by Kye Stephenson

Hello, my name is Rasheed Wallace. Since I may not make the SLAMonline Top 50 this year, and considering my career is just about over, I’m introducing you to a new and improved version of me to reign in my stead. His name is LaMarcus Aldridge.

See, LaMarcus can do everything I could do when I was young, but just a little bitLaMarcus Aldridge better. I know you guys love my high release point that enables me to get a shot off whenever, against whomever, right? Well, LaMarcus one-upped me. He’s got my high follow-through but he doesn’t just sit on the Three-point line. He actually stays in his range and uses it to his advantage down-low. (I don’t really see the benefit in that since the Three-pointers attract all the ladies, but to each his own.)

I know your memory isn’t too far gone to forget how nasty my back-to-the-basket game used to be. Yeah, LaMarcus has got that on lock too. Did you guys see his post-up prowess last season?

And I hate to keep going on about the kid, but if you think some ol’ lumpy 285-pounder is going to stop him, you better guess again. My man can put it on the deck. How many 6-11 guys with the length of a skyscraper you know can take it to the rack and finish either left or right? Look, I’ve been in the League for a minute. I know talent—or a foul—when I see it. The 2009-2010 season is going to be the year fans take notice that there’s more than just one star in Portland.

Thanks ‘Sheed. Appreciate you taking the time to give further credence to us projecting Aldridge as one of the Top 50 next season. You made some good points and to be honest, L.A. does remind me of a younger you. A little less angry version of you, but you nonetheless.

Simply put, Aldridge has the tools to be one of the top three power forwards in the next 4-5 years. He’s got range. He can rebound. His post-up game is nice. He can get a shot at-will. The only areas for improvement—defense—are likely to improve as his body matures and he puts some extra pounds on his skinny frame. And even with that said he still averaged just under a block a game and he snatched 7.5 boards a night last year.

Focusing on next season, there shouldn’t be much stopping Aldridge from clocking some votes when the All-Star Game rolls around. With the addition of Andre Miller, he should find even more open looks and should push that 18ppg average from last year to at least 20ppg. Maybe that’s a bit hopeful, but it’s hard to ignore how unstoppable he looked at times last season. He just plain took a few games over last year. And not many players, even the best of them, can do that. In a Conference completely stacked with star power forwards (Tim, Dirk, Amar’e, Pau, D.West etc.) Aldridge held his own last year.

I’m not going to kill you with stats. Great players transcend numbers. If you didn’t know Lebron’s stats, you would still think he’s a great player just by watching him play. LaMarcus Aldridge just looks like he’s getting it in. And he is.

The only thing stopping Aldridge is if he follows in ‘Sheed’s footsteps and begins to rely on taking 20-foot plus jumpshots. We’ve all seen how ugly it can get when a low-post player starts making a few deep ones and then gets the notion he’s the next Tim Legler (Charles Barkley, anyone?). Though his mid-range game is excellent for a big man, he’s too quick and long to forgo closer shots in the trenches.

As well, Aldridge works perfectly with fellow star Brandon Roy. He’s a perfect compliment in the pick-and-roll game. He can hit it from 18ft, and he’s got enough handles to take it to the rack. As they continue to learn to play with one another, we could be looking at another legendary combo. And as Roy continues to blossom (some would argue he’s already in full bloom) expect Aldridge to follow suit. Stardom is on its way.

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.