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Even-keeled Brandon Roy in Blazer plans for next season
LAS VEGAS - Brandon Roy is in trouble. Ball in his hands, the shot clock ticking down, a three-second lane count nearing, three Washington defenders surrounding him in the key.
Then the Trail Blazer rookie snakes through a tight opening, tucks his legs, hangs in the air and spins a right-handed hook at a near-impossible angle off the glass for a basket.
From a spot in the stands at Cox Pavilion, Terry Porter watches with admiration.
'Roy has such a good flow about his game, a sense of reading situations, how to get into gaps, how to finish at the basket,' says Porter, the former All-Star point guard with the Blazers and ex-head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks observing play this week at the Las Vegas Summer League.
'He's the best perimeter player I've seen here. His basketball IQ is very high. He has a lot of upside. He can shoot it, he can play the pick-and-roll game, he can score on isos (isolation plays), coming off down screens … he reads everything very well.
'He's polished. He's ready to go.'
That's the way Blazer management sees it, too.
Coaches worked the 6-6, 215-pound former University of Washington star - taken seventh in last month's NBA draft - mostly at point guard in summer-league play to see if he can handle the position. Roy passed the test nicely, though coach Nate McMillan cautions reading too much into that, given the team's makeup.
'Brandon has been poised and under control, but this is summer league,' McMillan says. 'He's not going against Steve Nash or Tony Parker. He is a true 2 (shooting guard). He'll be able to play some at the point, but we have point guards.'
In Portland's five summer-league games ending with Wednesday's 91-82 loss to Phoenix, Roy hit 33 of 51 shots from the field (.647) and averaged 19 points in 26.2 minutes per contest. The player whom teammates already hail by the unimaginative nickname of 'B-Roy' knocked down the midrange jumper with consistency, created contact and drew fouls with shake-and-bake moves to the basket, and finished well with either hand.
'He has a terrific all-around game,' says Geoff Petrie, Sacramento's president of basketball operations. 'He does everything pretty well. He can be a multiposition player. How much time he gets at the point probably depends on matchups, but he's a player. He has the size, and he's really skilled.'
Coaches see the promise
If there was anything to improve on, Roy might look at an assist/turnover ratio (18-to-16) that reflects an inclination to try to force matters at times.
'I played well at times,' Roy says. 'I felt more comfortable with each game. (Point guard) is a new position for me to play full time. There were spurts where I felt I was doing really good. Other spurts where I was like, 'OK, I need to get guys the ball.' I'm still learning.'
Blazer brass is mindful of the relevance of statistics but isn't caught up in them.
'Brandon may not show up in the stats every night, but he does a lot of little things that help you win,' says Kevin Pritchard, Portland's director of player personnel. 'He will catch a rebound and throw up a quick outlet (pass) that leads to a basket. He will set a hard screen. He's a winner. I don't use that term loosely. He plays winning basketball. We're trying to get a lot of guys who know how to play. He knows.'
Roy has been able to break down defenders regularly off the dribble, a sight his coaches wanted to see.
'If he is getting by point guards, he should be able to get by 2 guards,' McMillan says. 'There's value in this league in having 2 guards who can handle the ball. The good thing is, Brandon can play with or without the ball. His versatility makes it difficult for teams to defend him.'
'Coach wants me to be a playmaker for this team,' Roy says. 'He said, 'I don't care if you're playing the 2, you can still make a play from that position.' The NBA is turning into that kind of league - you need four guys on the court who can make plays. I see myself as a 2 who can play 1, but in time I could become a true point guard and a guy who can make plays down the stretch.'
Adds Pritchard: 'Brandon is so clever with the ball, he can be a secondary ballhandler but also a pick-and-roll guy who gets in the paint and scores.
'He makes great decisions. In the game Martell (Webster) scored 29, four or five baskets came off Roy assists,' Pritchard says. 'People worry about whether they can play together, but Roy can play with just about anybody.'
