Much has been made of the parallels between Brandon Roy of the Portland Trailblazers, and Penny Hardaway in the late 90’s. Both had injuries derail their careers in their 5th season. Both were All Stars cut down in their prime. Both were about 6’7” and 215lbs. Even their stats are mind-bogglingly nearly identical. The prevailing assumption is that Roy, like Hardaway before him will never regain the glory and promise of his early years on the court.
Fortunately the similarities do not end there. And that leaves a glimmer of hope for Roy, as he may be able to learn from Hardaway’s mistakes and maintain a productive career for himself.
For all the hype and fanfare Penny garnered early in his career, he made enemies immediately with fans in Orlando as he was blamed for running Shaq out of town and labeled a prima donna. For all his court awareness Penny failed to realize his greatest attribute as a player was his dual threat as both playmaker and a scorer. Jack McCallum had immortalized Penny in Sports Illustrating calling him the only player in the league equally comfortable giving and receiving an alley-oop pass. But Penny was determined to emulate the reigning King of the league, Michael Jordan as a supreme scorer with an assassin’s mentality, who would simply take over games all by himself through sheer force of his own will. Penny abandoned the point guard position from which he had so confused NBA defenses with his playmaking and scoring abilities, to become a fulltime scorer. The theory was that he could be more aggressive without having to concern himself with running the team on the court. He could just be single-minded about putting the ball in the basket. Unfortunately the results were only a lower field-goal percentage and consecutive first round exits in the playoffs.
Sound Familiar Blazer Fans?
Amazingly Roy has followed an identical career trajectory. Although he was never listed as a PG, in essence he filled the roll with Steve Blake starting alongside him as primarily a spot up shooter. Roy was the primary ball handler and initiated the offense himself. But Roy also has sought to emulate the cold-bloodedness of the reigning NBA champions in Kobe Bryant. Roy’s playmaking mentality, which like Hardaway before him, made him such a difficult cover, not only for his individual defender but for the opposing team as a whole to gamelan for, was abandoned so that Roy could concentrate on being aggressive with his own offense. The dual threat was gone. His teammates struggled to find their own rhythm when Roy wasn’t on his. Yet Roy has struggled playing alongside a genuine PG in Andre Miller, lamenting that Dre doesn’t provide him the kick out option he needs to keep defenses honest. The irony is that Roy, just a Penny before him, cannot see the dependence of his game on his multi-facetedness, not on a system of singularly skilled shooters, keeping the defense honest for the one prolific scorer. Indeed the genius of both Penny and Roy was that they alone provided a system where singularly skilled shooters could be effective when kept honest by the multifaceted skill set of brilliant playmakers.
And so now that Roy is at this time essentially a hobbled old man, who has lost his explosiveness, the ThinkTank Panel (of One) humbly submits that Roy should move to PG. Become a facilitator. Being Brandon Roy he will still command defensive attention, attention greater than he probably deserves at this point. Keeping the defense honest, by remaining a playmaker seeking to involve the rest of the team. If nothing less Roy can reprise the role Steve Blake played alongside Roy himself in Portland.
Of course the best place to employ this tactic is off the bench. Roy has always been the “back up PG” by default, and it just makes sense to cast him in that role explicitly. He’ll save ware and tear in less minutes, and he won’t have to struggle to share the ball with Andre Miller. And of Course if he happens to get Hot, the Blazers can always feed the hot hand. Thus the injury reduced inconsistent Roy can be used efficiently to maximize his value to the team.
Some nights Roy will still go for 30, other nights he will only play a few minutes. But his value, as it ever has been, but now more than ever, is based on his versatility and craftiness, not on a single overpowering attribute. And now given his physical limitations due to injury, Roy has to be more versatile than ever in order to help his team win.
Penny never recovered his multifaceted playmaking approach to the game, and thus was never able to overcome his physical limitations. Roy still has the slimmest of chances, if only he can stop History from further repeating it’s self.