Have you ever seen the movie Sliding Doors?
It’s a Gwyneth Paltrow movie that shows the parallel life tracks of a woman whose life is up in the air. On the day she gets fired from her PR job, she is catching a subway to get home.
In one parallel, Gwyneth’s character makes her train. She meets a man that she hits it off with right away. Because she caught her train, she gets home early and catches her boyfriend cheating on her. Since she’s found out what a jerk he is, she returns to the new man she’s met on the train and begins a new life.
In the other parallel, she misses the train and doesn’t meet the new man. She gets home well after her boyfriend’s affair is over and is never the wiser to his deceitful ways. She ends up overworking herself to support him while he takes time writing a novel.
In one life, she gets to restart everything. Her life gets turned upside down and she hits rock bottom, but she finds a new way to begin the next phase of her life. In the other life, the bad hits just keep on coming and she’s stuck in the same rut she can’t seem to crawl out of.
Every time I think about Brandon Roy’s upcoming campaign with the Minnesota Timberwolves, I can’t help but think of this movie. There really are two parallels of the next chapter in Brandon Roy’s life. As we move forward, we’ll find out over the next two weeks/one month/three months/full season the answers to the questions we have about Brandon Roy.
In the first parallel, we see a Brandon Roy much like the 2009-10 version.
That Roy was a danger on the court. His knees were on the verge of degenerating but he was still obliterating teams on the court. His team’s offensive rating when he was on the court was 110.5. He had a PER of 21.3 and WS/48 of .180 that season. It wasn’t his best year but he was still quite incredible.
Roy was elite in nearly every offensive situation.
Other than transition possessions, Roy dominated nearly every offensive possession. The other day, I talked about spot-up shooting and 3-point shooting with the Wolves, and while Roy’s numbers that season were impressive, his performance there isn’t what grabs my eye here. What grabs my eye is his production in the pick-and-roll.
When Chase Budinger was acquired before the draft, Rick Adelman talked about using Chase Budinger in the pick-and-roll as a primary ball handler. Playing Chase at the 2 or the 3 means using pick-and-rolls from different players, different positions, and at different spots on the floor than we’re used to seeing. We usually see 1-4 flat set-ups in which a guy will either go isolation or call for a screener at the top of the key. But using the wings for a side pick-and-roll seems much more possible and fruitful with the options the Wolves will have this coming season.
Seeing what Roy did that season in the PnR shows this to be a great idea.
This is what Brandon Roy used to be able to do. Send him into a pick-and-roll and he would give you a great chance of coming away with points. In the first play, you see him coming tightly off that pick and rising up for the midrange jumper. This is primarily how he beat opposing defenses in the PnR that year. He was so good at attacking off the dribble that hedging big men had to hold back and defend the drive. This gave him ample room to get set for his jump shot.
The second play was sort of the same. I’m not crazy about 3-point shots off the PnR unless it’s coming from Steve Nash, but you can see how much room Zyndrunas Ilgauskas gave him on the shot. There are still some slow big men in the NBA when defending on the perimeter and that Roy could make their lives miserable.
The third and fourth plays showed just why you had to defend the pick-and-roll by backing off. He turned the corner so well. You think you’ve done a good job of defending him and putting up a wall in front of him. Then he hooks around the defender or he just goes the other way on the screen and catches the defense off guard. He was a killer scoring the ball on pick-and-roll plays.
Roy could also pass out of those plays. The first play here was a nice pick-and-pop at the top of the key. In this area, the defense swarms Roy and forces him to give the ball up. Unfortunately, in doing so they’ve created a hole in their protection and allowed Aldridge to get free for the jumper. Now imagine Kevin Love in that same position.
The second play is him running a pick-and-roll after the original play broke down. This time, it’s Dante Cunningham (oh hey new T’Wolf!) dropping to the open area near the baseline and burying the jumper. Again, think about Love in these plays with Roy. He’s not opposed to passing to the open man.
Love is more than capable of knocking that down. Those are his shooting percentages from different areas on the floor last season. From the left and right of the top of the key, he killed defenses. From the right baseline jumper, he killed defenses. And if he can use this training camp to be in better shape than he was last season (even with his offseason conditioning in 2011), then we can expect him to shoot higher percentages from almost everywhere.
