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March 14, 2006

The case for Brandon Roy as national POY

When the Huskies make their third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance Thursday night against Utah State, there will be a few parallels from the previous meeting 20 years ago. Washington entered the 1986 Great Alaska Shootout with the reigning Pac-10 Player of the Year, Chris Welp, but was upset by the Aggies 81-72 in the first game of the season. Led by Brandon Roy, this year's conference MVP, the Huskies will try to avoid having their first round game be the last of the season. Their chances are certainly better this time because of Roy's unique talents. Any discussion of Roy should not only include first-team All-America honors, but serious consideration for national player of the year.

At the beginning of the season I was a member of small, not-too-vocal minority that believed Roy would make a resonant run at the Pac-10 player of the year and merit an All-America mention. My early impression was that the Garfield grad would probably end up on a few second-team All-America lists, slightly overlooked due to the junior-year injury at the Alaska Shootout and the Right Coast media bias. But the senior guard surpassed all our expectations and now might be suffering from a Seattle bias on the Left Coast.

We Seattleites have earned the reputation for our reserved demeanor. Content to be overlooked, especially if it means fewer people clogging our freeways and driving up the cost of living, we are not ones to self-promote at the top of our lungs. Perhaps this innate reticence has factored into the local press not trumpeting Roy for the highest awards. Maybe I've been as guilty as anyone-content with the accolades he's already received-for not forcing his name into the center of the debate for the Naismith and Wooden Awards.

So, if slightly belated, here is the case for Brandon Roy as national player of the year. An emerging star in an emerging program, the Seattle native finished the season as strongly as any player in the country. When the Huskies stumbled at midseason with three frustrating losses-two of which were decided in the final seconds-Roy responded with a Herculean effort. In the five weeks since, the captain led his team to an eight-game winning streak as the Dawgs climbed back from a temporary detour in sixth place to within one game of the Pac-10 regular-season title. Including the conference tournament quarterfinals, Roy averaged 22.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists in the final nine games.

Take a moment to review those numbers again. They demonstrate how Roy was without peer. The leading scorer in Pac-10 play (22 ppg), he also was a top conference rebounder and playmaker over that nine-game span; in the top four in rebounding and the top three in assists. How often does a player have elite production in all three categories? Answer: about as often as a mid-major makes the Elite Eight.

Here's another measurement of how BRoy has delivered the total package. Roy, who as sophomore became the first player in UW history to lead the team in the five major statistics during a single game, ranked amongst the leaders in 10 of 13 conference categories this season. He finished in the top 10 in nine statistics and 11th in rebounding, which is impressive for a 6-foot-6 guard. In Pac-10 games, he was the leader in assists/turnover ratio (2.08), almost unheard of for a leading scorer. His efficiency was also represented by the fact that he finished fourth in FG percentage and assists for the season.

"Washington's Brandon Roy is an All-American. First team. Period," wrote Gregg Doyel, the NCAA basketball columnist for CBS Sportsline.com. "Roy is the most complete player in college basketball."

For those national cynics who might undervalue the most accomplished player from a "dubious" conference, let's compare him to the country's elite. First, a season review is necessary. With three newcomers, including two freshmen, in Washington's six-man rotation, Roy made a point of getting the entire lineup involved, which came at the expense of his personal stats. The two-guard led the team in assists in five of their first eight games, but his other numbers lagged as he averaged less than 26 minutes a game through a comfortable non-conference schedule. The middle child was more than willing to play a complementary role for the good of the team as it rolled to an 11-0 non-conference record, including the Dec. 4 defeat of Gonzaga. Resisting the temptation to beat players off the dribble, Roy's early highlights included 25-foot laser-like passes to teammates under the basket.

Despite the muted start, only five players from power conferences have a higher scoring average than BRoy's (19.9). Of the nation's top 30 scorers, none has a better assist rate than the lead Dawg's. There are scorers with gaudier numbers and big men with big rebounding numbers, but no single player has Roy's combination, which includes 5.7 rpg and 4.1 apg for the season. Not celebrated standouts like Allan Ray and Randy Foye of Villanova, nor Rudy Gay or Maurice Ager, to name a few.

The numbers of prominent rebounders like Duke's Shelden Williams(10.3 rpg) and Cal's Leon Powe (10.0 rpg) aren't quite as impressive when you realize that Roy, one of the best rebounding guards in the nation, averaged 6.4 rpg in conference play. Productive point guards like Notre Dame's Chris Quinn (6.3 apg) and Syracuse's Gerry McNamara (6.0 apg) are a notch above Roy's 4.3 assists in Pac-10 action, but their scoring falls shy and their rebounding average is half of Roy's. His FG percentage is the best of any of the Naismith and Wooden finalists at guard.

"He's just having a phenomenal year, not just in one or two areas, but all across the board," said coach Lorenzo Romar. The Husky head man compared Roy's combination of skills to Magic Johnson, who entered the NBA a year before Romar. Magic and the Huskies' catalyst might have different builds and different positions, but their results are similar, the coach noted. They'll hamper the opposing offense, grab the rebound and then score or find the open man.

