Trip City: What is wrong with Brandon Roy and the Blazers?

Prior to the season there was a lot of optimism in Rip City. It made a lot of sense because the team was clearly much improved.

The most glaring problem spot, back-up point guard, had seen a major upgrade with near-All Star Andre Miller coming in at the addition-by-subtraction cost of the departure of Sergio Turnover machine Rodriguez.

The second most glaring problem was resolved by the return of Martell Webster. While Nicolas Batum is clearly the best Blazer defender, Webster presents them with an offensively dangerous option.
Furthermore, team strengths were also improving. Greg Oden looked to have regained his speed and agility and was looking so improved that a guy who should have gotten some consideration for team MVP last year, Joel Przybilla, became a reserve.

Yet 20 games into the season Portland has already lost four home games, including a blow-out loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, has trailed for 11 consecutive quarters, and worse yet, looks like they are a team that does not care. What happened?

In some ways, it is a team effort. The players who have improved this year from last can be limited to two; Greg Oden and Martell Webster.

Oden is doing more than asked; he controls the boards, blocks shots, stays within himself offensively and shoots at a high clip. He plays hard and has a huge impact at the defensive end of the floor.

Webster had a shaky start but has come on to look like the Blazers best player much of the time. He has taken on Batums' role as defensive stopper and does a creditable job. He is not a premiere defender yet, but there have been moments and stretches where he has been.

So if those two are improved, who has gotten worse?

Naturally, since credit starts at the top, so does blame. And Brandon Roy unfortunately deserves much of that blame.

Unlike past seasons where he has been an efficient scorer, this year his offense has been disruptive and low percentage.

Part of that is due to the officiating. My bias is obviously pro-Blazer, but I genuinely believe he is poorly officiated. It is very frustrating to see him drive the lane, be bounced off three defenders, and no call, only to see a Blazer pick up a hand-check foul on players like Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, or even Rudy Gay.
Roy should be going to the line over 10 times a game with the way he plays, but he is not officiated the same way other slashers are and regularly takes a great deal of contact without drawing the foul.

As a result, he becomes frustrated, knowing no foul will be called, and overcompensates with some wild drives that result in ugly shots and worse turnovers that lead to fast-breaks going the other way. This does not excuse his play, but certainly makes it understandable.

Nor is he playing well defensively. He gets torched repeatedly on the occasions he makes it down the floor at all.

But his disappearance pales in comparison to that of Steve Blake. Blake somehow forgot who he was. Gone is the steady point guard who hits the three and doesn't turn the ball over. In his place is a guy who makes unbelievably bad turnovers, makes them at the worst time possible, plays worse defense than Jeff Pendergraph is playing* to the point where I have labeled it Blake-fense.

Even my favorite player, LaMarcus Aldridge must share some of the blame. He has lost a lot of the aggression he showed in the past two seasons. He does not demand the ball on the block, does not dominate defensively the way he should, has looked lost and out of place all too often. He is far more talented than he has shown.

Przybilla has seemed disinterested, no longer the defensive force he used to be. He is not moving his feet, not blocking out, not blocking shots, and not bringing the attitude he used to.

Now, to be fair the Blazers miss Travis Outlaw a great deal, and more than many Blazer fans realized they would. His explosive scoring potential and game-changing athleticism, along with his clutch fourth quarter play show up again and again.

Yes, Portland lost two key rotation players in Outlaw and Batum. Yes, they have played a hectic schedule.

These are not valid excuses. They have also played a cupcake schedule and there are several inexcusable losses on it. If they want to be a playoff team, much less a contender, then they need to show the heart it takes to be one and win the games they should without making excuses.

For example, they choked away home games to the Nuggets and Hawks. They lost to a Warriors team playing seven guys. They lost at home to Memphis, giving up a 31-4 run on their home floor. They did not even try against the Heat.

The amazing thing in that game was that the Heat shot 53.3%. What is amazing about it is that the number was so low. All night every shot was wide open with no Blazer in the picture. Nor is that a one-game phenomenon.

