Roy searching for his inner ruthlessness
The Portland Trail Blazers had just lost to the Denver Nuggets, and Brandon Roy(notes) was blaming himself for the defeat. His 12 points had hardly measured up to Carmelo Anthony’s(notes) 30, and with the Blazers clinging to the Western Conference’s last playoff seed, any loss was one they couldn’t afford.
By the time Roy reached the Blazers’ bus on the night of March 7, he had vowed something needed to change. Specifically, himself.
Roy had been raised to believe in a pair of long-held doctrines of sport: Team first. Stay humble.
But even those seemed outdated when weighed against the Blazers’ pressing needs. Roy looked at the game’s top stars, from Kobe Bryant(notes) to LeBron James(notes) to Dwyane Wade(notes) to Dirk Nowitzki(notes), and they all shared one common trait: They’re relentless scorers.
Roy needed to become the same. Four nights later, he dropped 41 points on the Golden State Warriors.
“I look back at [Michael] Jordan, and Kobe recently. Those guys try to dominate. You look at big men like Shaq, they dominate,” Roy said. “It was an edge. I got to get that edge. Even when I play against Carmelo and those guys, they play with that edge. They want to bury you. I’m thinking, ‘I got to get that edge.’ ”
Roy has averaged 27 points on 57 percent shooting in the four games since the Blazers fell to Denver. The Blazers won all four games. He has no plans to dial back his aggressiveness.
“Every day, I got to prepare and it’s not just a switch,” Roy said. “Kobe was saying that. We were about to play in the All-Star game, and he said, ‘Let’s go hard.’ I said, ‘Why do you want to play so hard in the All-Star game?’ He said, ‘It’s not a switch. You have to do it every day.’ I’m learning that now. It’s not a switch.
“I’ve gone so long in my life not being that way. Now, I got to turn more aggressive, more mean. I’ve never been one to be a [expletive]. But sometimes on the court, you have to be a [expletive].”
Roy, Bryant, James and Wade are the only four players averaging at least 22 points, five assists and 4.5 rebounds this season. But the similarities between Roy and the three superstars end there.
Bryant and Wade have won championships. James has reached the NBA Finals. Roy hasn’t advanced past the first round of the playoffs. And Roy’s per-game average of 22.3 points dims in comparison to that of James, Bryant and Wade, who rank among the league’s top five scorers.
Unlike Bryant, James and Wade, you also won’t see Roy on many national commercials or widely featured in the NBA’s marketing campaigns. Playing in one of the league’s smallest markets doesn’t help Roy’s profile, but then neither does this: Fans love scorers. The more points, the better.
Rarely is Roy noticed outside of the Pacific Northwest. That’s why he was surprised when workers at a McDonald’s in Philadelphia recognized him – at least before they started asking him about Wade.
Roy isn’t worried about enhancing his endorsement potential as much as he is the Blazers’ win total. But in a season where Portland’s roster has been shredded by injuries, he knows he needs to become more selfish.
“I never scored over 40 in high school and college,” Roy said. “Never had the mentality. I always had the mentality that if we’re up eight and I got 30 and I don’t have to score then I won’t score, instead of like, ‘Man, go get 40.’ I never had that mentality of, ‘Oh, go get it.’
“That’s something I think I have to do, and not for my own self-promotion. It’s to help my team win. … I think that’s going to make us a better team.”
Bryant knows as much. He could care less if anyone, even his teammates, thinks he’s shooting too often. Four titles can bring that kind of swagger.
Roy, too, has the versatility to rank among the league’s top scorers. What’s stopping him? Maybe he’s too nice. Bryant remembers a game when Roy apologized to his teammates for shooting too much even though he was hot.
“I can flip the switch and go from scorer to playmaker,” Bryant said. “I’m sure he can flip the switch to go from playmaker to scorer. He has all of the skills to do it.
“He and I were talking over All-Star break, and I told him I don’t know of any player outside of myself that has no weaknesses besides him. If you think about it, he can go left and pull up and shoot. He can go right and pull up and shoot. He can fade left shoulder, he can fade right shoulder. He can shoot the long ball. He can finish at the rim. He can shoot free throws. He has no weaknesses in his offensive game; so if that’s something he wants to do, he can easily do it.
“The thing about scoring is you really don’t have to give a [expletive] because a lot of people will criticize you for doing what you do. That’s when you have to be willing to take that criticism, still play and be aggressive. He’s such a nice, nice kid. I think that’s something that he will have to battle through and struggle with.”
Had the Blazers drafted Kevin Durant(notes) instead of Greg Oden(notes) in 2007, then maybe Roy could have served as more of a natural facilitator instead of a cold-blooded scorer. Roy, however, sees problems with that thinking. If the Blazers had drafted Durant, then perhaps neither Roy nor Durant would have developed as quickly as they have.
“Can me and Kevin Durant even coexist?” Roy said. “We’re similar. We’re both creators. We are both perimeter players. I don’t know if there is enough room for both of us.
“But that doesn’t say Kevin Durant isn’t a great player. He’s right there for the MVP, so not a knock to him at all. I think he is a great guy off the court. He’s cool. He’s humble. But as far as me having the career I wanted to and him having the career he wanted to, it was the right decision for him to be with Oklahoma City and for us to take Greg Oden.”
Some Portland fans might argue that, especially with Oden again sidelined with another significant injury. But there’s also no denying Roy has become a worthy leading man for the Blazers. Though a hamstring injury sidelined him for a month leading into the All-Star break, Roy seems to have regained most of his explosiveness. Of late, he’s even looked – and sounded – somewhat ruthless.
“I’m playing with a little more flair,” Roy said. “When I catch the ball, I’m going to see how I can get to the basket and score.
“So, for me, it’s to attack earlier in the games … and constantly put pressure on the defense to stop. I can’t allow one guard to guard me. And when that guy helps, I’ll kill you right there with a pass.”
If the Blazers reach the playoffs for the second straight season, they’ll likely be underdogs against the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets or Dallas Mavericks in the first round. Roy is smart enough to realize that even with teammates such as LaMarcus Aldridge(notes), Andre Miller(notes) and Marcus Camby(notes), he’ll likely shoulder most of the pressure for the Blazers’ success. He’s looking forward to taking the team’s fortune – and the ball – in his own hands.
“I have to be more aggressive; I have to because my teammates need it,” Roy said. “That’s what we need because that’s what this league is. It’s about your best players being more aggressive and a little selfish.”
Camby reminded Roy of that the other night.
“Who cares if you miss?” Camby told him. “Shoot again.”