Blazers rookie plays -- and acts -- like a seasoned pro
Posted: Wednesday March 14, 2007 3:28PM; Updated: Wednesday March 14, 2007 4:54PM
DENVER -- Standing in front of his locker in the bowels of the Pepsi Center, Brandon Roy is the center of attention. No, Roy is not the Trail Blazers' best player (Zach Randolph has that distinction) or the most outspoken (again, Randolph) or a locker-room lightning rod (we give that one to the oft-injured Darius Miles). But there Roy is, peering over the assembled masses and calmly answering questions like a six-year veteran, not someone who just played his 43rd game and has a self-professed phobia for tight spaces.
"He really is," Randolph said, "the most mature rookie in the league."
He has also been the best. Despite being a rookie by definition, Roy is hardly playing like a first-year player (though Randolph is quick to add that Roy still must fulfill his rookie duties, which include carrying the veterans' luggage). Besides leading all rookies in scoring (15.9), assists (4.1) and minutes (34.6), Roy has emerged as a stabilizing force on a young Blazers team desperate for leadership.
Despite struggling for most of the first half in Tuesday's loss to the Nuggets, Roy still played a team-high 44 minutes.
"I think Coach [Nate McMillan] wants me to play through my struggles," Roy said. "It's better to do it now instead of next year. He needs to know he can count on me to be able to stay on the floor."
What is curious about Roy is how little attention he received coming out of college. After a stellar four-year career at Washington, where he was Pac-10 Player of the Year and a finalist for several national player of the year awards as a senior, Roy wasn't exactly a hot commodity on draft night. Three teams -- Boston, Minnesota and Portland -- bandied Roy about like a Frisbee until he eventually found his way back to the Pacific Northwest, where he forms a solid core in Portland with Randolph and fellow rookie LaMarcus Aldridge. It was the perfect scenario for the Seattle native who had strong reasons for wanting to stay close to home.
"In my workout, Coach said he wanted to play me at both guard spots," Roy said. "I didn't want to get stuck playing just the 'one' or just the 'two,' so on draft night I was praying I would wind up in Portland."
Roy, the Rookie of the Year favorite, has also become a poster boy for staying in college. While many of the players picked before and after him have struggled, the 6-6 Roy has been a model of consistency, blending seamlessly into both guard spots offensively while showcasing the defensive skills necessary to guard three positions (against the Nuggets, Roy took a turn guarding Allen Iverson, J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony).
"Everything I have gone through, college has helped me with," said Roy, who admitted that he flirted with the idea of turning pro after his junior season. "Each year I got better. And my senior year, I really improved my leadership skills. That was big because when I got here, Coach said he wanted me to be a leader on this team. College made that transition so much easier."
Roy, who missed 20 games earlier in the season with a heel injury, has improved his scoring in each month and has collected Rookie of the Month awards in January and February while becoming the first Portland player to participate in All-Star Weekend since 2001.
Though there is still another month to go in this season, Roy is already looking forward to this summer when he said he will work on his ball handling and pull-up jump shot.
"I'm excited about the offseason," he said. "Being in the NBA for a whole year, I have a clear idea now of what is expected of me. When I come back, I'm going to be more dangerous offensively."
Said McMillan: "I really didn't know what I was getting in June. I saw him as a player who allows the game to come to him. He doesn't force the game. But I've put him in a position where we're forcing him to be more aggressive to make plays and to handle the ball a lot more."
Don't worry, Nate. By the looks of it, Roy can handle just about anything.