The Blazers are out of sync right now. When there is a pick and roll, often the Blazers elect to defend neither player. Nor do they defend well one on one, and when the big men provide help defense, no Blazer provides rebounding coverage.

Defensively, they are discombobulated and lack any sense of cohesion. Offensively they are only marginally better.

Yet for all that, I think there is one more huge element that deserves some blame for the question, "What is wrong with the Blazers".

That is people like me. Fans. Fans who love this team. Fans with expectations for this team.

When the team was built around Zach Randolph, we expected to lose. We knew we would lose to the Clevelands of the League, struggle against the Utahs, and try to eke out wins against the weak sisters like the Warriors, Clippers, and other NBDL teams masquerading as NBA teams.

We knew who those teams were because we were one of them.

But we got spoiled. We got used to seeing Super-Trout (Travis Outlaw in super-stud mode) and B-roy dominate games, in seeing Portland win every possession, even if the other team scored, by putting out superior effort, functioning as a cohesive unit, and winning virtually every home game.

We got spoiled by watching Roy and Aldridge go from good draft day picks to cornerstones of the franchise. We got spoiled by a meteoric rise from irrelevance to 54 win team.

And we got used to it.

Instead of coming to the game planning to enjoy the action and have a win be icing on the cake, we now show up expecting a win and being upset if the Blazers struggle. Sure, not all of us do that, but we fans are a team just as the Blazers are and must all take responsibility for what we do.

That includes the poor taste in booing the home team in each of the last two home games. It includes the raucous booing whenever a Beaver or Duck shirt is shown.

Yeah, I know, Beaver fans hate the snobbish, arrogant Duck fans. And Duck fans hate their also-ran little cousins and make a point of booing loudly...and often.

So often they have made little kids cry when the kids were shown on the big screen wearing Beavers gear and been booed mercilessly. So obnoxiously the Duck fans drowned out the music because it was the OSU dance team on the floor, a favor the Beaver fans did not reciprocate when the Duck Dancers hit the floor.

The point is the fans are more frequently found silent or booing or complaining than cheering the team on, possibly because we became complacent before we won anything.

Now, it is much too early to panic. This is a very talented basketball team with a lot of good wins in front of it. Roy will get it figured out. Blake and Miller will get past their little unspoken feud. Aldridge will find his place on this team. And they will win plenty of games by the end of the year.

The question is whether Blazer fans will be patient while that happens.

So buck up Blazer fans. You are still winning at a .600 clip. You are still fine. The team will find itself. You just need to go back to being optimistic team supporters, stop ripping them at every opportunity, and enjoy the trip.

And yes, I realize the irony of saying that after writing this. But thanks for noticing.

* For those unaware of Pendergraph, he is currently on the Injured Reserve. Hopefully now that joke (?) makes sense


Anonymous said...

Being both a fan of the Blazers and a basketball fan in general, I had a few comments on your article. I agreed with it for the most part, up until the point where you blamed the fans for being too inpatient and quick to dissent towards the Blazers. Don't forget that we've been on this "ride" with them for awhile now. Even the Blazers organization has been drilling us with hopeful optimism. We're all trying to "rise with them," not settle into mediocrity with them. There has been too much talk and work done to just be ok with the way things are going currently. We look like we've taken 3 steps back instead of a step forward. Even with key injuries, the team isn't playing well. It's obvious. The Blazers are playing with no heart for most of the games. Just going through the motions, almost hoping somebody would come in and help them out. We've been told to be patient going on 4 years now. When should we expect to see the Blazers become a dangerous, reliable force in the west? 2 more years? 5? We have more talent on the floor than over half the league and we are young. (Although we play like an old team but that's a whole different issue.) Just looking at them as a NBA team and not a Blazers fan you'd be blind not to see how soft they are. Aldridge has no desire to play in the paint at 6'11. Blake still looks uncomfortable anywhere inside of the 3 point line. And Roy has settled into the team philosophy of jump shooting too much and wondering why he isn't getting any calls when he finally decides to take it to the hole. Usually charging right into defenders while yelling. It's all getting old. I want to believe in them but year after year it seems like they just can't get it done. The only guy on the floor playing with any kind of desire is Oden. He's looking great. My fear is that we now have what Chicago had a few years back with the "baby Bulls." But when they never played up to their potential, the team was disassembled and are going to have to wait until they put a team around Rose. I guess the bottom line is how disappointed I am with the Blazers. I think it might be time for a change in the coaching department as well. I've lost faith in McMillan. I don't think he really knows what he has and how to use it, or if he really ever did. There are small windows for teams to gel in the NBA. If your team isn't getting any better, somebody else's is. They need to figure it out quick. Enough with downplaying everything, and produce!