This is a parallel in which this Roy (not at his best but at his pretty good) is joining the Wolves. He’s taking his skills (even the ball dominating ones) and he’s sliding into the schemes smoothly. He’s the wing using the pick-and-roll from all over the floor to keep defenses off-balance. When they take the shot away, he’s passing it to willing and capable shooters. When they can’t keep up with his steps and lateral movements, he’s getting scoring chances and breaking back into the elite scorer he was in those situations.
The other parallel is basically what everybody seems to expect out of Brandon Roy. He’s beaten and he’s battered. He’s sore and he’s limping. He’s broken and he’s a shell. Other than taking Roy’s word for it, there isn’t much reason to expect him being any way but this assumed version of Roy.
This Roy is hobbling all over the court and even though he’s still capable of delivering in spurts, those spurts are spaced out over an uncomfortable metronome. He can still be good, but he can no longer be great. He is often more mediocre than good. His PER has dropped to 13.9 and his WS/48 are right on par with Martell Webster that season (.077). His free throw attempts fall from 6.8 to 2.9 per game. The Blazers drop down to 106.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the court. There is no more first step to get his game going.
His legs aren’t under his jumper anymore. In fact, they’re usually under the bus or in the line of fire.
Check out his Synergy numbers from the 2010-11 season.
They’re not bad, necessarily; they’re just quite a bit more inefficient. As a PnR initiator, his shooting percentages were just awful. He was down to 34% from the field and only attempted nine three-pointers in these situations (and made just two).
Everything for him just looked uncomfortable.
In these plays, do any of them look like the comfortable Roy we saw in the other highlights of him making jumpers? Obviously, there were plays in which he knocked down shots but those were few and far between compared to the previous year. On the first play, his body looks completely out of whack with his shooting form.
On the second play, there’s very little separation he can create between him and the Lakers defenders. There’s no elevation on his shot, which is also evident on his play during the third play of that clip. He’s trying to slither into the lane, but none of that is effective if he can’t get up to get off a good layup attempt against the opposing big men.
Looking at his shooting areas from his last season with the Blazers, he was really good from straight away on the floor and in desperate need of kind rolls everywhere else. Look at his percentage in the restricted area. The previous year it was 62% and now it fell over 10 percentage points. That’s all due to the lack of quickness and explosion in his game.
In this parallel, he’s entering the Wolves as a shoddy microwave. Hopefully it can heat up the food everybody wants, but most likely it’s just going to make an awkward whirring noise while everybody keeps wondering if the food is actually getting colder in there. He’s attempting to run pick-and-rolls, but he can’t get past the hard hedges. He can’t turn the corner nearly as quickly, if at all.
He’s forced into more isolation than anything positive. His spot-up shooting isn’t existent because his legs continue to fail him. And we’re left praying when he comes in to show us he can still cook on some level.
He can still be effective, but he’s not the player we need/hope he can be.
These are his two parallels. We don’t know which one we’re actually going to get and we may not know for quite a while.
I’ve stated this before but I do believe him that he’s never felt better with his legs. Time off will do that for you, especially mixing it in with great training and lots of treatment. But that doesn’t mean anything once the grind of the season starts. The pounding of practices, scrimmages, exhibition games, traveling and the 82-game season (plus playoffs?) takes its toll on the healthiest of players.
One thing I think the Wolves could consider doing to save him a bit is putting him in the post more. Even in Roy’s hobbled 2010-11 season, he was able to put up decent scoring on the block.
Roy has good control of the ball with both hands in the post and can find clever ways to score. He can hit them with a hook from either hand, hit a fadeaway jumper or even throw in some crafty footwork. In the plays the Blazers ran for him, they’d run him from the opposite wing, underneath to the baseline and have him show on the strong side low block. From there, he was able to go to work, even in his injured season.
This is a very really option for the Wolves to put into use and could actually save his legs a bit, since he won’t need to do so much side-to-side lateral movement down there. He will still be a good passer if doubled and it’s a nice wrinkle to throw at the opposing defenses.
Regardless, we still hold our baited and expectation-less breath for him this coming season. He could easily hold up and show us a glimpse of our first parallel. He could also seize up in his joints and show us that second parallel we’re all hoping doesn’t make the director’s cut.
Can’t wait to watch.