Today we continue our series on expectations for individual players heading into the 2010-11 season. Yesterday we looked at Brandon Roy. Today we tackle his frontcourt partner, LaMarcus Aldridge.
I thought long and hard about the different expectations I have for LaMarcus heading into the new year but the more I considered them the more I realized they could be distilled into one sentence: I want LaMarcus Aldridge to become the star he's always wanted to be. The trick is, the path to stardom may be somewhat atypical.
Unlike some, I am wholly satisfied with 18-ish points per game from LaMarcus. His 49% shooting clip is great for a guy shooting face-up jumpers, though his advanced percentages pale in comparisons to more traditional and/or higher-profile power forwards. But the Blazers don't necessarily need a traditional or superstar power forward on offense if Greg Oden remains healthy and down low. (I know...big "if".) LaMarcus hits his shots and grabs tons of offensive boards. That's good enough for me. If anything, I would like Aldridge to take the same tack I encouraged Roy to take: look to encourage the two newer starters (Oden and Batum) any way possible. While Roy will undoubtedly remain the focal point of the offense LaMarcus is perfectly suited to be that stealth stat guy who racks up nearly 20 points without you being able to remember many of his makes because they're both opportune and clockwork-reliable. Let Oden have the thunder dunks and Batum hit the threes. Just do what you do. The only exception might be more fundamental soundness when he does go into the post.
LaMarcus needs to cement his stardom on the other end of the court. He has boundless defensive potential. He's quick enough to guard perimeter players, tall and rangy enough to bother new-breed scoring power forwards, and perhaps this year (if the ever-so-common "bulking up" reports are accurate) solid enough to hold his own in the post...not that most PF's make a living there anymore. If anything I hope Aldridge retains his quickness underneath any strength and girth he might add. The largely untapped part of his defensive game is his ability to cover space in between other players...covering and helping, sneaking in from off-ball for massive blocks. Greg Oden's presence should make more of this possible, as he's an intimidating roadblock on the highway to the hoop. If Oden can slow down penetration and make dribblers second-guess and hesitate, LaMarcus could have a field day. Aldridge's mobility and length should make him a better defensive rebounder than he's shown himself to be. He's often utilized as a perimeter defender but he's not forced to remain there once the ball goes up. If Oden is a giant tree devouring most defensive boards Aldridge should be the wind sweeping through and catching the ones Greg misses. Between the two of them and the high-rebound output of Brandon Roy and Andre Miller Portland should be far and away the scariest and best rebounding team in the league.
To this point Aldridge has not been able to affect the defensive end of the floor nearly as much as he should. Personnel issues account for part of that but he also needs healthy doses of technique and desire. If he really wants to be a respected star, Aldridge has got to get a little Buck Williams in him. I'm not saying he can become Buck. That's way too much to ask. But if Aldridge can get even a smidgen of that proprietary attitude Williams had towards the ball and his place on the court, jaws will drop around the league and people will be shaking their heads about how unfair Portland's lineup is. He won't end up looking like Buck but he could resemble former Blazer Cliff Robinson on some of Cliffy's better days. And Cliff was a bothersome defender when he wanted to be.
My wishes/expectations for LMA v.2011 are that he realize the leaps he could take as a defender, that he understand how much he could add to Portland's win total that way, and that he have enough pride in himself and in the team's performance to make that happen. This won't be easy. Developing that side of your game is difficult when you don't have an instinct for it and haven't made your living based upon it. But it can be done.
What do you expect of LaMarcus Aldridge in the coming year? Weigh in below if you wish.