brandon got was also best for the team by default.  But that was when he was surrounded by other young players.  With the team growing up and angling for championship contention the caliber of player around Roy will continue to increase, as will their needs and importance to the team.  Portland's isolation offense has benefitted Roy's game so far.  Is that the best long-term solution for the team, though?  If not, how will Roy adjust?  Greg Oden, Andre Miller, and Nicolas Batum are the main players sharing the Roy-Aldridge inner circle at the moment.  In order to take the leap from playoff participant to legitimate contender the Blazers may need to add another major piece within the next year or two.  What will that do to Roy's game?  He's been so far ahead of the pack developmentally that we've seldom talked about his learning curve.  Here it is, though.  Brandon needs to make the transition from young star to veteran winner.  He needs to learn when and how to get his teammates going and when he just needs to take over.  He needs to find ways to contribute while aiding his teammates instead of just biding time, waiting for his moment.  Too many times this season we saw no Roy...no Roy...no Roy...LOTS of Roy (and no anybody else).  The heart has to beat for 48 minutes in order for the body to function.  Whether it's assuming more point guard responsibilities, being willing to be the outlet perimeter shot-maker, or even playing tougher defense, Roy has to find a way to make his presence known outside of his prime offensive moments...all without giving up any of those offensive moments.

I find no reason to complain about Roy or his performance at this juncture.  I am satisfied with his season and with his game.  He's mastered just about every basic task you could imagine and brought this team wins while doing so.  The tasks from here on out get more esoteric, though.  Somebody needs to put this team together and make it work.  It's clear that LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden aren't going to be that kind of leader.  With Andre Miller on a short contract that leaves Brandon on the pedestal all alone.  It's a position he's earned but it's also a position he's stuck with.  As talented as they are, the Blazers are only going to go as far as Brandon leads them.  Let's hope he both accepts and is up to the task.

Season Performance:  A-  (by his own standards)

Trend:  Static

Biggest Question Marks:  Health, defense, evolution as a team player (not because of selfishness, but learning the Superstar cha-cha of involving others while still getting one's own)

Future with the Team:  Rock Solid

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)