No Game Is an Island: On Their Own

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 22, 2009 under Previews | Be the First to Comment

For a team with a bright future, things in Portland are certainly dim. Greg Oden’s injury puts a damper on what could have been a successful season, and the point guard situation is far from resolved. They have an All-Star shooting guard and bright, young talent at virtually every position, yet the chemistry and rotation have become unexpected problems. The worst of it is this: regardless of what has worked for other teams in the past, there is no blueprint for team-building. There is no generic solution for the Blazers’ uniquely talented players, and though it sure beats being a lottery team, being rich with talent often presents its own new problems.

The Portland Trailblazers are an interesting case study on multiple levels, but particularly because their fortunes have been all over the place. Brandon Roy is clearly the star of the show, and rightfully so. He’s an incredibly talented offensive player who can produce without stymieing the greater team-wide vision. In fact, with a player of Roy’s particular talents and tendencies, you could go as far as to say that he excels within a team framework. There are certain NBA players who were born to win one-on-one tournaments. And for what it’s worth, Roy probably wouldn’t do too badly. That said, the true beauty of his game comes in how he controls the flow of the offense and manages space. He works the pick-and-roll beautifully, he draws extra defenders and finds the open man, and above all, Roy isn’t just capable of making the pass, but completely willing to. He’s humble. He’s a consummate professional. He’s hungry. And despite everything that has gone right for the Blazers in amassing their stable of young talent, it’s possible that they still haven’t figured out what kind of players are best-suited to flank Roy (and LaMarcus Aldridge, and whoever else is deemed part of the core).

It’s not as simple as taking a franchise model and plugging in Roy. His style is very much his own, and despite the temptation to assume that he would work the same in any number of systems with a precedent of talented shooting guards, that’s not the way it works. Just because the Bulls of the 90s, the Lakers of the early 2000s, and the current incarnation all run some version of the triangle offense, the personnel put their mark on the system. In those cases, you can hold the coach and the system constant, but that doesn’t make Luc Longley and Shaquille O’Neal one in the same. Players will always shape a system to make it unique, and great players typically have a more profound influence than is easily recognizable. As much as Roy is to be part of McMillan’s system, the system and the rotation must adjust to the specificities of Roy’s game.

Read my piece on Brandon Roy and the Blazers in its entirety at Hardwood Paroxysm.