Four years ago, Brandon Roy was one of the NBA’s premiere two-guards, averaging career best numbers of 22.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game to go along with five assists for the Portland Trailblazers. In that same 2008-2009 season, he went for a career-high 52 points against the Suns, and played in a career-high 78 games. He developed a reputation as one of the league’s most clutch performers, and at times channelled Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill, as a big guard/forward who could score, facilitate and rebound, all while playing smooth and composed. Kobe Bryant once called him the toughest player to guard. “Roy has no weaknesses in his game,” he said.
Unfortunately, Roy took after Hill and Hardaway in another way as well, health. Both players had potential Hall Of Fame careers derailed by injuries, and Roy, with two bad knees has fallen to the same fate. In 2010-2011, the three-time All-Star played only 47 games, and just before last year’s lockout-shortened season he was forced into retirement and amnestied by the Blazers. Instead of throwing the towel in on his career, the Washington native remained resilient and surprised many this summer when he announced he’d be making a comeback.
BRoy is a new man on the court nowadays, running with the Minnesota Timberwolves these days. But he’s no longer the superhero he once was. He wasn’t supposed to be. “That was the role coming in,” he said after a game against the Bulls which he sat out with a sore knee. “It was never 38-40 minutes and carry the load, but it was to be able have an impact on games. So I’m just continuing to get my legs and get healthy.”
Injuries have ravaged the Timberwolves roster thus far. Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, J.J. Barea have all missed time. Roy is the latest on the list, starting in the first five games, then missing two after tweaking his knee. Neither he nor Minnesota were worried, however. Times like this were expected coming into the season. “[Minnesota head coach Rick Adelman] came to me and said ‘Don’t worry about it,'” states Roy. “He knows I’m feeling bad and want to rush back and play, and he’s like, ‘No, we expected this. We’re gonna sit you this game and kind of see how you feel, especially with it being a back-to-back’.”
“It’s both [a physical and mental challenge],” Roy continues. “There’s always gonna be the physical side. And the mental part is just understanding that these things are going to happen. I’ve had moments where I’ve over-thought things. Especially in the regular season when the tempo kind of picked up there were plays that I thought I could make but kind of backed out of it. Not because of pain, but just mentally, like ‘Are you sure, are you sure?’ Some of it is just second-guessing.”
Thus far, the 2007 Rookie of the Year and two-time All-Pro is averaging just 5.8 points, 4.6 assists, and 2.8 rebounds on 31 percent shooting. Big drop-off from the 18.8 points per game he’s averaged over his six-year career. He’s still learning – or re-learning – how to play in his new role and manage his body. “The difference then was I did have those bursts where I could call on athleticism,” Roy reflects. “Now, it’s a little bit different. So I’ve just gotta continue to adjust and find my spots. I have to learn to just be more efficient. Make my open shots and [take advantage] when I do have times where I can create, and be smarter.”