On one side of the Trail Blazers’ locker room, a throng of more than 15 video cameras, microphones and digital recorders hovered around Damian Lillard, eagerly waiting to document the latest exploits of one of the NBA’s most alluring new players.
Across the room, Nicolas Batum was talking in French to six or eight French-speaking reporters, dissecting his new game and his new fame while eliciting a laugh here or an animated question there.
Meanwhile, in the middle of the all the hubbub, LaMarcus Aldridge quietly slipped on his jeans, buttoned up his plaid shirt and sat down to lace up his low-top Chuck Taylor All-Stars. It was New Year’s Day at Madison Square Garden and the Blazers had just stunned the New York Knicks 105-100. But, in what has become the norm, despite his 19 points and 14 rebounds, despite his game-changing rebound put-back that helped ice the win, Aldridge was hardly a hot topic.
One reporter thrust a camera in his face for a brief Q&A as he dressed. Another interrupted him for three questions as he scooped up food from the post-game spread. Otherwise, it was another All-Star-like effort without the All-Star-like acclaim.
“He’s a quiet star and doesn’t attract a lot of attention,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “Maybe he prefers it that way, I don’t know. But I just know how important he is and I want to make sure he’s appreciated. He’s our best player. He’s our most consistent player. It seems to me that people are taking him for granted. Well, I would encourage everyone to stop and appreciate what he’s doing.”
According to those inside the Blazers’ locker room, Aldridge isn’t just making a case to be an All-Star for the second consecutive season. That, they say, is a no-brainer. Even more, he’s making a case that he’s the best power forward in the NBA.
Aldridge is averaging 20.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.3 blocks per game, and is the highest-scoring power forward in the league. He is one of two players who have recorded at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in three different games this season. The other is LeBron James. And Aldridge is one of four players who are averaging at least 20 points and eight rebounds per game. The others are James, Kevin Durant and David Lee.
“That’s pretty select company,” Stotts said. “That kind of speaks for itself.”
In many ways, it might have to. Aldridge is a guarded and understated person who refuses to let too many inside his inner circle. Even on this year’s team, which is close and cohesive, he’s a loner who kind of does his own thing.
He lived in Brandon Roy’s towering shadow for years. And even now that Roy is long gone, there are new, more compelling stories on this roster.
Lillard is in the midst of an incredible debut NBA season and he’s the clear-cut Rookie of the Year favorite. Batum is flourishing under Stotts’ new system and justifying thatlucrative free agent contract. Wesley Matthews is playing better and more consistent and emerging as a leader. JJ Hickson is a double-double waiting to happen.
Aldridge? Been there. Done that.
But to his teammates, Aldridge is anything but old news. They see the growth. They see the development. They see All-Star play.
“He’s just coming into his own again with the new system,” Matthews said. “The last two years under Nate (McMillan), everybody in the arena, whether we were home or on the road, knew what was going to happen. LA was going to get that ball on that block and do his thing. Now he’s in a different situation. He’s on this block. He’s on that block. He’s on the elbow. He’s in pick-and-roll situations. He’s rolling. He’s diving. He’s popping. He’s doing everything. He’s rebounding. He’s passing the ball. He’s allowing the offense to showcase everything he can do, rather than be just a back-to-the-basket kind of guy. We all knew he could pick-and-pop and shoot, but he’s playmaking for other people.”
Indeed, perhaps the area in which Aldridge has seen the most growth is in his passing. He’s recorded five or more assists seven times this season — including in each of the last two games — and is averaging 3.8 assists in five January games. As always, he’s working the ball to teammates out of the low block when he encounters double teams, but he’s also facilitating at the elbow, at the free throw line and out of pick and rolls.
“I’ve never played five years with anybody in my life, so I’ve played with LA longer than I’ve played with anybody,” Batum said. “So I can follow his progression. His passing game for me is the best thing he’s improved. He takes his time now, he’s mature, he doesn’t rush. He sees the floor and makes the right play. He’s gonna get a triple-double. Maybe this year, definitely in the next two years.”
While his passing has improved, Aldridge also says he’s a better ball-handler and better left-handed finisher on offense. He’s completing more left-handed jump hooks, layups and short shots around the basket than ever. And on defense, when the Blazers’ coaching staff breaks down game film, what they find is that Aldridge always seems to be in the correct place in whatever defensive scheme the team is running.
Two years ago, when Aldridge first started putting all the pieces of his game together and emerged as a dominant NBA player, he surprisingly did not make the All-Star Game. At the time, James, the NBA's reigning MVP, called it “biggest snub in All-Star history.” It didn’t ease the All-Star slight, but it did, in some small part, bolster Aldridge’s growing reputation.
“Coming from him, that meant a lot,” Aldridge said of James’ comments. “He’s kind of the caretaker of our game right now. It’s kind of in his hands. So for him to be of that caliber and for him to say that, that was big to me.”
Now, as James and the Miami Heat roll through Portland for Thursday’s annual stop at the Rose Garden, Aldridge has reached a new level in his evolution.
The Blazers (19-15) are having a surprisingly successful season and, as players such as Kevin Love, Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki battle injuries and ineffectiveness, Aldridge is emerging as the best power forward in the NBA — even if few are noticing.
“Before the season, people probably had us winning about six games right now at this point,” Matthews said. “Where are we at? 19? That says it all. He’s an All-Star, man. Maybe the best power forward in the NBA.”
—Joe Freeman; follow him on Twitter
LaMarcus Aldridge Quietly Emerging As The NBA's Best Power Forward (Oregon Live Article)
Posted 15 January 2013 - 10:13 AM
Posted 15 January 2013 - 10:34 AM
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