WASHINGTON -- Brandon Roy arrives not in a hurry but on his own time. At 24, he is already one of the bosses in the NBA.
He had 22 points, eight rebounds and four assists to help Portland beat the Wizards 98-92 on Wednesday without ever appearing to run hard. Yet he played hard, which is a trick the great players learn in their 30s when athleticism fades. Roy is fulfilling this balance in his third NBA season. This is why the league's second-youngest team is 14-6 and carries six consecutive victories into Friday's game against the champions in Boston. The Trail Blazers are rising fast because Roy is slowing them down.
"He has a pace about him that is a calming pace for me and the players,'' Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "It's like he doesn't show emotions or being rattled.''
Of the league's young wing players, the 6-6 Roy is among the least impressive athletically. But it's a loser's daydream to imagine how good Roy might have been if blessed with the hops of Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade. Superior athleticism might have turned into his crutch. Roy is the most valuable piece of the league's most promising young team not because of his athletic instincts, but because he has spent his short career taking the time to think things through.
Roy watches his peers not with envy but rather in search of ideas he can steal.
"I'm always trying to analyze things,'' said Roy, who is averaging 21.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists. "I try to see what may work for another player, and see what may work for me. I've always played that way, even in high school. I always thought the game.''
Before Minnesota drafted Roy with the No. 6 pick in 2006 and traded him to Portland, a few teams red-flagged him as an injury risk with a potentially short career.
"He had a history of knee issues and some ankle trouble, which can result in problems with his back,'' a league personnel scout said.
"I heard it a little bit, but nobody ever wanted to say it to me,'' Roy said of predraft fears that he was brittle. "I don't blame them, you know. Maybe that's why I wasn't taken higher, [because] some teams were cautious. But I can't control the team that picks me. Anytime you draft a guy you're taking a chance, and Portland did. And now I just try to do my best to make them look good for it.''
Said McMillan: "It's something we talk about. This summer he felt he needed to improve his body, to take the grind of the season, the physical play, the contact that he has to play through.''
Each morning last summer, Roy rode the bike trails for an hour covering 16 peaceful miles around his Seattle home.
"A nice, smooth ride,'' he said. "I got some water, got my headphones, and the tension was just going out of me. I would get going around 9:30 when the sun starts peaking. I tried to do something so I [wouldn't] pound my body. Then I would lift weights, just some low-impact things to keep my body limber. I just felt good the rest of the day because I got my work in.''
There are nights when he doesn't have it physically, he admits. And yet, those nights produce some of his most effective games.
"Sometimes when the athleticism isn't there, having that edge of thinking the game helps me a lot,'' he said. "Especially on nights when my legs aren't there, but I'm thinking, If I can just get this move or I can just make this cut ... That's my strength: Maybe not running and jumping, but just thinking the game a little bit.''
Roy plays to a rare style admired throughout the league, as if he were the backcourt version of Tim Duncan.
"You would think he was a left-handed player, he does so much with his left hand,'' Wizards coach Ed Tapscott said. "He shoots his jump shot with his right hand, but when he goes to the rim you're reaching [defensively] for that right hand but the ball's over here, and he's going around you and getting fouls. That ability to use both hands, with as much dexterity as he has, is terrific. He's a terrific, terrific player. He's the complete package. And if you're asking for an analogy? He's like Walt Frazier: He's just a guard. He can shoot, he can drive, he defends, he's got size, he's got strength, he's got quickness.''
And yet, before the game Wednesday, it emerges that Roy has already taken a pill to soothe his sore back.
What followed was a dull, sloppy and uninspired game for both teams coming off victories the night before. Roy moved as if conserving himself, accelerating like a driver wary of the high price of gas. He committed an aberrant four turnovers in the first quarter alone.
But the Blazers had only one turnover in the second half, which is not to be expected of a team without a 30-year-old on the active roster. The Wizards responded by trapping Roy to force the ball out of his hands.
"Those are plays you usually see with a Kobe, a Dwyane Wade,'' McMillan said. "He's getting that type of attention.''
Other times Roy split the double teams -- usually with his left hand -- to drive for layups, draw fouls or lay it off for LaMarcus Aldridge to finish around the basket. The Blazers had failed to score for four minutes when Roy sank a long jumper after coming off the bench to trim Washington's lead to 81-79 inside the final eight minutes. From there, the game yielded to his rhythm. Roy played as if from a podium.
The Wizards surely couldn't tell he was suffering from a sore back.
"He's a tough guy,'' McMillan said. "In this league, you're going to have to play with some pain. Most players do. He takes a pounding like those guys who play with the ball, guys like Kobe and Wade.''
Like an older star, Roy is meticulous about undergoing treatment to recover from each game. Like Kobe and Wade, he is crucial to the Blazers' ultimate ambitions. Greg Oden and Aldridge may have been drafted higher, and rookie Rudy Fernandez arrived as a Spanish star of the Olympics last summer, but it is Roy's unique talent that blends and transforms this team.
Most players of Roy's age are hurrying to develop the experience he wields so confidently. Like a story out of Oscar Wilde or the Greek tragedies, his wisdom comes with limitations that Roy must reconcile. Then again, doesn't everyone have issues?
"Exactly,'' Roy said. "And mine is trying to keep my body healthy so I can perform every night.''