by Tracy Weissenberg / @basketballista
For a No. 2 draft pick, a lot of words are used to describe his potential success and expected dominance in the League. Patience is not usually one of them. While LaMarcus Aldridge may not have garnered the attention, minutes or stats, he immediately wanted—or that his selection in the Draft warranted—his willingness to wait has proven key.
It should be noted that Aldridge was drafted four spots ahead of Brandon Roy in 2006. His then-teammate quickly became the face of the Blazers on his way to winning Rookie of the Year. Soon, the phrase “bone-on-bone” became the norm in the Portland media, as Roy’s knees quickly deteriorated to force a lesser and lesser role on a team he once commanded. It was finally Aldridge’s turn.
Aldridge spoke to SLAMonline last season about the transition: “I went from being like Robin—trying to be Robin with Brandon Roy—to being Batman. From not really looked at as a closer of games to having to close the game, having to lead the team. It’s like day and night.”
Last season—Portland’s first full campaign without Roy—Aldridge scored 21.7 points and averaged 8 rebounds, which nearly matched his totals from the previous season. More impressively, Aldridge was the only player in the NBA last season to average at least 20 points, while shooting 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the line.
Over the past few seasons, he has become more comfortable in the post, and a more versatile scorer. According to hoopdata.com, Aldridge connected on 43 percent of his attempts from 16-23 feet last season. In comparison, Blake Griffin connected on 37 percent of those same shots, while shooting guard Kobe Bryant hit 41 percent. It also should be noted that since Aldridge has been in the League, the Blazers rank 25th with 79.6 field-goal attempts per game. Fewer possessions equal fewer points and rebound opportunities, as the pace has easily shaped his offensive and defensive stats.
While Aldridge has been a steady promise for the Blazers, garnering accolades including his first All-Star appearance and an invitation to USA Basketball tryouts, the team as a whole is trying to rebound from a lackluster 28-38 record last season. It will be tough for Aldridge to live up to his No. 16 ranking, coming off hip surgery and playing for a team in transition.
As Aldridge continued to develop offensively, Portland’s guard situation has been anything but steady. At first, the ball was in Roy’s hands for Aldridge to play off of. In ‘10-11, Andre Miller ran the show, which Aldridge described as “my easiest year offensively because he was so smart and so good with the ball.” Last season, Ray Felton and Jamal Crawford were largely failed experiments for the Blazers, and this year the ball will be in the hands of rookie Damian Lillard. For a player trying to rank among the League’s premier—especially at his position—he may become frustrated on a struggling team.
While the Blazers may be a few years away from contending, Aldridge—27 and coming off his first All-Star campaign—has shown that he can be patient. The only question now is if he’s still willing to wait.
|SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012|
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.