Can Brandon Roy Lead Wolves to Playoffs?
When the Portland Trail Blazers used the amnesty provision on three-time All-Star Brandon Roy in December of 2011, it seemed like another one of the NBA’s star players would be lost to injury far too early in his career. Roy, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees, announced his retirement at 27 years old.
However, it didn’t seem like Roy was ready to walk away from the game. He never really sounded like he had given up on playing at a high level, and he it wasn’t long before he was back to working out rather than enjoying retirement. Now, less than a year later, he’s back in the NBA and starting for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“As far as playing, I feel good,” Roy said. “It is just getting the legs back. I hadn’t played a full quarter during the preseason, so I am just trying to get a feel for it.”
“Being out a year, I definitely think I got that appreciation back of playing the game that I have loved my entire life,” Roy said. “Now when I go out on the court, no matter what’s going on, I try to enjoy it and make the most of it, out of every moment I get to play this game.”
Roy wasn’t just relying on fond memories as he sat out last season and considered a return to the game he loves. After a long rehab, Roy starting working out against some solid competition. Success in the summer, plus those memories from his days in Portland, convinced Roy to give the NBA another try.
“The biggest thing is that all those guys are pros. You can play against your friends, but you always got to play against some players at the highest level of basketball,” Roy said. “Playing with those guys all summer long gave me the confidence that I can get back out there and play in the NBA.
“That, and all the memories I had in Portland playing basketball, is what kind of gave me the confidence to come back and continue to play.”
Even playing well against professional basketball players like Will Conley and Jamal Crawford in the summer will not turn back time on Roy’s knees and it’s unlikely he’ll be the same player in Minnesota as he was in Portland. There are elements of his old game that he is no longer physically capable of performing and there will be an adjustment period that both Roy and his head coach Rick Adelman will have to go through in order to get the most out of the former All-Star.
“When you are young, you play hard and are usually successful off your skill and your athleticism,” Roy said. “After being able to play five years at a high level, I think I am smarter as a player. I pick my spots a little better now and work with Coach Rick [Adelman] and have him rotate me in and out of games. I played 30 minutes last game and it didn’t really feel like it because of the way I was rotating out there. Just being a little bit smarter now and playing with coaches who have had to deal with players with injuries has been good for me.”
“Every game is going to be different,” Adelman said. “It is not always going to be the same for [Roy]. It is going to take him some time. We know that. He is going to have a tough game here or there.”
“The biggest thing is as long as he stays healthy, he is going to get his legs under him and he is going to get better as the year goes on.”
Even as the Timberwolves wait for Roy to get his legs under him after a season away from basketball, Roy has brought the experience and poise of an All-Star veteran to Minnesota. With Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love sitting on the shelf to start the season, the leadership this team requires has largely fallen to him.
“It’s always important to try and be a leader,” Roy said. “We got a great group here. A lot of guys that know what to do on and off the floor, so I don’t have to do a lot of talking about how to carry yourself off the court, I think guys are good with that. I just try to go out there and lead by example, on and off the court.”
“[Roy] and Andrei [Kirilenko] both, the way they play, the way they approach practice, approach the game, all that stuff rubs off on the other guys,” Adelman said. “I think that has been a real help to our team because we really needed it.”
Roy is back. He is starting and averaging 27 minutes over his first three games. Excluding that off night in Toronto, he is averaging 8 points, 6.5 assists and just half a turnover, and has helped Minnesota get off to a 2-1 start this season. If this early sample can be used to set expectations, the Timberwolves have added an impact piece to a rapidly improving roster.
“The biggest thing is that I try to be smarter out there on the court,” Roy said. “I don’t want to go into it too much about how things have changed because I don’t want people to guard me differently. But, the biggest thing is trying to stay healthy, putting the injuries behind me and trying to be as aggressive as I can when I’m out there on the floor.”
That a smarter Roy is back in the NBA isn’t good news for the other teams in the Western Conference that expect to be fighting for a playoff spot. If Adelman is correct about Roy improving as the season moves along, the Timberwolves are poised to significantly overachieve this season.