by C. Vernon Coleman II / @Vernon_Coleman
If the Portland Trail Blazers want to stomp with the big dogs of the Western Conference in the ’13-14 NBA season, it starts and ends with their franchise player, LaMarcus Aldridge. Two years removed from the Brandon Roy era and it’s clearly the former No. 2 selection in the ’06 Draft’s team now. Young LA has been proving so with his dominant play on the court. But, even with his season-after-season consistency and All-Star-caliber play, Aldridge has just three playoff appearances and six playoff wins to boot. A statistic he will be trying to ratify once the season starts.
Very few bigs possess the 6-11 ball player’s size and skill set. The former Texas Longhorn is long, athletic, defensively solid, possesses an array of post moves and has been the Steady Eddie of the Portland franchise the last few seasons. Since 2011, he’s averaged at least 20 points and 8 rebounds. The 28-year-old also seems to be molding into the alpha dog role that his team needs him to hold down.
Last year, the gifted post player continued to make his push as one of the premier power forward/centers in the League averaging 21 points and career high in rebounds (9.1) and assists (2.6). He made his second consecutive All-Star game appearance, while continuing to improve passing awareness from the post and developing a solid jump shot from around 20 feet. He also recorded a beastly 38 double-doubles, which was good for eighth in the NBA, ahead of players like Al Jefferson, Tim Duncan, Joakim Noah and Blake Griffin.
But things didn’t go so well for his mob the Trail Blazers who finished 33-49 and failed to make the Playoffs for a second consecutive season, despite the emergence of what looks like a star in the making in point guard Damian Lillard. Aldridge’s yearning to play alongside a true center so he can man his natural position at the 4 also became more evident.
Over the summer, there were even rumors that he was ready to jump ship. Rumors he later denied, saying he was more so frustrated with how the season went down. During the offseason, the Blazer brass did their best to tend to the frustrated star’s worries by acquiring CJ McCollum, Robin Lopez, Dorrell Wright, Earl Watson and Thomas Robinson among others. The moves have seemed to quell Aldridge’s uneasiness. “I’m here, I’m happy. I’m looking forward to this season,” he recently told reporters during the team’s media day. “This team looks really good. We have a better bench. We have [Robin] Lopez, who’s a true center. I think this year should be good for us.”
Besides wondering what moves his team would make in the offseason, Aldridge hunkered down and worked on his own moves, reportedly adding a three-point shot to his repertoire in hopes to improve on his dreadful 20.8 percent average from beyond the arc for his career. But when all was said and done, Aldridge seemed genuinely pleased by Portland’s efforts to get him help. He was especially stoked about the acquisition of Lopez, which he thinks will boost his own game.
“Offensively I think he’s going to give me more single coverage. I feel like they have to put that bigger guy on him,” he said during media day. “Also, I think I will be able to crash the offensive boards more because I will have the actual smaller guy on me. Defensively I feel like him trying to block shots will allow me to block more shots.”
That all sounds good, in theory. Making it happen on the court is another thing. But, if you add the attention rising young star Lillard will also be soaking up, plus the threat of ever maturing Nicolas Batum on the wing, Aldridge’s stats could feasibly see a marked increase allowing him entrance into the 20-10 club after being denied inclusion last season. Most importantly, the team should benefit from his bump in numbers.
Though he slipped slightly from his 16-spot in last year’s SLAM Top 50 ranking, Aldridge will be a top-20 talent in the upcoming NBA season. With the influx of solid role players in Portland, LA should be able to put last year’s frustrations in his rearview and spearhead his squad to a decent playoff seed in the Western Conference. Then, it’s about the size of the fight in the dog.
|SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.