Darth Weasel said...

I agree very much with much of what you have to say; the team is playing some of the worst basketball I have ever seen a talented team play, as if that massive memphis run ripped the last shred of heart they had left after the Nugget and heat chokes.

And they are definitely soft. I am on record as saying I think they should come out going all Bruce Bowen/Ron Artest on people...don't bother to play position, just hack and hammer and claw and grab and hold until the refs get used to it and stop calling it.

LA WAS getting better at pounding in the post, but with the development of Oden he has just...gotten lost. He is not hitting his pet jumper, not establishing position, not defending. It hurts to watch.

I do think there are two other guys playing hard; Webster and Cunningham. But Webster is not there yet defensively and disappears too often at the offensive end to be a difference make and Cunningham is a good role player but not a difference maker for the foreseeable future.

On the expectations, though, I do think there is some room for tempering. I still find the Memphis choke inexcusable...and the Warrior one even moreso...but they still have one of the best records in the League, and are hardly the only contender to fall against bad teams (see Nuggets V. Timberwolves).

There is still time, but it is hard to go through. Hopefully they get their act together soon, because if they do not start playing smart and together, they could head outside the playoffs as quick as the Hornets did.

Appreciate your stopping by and commenting.

Darth Weasel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

To comment back, I agree that I'd like to see them play a little more scrappy on the D, even if it meant a couple more fouls a game. I think with Greg developing his game and role on the team, opposing offenses should start to be concerned when driving to the paint. Once he realizes how dominant he can be, he'll start to become more intimidating. Which goes a long ways in the league. Just ask below average player but above average shot blocker, Mutombo. He built a career of seeming intimidating, even though his actual game was horrible. Greg has game, and he's working hard. I can tell he put the most effort in over the off season. It's obvious. The other "stars" just rested on their hands. That mistake might end up costing us another year. Sure we got rid of a few guys and acquired a few more, but the core team is still 100% here. Prichard and Allen are trying to do everything they can to help this spoiled, under producing squad become better. A lot of people have been talking about how much pressure they are under now, well this is the NBA. This is the big show. And these are grown men being paid ungodly amounts of money to play a game. While the rest of us go to our 9 to 5's and wait until tax return season to even beginning to think about anything frivolous. I'm sure that the will put the brakes on their current skid, eventually. They will do just enough to get everybody off their backs for a bit. (win 4 in a row sometime in January or something) and continue to fool the good folks of Portland that they should be mentioned in any sentence that involves potential western finals teams. It's insane! I've watched basketball my whole life. You can just tell when a team has a player, or a squad that they will be dangerous. Denver is a perfect example of one of those teams. I hate them, but let's be honest. Carmello is a bonified superstar. Billips is a all star. It will be Lakers/Nuggets in the western finals, watch. Roy is a borderline all star. Someday if his game drastically changes and improves, he could become a very good all star (like a Ray Allen, or Chris Bosch) but he'll never be a superstar. The crazy thing is that I think if the right things were to happen...Greg could! I know, right? But I think he could. Physical tools are there, bring in the work ethic and desire and this might be the Greg Oden show this time next year. You heard it here first!

Darth Weasel said...

GO, Aldridge, Roy, and Outlaw are all guys I think could, if things go right, be All-Stars. And if they keep Fernandez happy, they have Outlaw and Fernandez who could be 6th Man of the Year candidates. A potent combo that makes the current slide all the more bothersome.

Here is hoping they come out angry Saturday night and roll the Rockets. That would help a lot

KennethEdelstein said...


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