"When we talk about who out there in the country-at 6-foot-6 now, not 6-11-rebounds at a high level, scores at a high level, passes at high level, defends at a high level, there aren't a whole lot of those guys out there," Romar reiterated.

All of this is nice, you say, but won't the player of the year go to J.J. Redick, the record-breaker at the nation's most visible program, or Adam Morrison, the scoring machine from the country's most famous Cinderella? Not if calibrations other than scoring are considered. The 6-foot-4 Redick has the advantage of being a four-year glamour boy at the glamour school, Duke, who recently set the NCAA record for career 3-pointers and the ACC career scoring record. Like Redick, the 6-foot-8 Morrison had a prominent junior year and leads the country in scoring (28.4 to Redick's 27.4 ppg) for the third-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs.

When comparing the three, Redick, the best pure shooter of the group, holds an advantage in 3-point field goals and attempts. Using the 30-game stats for Roy and Morrison, which includes their conference tourney games, and Redick's numbers through 31 games, which includes Duke's first game in the ACC tourney, Morrison gets the nod in 3-point FG percentage, .437 to Redick's .419, but with 119 fewer attempts. Roy, who was much more selective with the 3-ball, had a percentage of .395 for the season, .424 in Pac-10 play.

Both of the big-time scorers got to the free throw line more than Roy, but the Husky was the big dog in the rest of the major categories. Roy had the best FG percentage (numbers listed in order for Roy .511, Morrison .498, Redick .481), the most offensive rebounds (67, 45, 6) and rebounds per game (5.7, 5.5, 2.1), the most assists (124, 52, 83) and the best assist/turnover ratio by a mile (1.75, 0.75, 1.06). In less playing time (five minutes per game less than Morrison, six less than Redick) Roy also had more blocks (24, 11, 2) and nearly as many steals per game as Redick (1.3, 1.1, 1.4).

The biggest differences between the three candidates are the way in which they played at the end of the season. Again, Roy averaged 22.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists in the final nine games. In one of the most impressive performances of the season, the top Dawg posted a near triple-double on Oregon State. He had 25 points, eight rebounds, and nine assists in a blowout that he was taken out of with 6:06 remaining. In the final weekend when Arizona State and Arizona completely collapsed on him, Roy led the team in rebounding in each game and in assists for the weekend. Against the Wildcats, he led the Huskies in all three categories with his fifth double-double of the season.

Morrison and Redick, by comparison, each had their struggles in the final four games before last weekend. Redick hit only 8 of 36 3-point attempts (.222) and needed big days at the free throw line to get his scoring average up to 20.25. He averaged 3.5 rpg and 3.25 apg over the same stretch. His shooting behind the arc (1-6, 1-6, 4-14, 2-10) played a part in Duke losing their last two regular season games.

Morrison looked mortal as well in the last five games as the Zags won their final three by a total of eight points. The Spokane native hit just 28 of 74 shots from the field (.378) in the last five games, while averaging 23.6 rpg, 5.4 rpg, and 2.2 apg.

In the simplest of terms, Roy was a better rebounder than the taller Morrison, a forward, and a better playmaker than Redick, the true guard. He helped his team win without being a gunner. Morrison's points comprised 36 percent of the Gonzaga offense, while Redick long-distance game was 34 percent of Duke's offense. Roy, who attempted just 401 field goals to Morrison's 562 and Redick's 557, was called on for just 24 percent of Washington's points. The Huskies finished fourth in the nation in scoring, one-tenth of a point behind Duke, as Roy led the team in assists. Morrison was fourth amongst the Bulldogs in assist, while Redick was third amongst the Dukies.

Where Roy clinches the argument is on the defensive end. The morphing, multi-faceted talent put the clamps on everyone from point guards to small forwards. Often matching up with the opponents' premier perimeter player, Roy shut down the likes of Jordan Farmar and Ayinde Ubaka, two of the most productive points in the Pac-10. For good measure, he blocked Farmar's game-tying attempt at the buzzer and held Ubaka under 11 points for the first time in 15 games.

In Seattle style, both Roy and Romar have simply asked that he be considered with Morrison and Redick. Well, I'm here to point out that Roy should be considered ABOVE Morrison and Redick.

"He does it all," said UCLA's Ben Howland, the Pac-10 Coach of the Year. "He's a great defender, outstanding passer, has a great game facing the basket and off the bounce, and is a great post-up player."

With a sinewy frame, Roy can drive on anyone in the country, weaving and wrapping his body around the quickest and strongest opponents. If there is no lane, he can hit the perimeter jumper with grace. He has repeatedly burned double-teams by finding teammates on the blocks or for 3-point daggers. He can take over a game when necessary as he did with 19 second-half points versus Cal. He has hit the clutch shots, such as the improbable treys to force the first and second overtimes in his 35-point effort versus Arizona.

The more assertive Roy has been an articulate leader, setting the tone for the team with plenty of positive energy. If we were picking teams playground-style, he'd be my first choice without a doubt. He would help my squad in every facet of the game. Here's one vote for his superior basketball IQ.

Brandon Roy should not be left out on the Left Coast.


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