Roy will go into October training camp battling for playing time at shooting guard with veteran Juan Dixon and second-year man Webster, the latter a fellow Seattle native and longtime friend. Like nearly every NBA player, Roy sees himself as a starter at some point.
'Who's to say if it's the first game or the 20th game?' Roy asks. 'I know my work ethic and what I bring to a team. In time, Coach will find time for me to get in there and start. Or maybe I'll just be a guy to come off the bench but play most of the game. If I'm on the bench, I'll feel like a starter once I get on the floor.'
Roy does a nice job of keeping his cool on the court. That's his personality, says longtime UW assistant coach Jim Shaw.
'Brandon is so even-keeled,' Shaw says. 'He doesn't have tremendous highs and lows, on the floor or off the floor. I always tease him, he could be a great poker player.'
Big man came to campus
Roy exploded on the college scene last season after three years as a role player at Washington, playing in the shadow of such teammates as Nate Robinson, his close friend since the fourth grade. After averaging 12.8 points (while shooting .569) and earning honorable mention all-Pac-10 honors as a junior, Roy averaged 20.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists in leading the Huskies to the Sweet 16. He was named Pac-10 player of the year and gained consensus All-America acclaim.
'Brandon got better every year, but he made the most significant improvements when we needed him to step up and be the guy for us last year,' Shaw says. 'He was arguably as good as anybody in the country. He has no big weakness. He was not a 3-point shooter his first three years, but he added that last year (when he shot .402 from 3-point range).'
Roy has embraced his situation in Portland. He is well aware of the 'Jail Blazer' image and understands management's desire to acquire quality people as well as players.
'You can tell by the way they drafted,' he says. 'I've had a chance to hang around LaMarcus (Aldridge), and I can tell you, he's a really good guy. I can tell (management wants) to change the attitude on this team. It's something LaMarcus and I take pride in. I'll make sure I stay positive on the floor and in the community. I think we can build something special.'
Roy knows the other hurdle facing the Blazers. A young, inexperienced team that went an NBA-worst 21-61 last season won't become a winner overnight.
'Portland is trying to turn it around and build through youth,' he says. 'I'm happy to be a part of it.'
As a high school senior out of Seattle's Garfield High, Roy turned down major college powers to sign with Washington, which had gone 10-17 that year. It's not unlike the situation he faces with the Blazers.
'I think about that,' Roy says. 'I can't say it's going to turn around in Portland next year or the year after that, but if we keep playing hard, I know we have some good young players and a good coach. It can be done.'
He's an immediate fan favorite
If there were any questions, it became clear at summer league that Roy will be a key ingredient to any success the Blazers have in the near future.
'I know people are looking for me to help the team out,' he says. 'It's pressure, but it's a good pressure. If I know myself, I'll rise to the occasion.'
Can a rookie be one of the Blazer leaders next season?
'In time, ambassador might describe Brandon better than leader,' Shaw says. 'He's not the most vocal guy, but he sets a tremendous example. He's a no-maintenance kid. The fans are going to like him off the court, too.'
Roy showed some of that at summer league. After each game, one player was designated autograph signer. When it was Roy's turn, he mingled comfortably with the public, signing 'BR #7' on anything thrust in front of him, posing for photographs, bantering with each fan who sought a moment.
'When I was a kid, the biggest thing you wanted a player to do was acknowledge you,' Roy says. 'That's important. I want to sign as many autographs as possible. I worked hard to get to this point in my career. I'm not going to act like I don't like it. I do enjoy the attention.'
One fan told Roy his brother is a huge Blazer fan.
'Tell him I say, 'What's up?' and 'we're going to turn it around,' ' Roy said.
Another fan said he has a vacation home in Newport and offers Roy its use 'if you ever want to.' Roy smiled his thanks.
A disabled fan wearing a green 'UO' cap told him, 'You're going to lead them to the promised land.'
'Well, give it some time,' Roy said.