by Jeremy Bauman / @JBauman13

“I think that’s an area where he’s ready to evolve, is that mental aspect of taking his game to another level… I really believe that me coming here — and we’re gonna get three straight weeks of work in, five days a week, in the middle of the summer … which I think says a lot. That commitment, and especially the work that we are doing, this is grueling, taxing work,” explained Portland Assistant Coach Bill Bayno over the summer.

This summer, the 6-11, 240 (wait, apparently he’s upped his weight to 260 pounds) multi-skilled forward spent his summer in Dallas, TX training his ass off and we here at SLLaMarcus AldridgeAMonline think it will pay great dividends.

There aren’t too many players who have the size and skill-set LA has, but out in Portland, OR the Trail Blazers have about as versatile a player at the power forward position that you could ask for. With a back to the basket game that seems to be improving year-in-and-year out, a solid mid-range game, and a great touch around the rim with either hand, Aldridge is in prime position to take his game to the next level.

After attending the University of Texas and proving that he had the necessary skills and ceiling that was worthy of being selected as the second overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft (by Chicago traded for Tyrus Thomas), Aldridge is now entering his fifth season in the League. While LA has shown flashes of dominance and has been expected to up his game constantly, he just turned 25 years old and should be entering the prime portion of his career. As a generally accepted rule of thumb, big men tend to advance/hone their repertoires at a slower rate than the way that guards advance their skills. Aldridge is a guy who is extremely skilled but the hardest part is putting it all together—figuring out how to show up with a consistent effort on both ends night in and night out, which brings me to my next point.

Back in 2008 Portland was an upstart team that was chosen by many to challenge the Lakers for Western Conference supremacy in the years to come. Sure, the phenomenal play of Brandon Roy played a big role in the media’s decision to anoint Portland as a future contender, but the emergence of the Aldridge sure had a hell of a lot to do with it as well. Sure, Brandon Roy might be the leader and unquestioned go-to guy for the Trail Blazers, but in Aldridge they have a potential second dominant scorer and post presence if he can package all of the skills that he has worked so hard on together on the offensive end, and becomes hungrier on the defensive end—especially on the boards.

Although it is tempting to expect LA to have been in double figures in the rebounding department by now, remember that he is a young player who is still learning the ins and outs of NBA basketball, that he might have been slightly under weight for his position, and that he seems to be on the right track in terms of off-season work. Considering all of the above, don’t be shocked if his rebounding numbers increase by 2-3 per game in the 2010 season. If Aldridge is really up to 260 he should be an absolute force on the block on both ends. He already averaged 2.7 offensive boards for his career so it’s mainly defensive rebounding that he has been lacking—something that comes with work on positioning, strength, heart, and determination.

For purposes of comparison to other stalwart players with similar frames and games, let’s take a look at some statistics that a few other eventual HOF caliber power forwards, Dirk Nowitski and Kevin Garnett, attained after four years in the League and see how LA stacks up to the competition:

Dirk: 17.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2 APG, 45.4% FG%

KG: 16.7 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 3.6 APG, 48.5 FG%

LA: 16 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 48.9 FG%

Although he might be a bit behind these players from a productions standpoint at this point in his career, the table is certainly set for Aldridge to rise above his current competition and become one of the elite at his position in the NBA today while also elevating his Portland Trail Blazer squad from unlikely success stories just a few years back to expected contenders for years to come in the Western Conference.

So then why, you may ask, is LA ranked at No. 42 on this year’s version of the SLAMonline Top 50? Well in case you haven’t noticed, the NBA as a whole is on the rise. The speculation that I have discussed about Aldridge’s somewhat expected advancement on both ends is just an expectation. Until he actually increases his nightly production and becomes even more consistent, there are too many talented players ahead of him to simply rank him on expected upside. Hopefully next year we can look back on this and say that Aldridge has turned himself into a consensus top-20 player.

SLAMonline TOP 50 PLAYERSOVERALL RANKPOSITION RANK
PlayerTeamPosition2010200920102009
Ray AllenCelticsSG50361110
Gilbert ArenasWizardsSG4934109
Lamar OdomLakersPF48331410
John WallWizardsPG47NR13NR
OJ MayoGrizzliesSG4646912
Al HorfordHawksC45NR6NR
Jason KiddMavsPG44451210
Joakim NoahBullsC43NR5NR
LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF42391312

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’10-11 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jeremy Bauman, Maurice Bobb, Erildas Budraitis, Sean Ceglinsky, Ben Collins, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Manny Maduakolam, Eddie Maisonet, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Charles Peach, Branden Peters, Quinn Peterson, David Schnur, Todd Spehr, Kyle Stack, Adam Sweeney, Dennis Tarwood, Tracy Weissenberg, Lang Whitaker, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.