Another question came into the inbox recently, reflective of one of the ongoing debates around Blazer Nation:
Is LaMarcus Aldridge a franchise player?
Short answer: Yes, but it depends which franchise.
Aldridge is clearly the Blazers' franchise player at this point. He's the most talented player, the highest scorer, the focal point of the offense. He's also good at it. His scoring average rose almost 4 full points last year on 2.5 more shots per game. He shoots 50% overall from the field. His PER is a robust 21.5, ranking him 18th overall in the league. He's blossomed into what the Blazers needed in the absence of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden. There's nothing to fault him for there.
But the question was whether Aldridge was "a" franchise player, not whether he's "our" franchise player. I'm assuming the indirect modifier implies "the kind of player who can take this franchise to great heights, making this incarnation of the Trail Blazers memorable and distinct". The answer to that is more muddled.
Comparing Aldridge to past Portland franchise players I place him in the middle ground between Zach Randolph and Rasheed Wallace. At a similar age to Aldridge Randolph was a more prolific scorer, modified by the fact that he had a higher usage rate and was far less efficient offensively. Randolph was a better rebounder and has kept up his scoring average for a number of years after but Aldridge is clearly the better defender of the two and always will be. Were I building a team I'd take LaMarcus over Zach.
Aldridge is far superior to a similarly-aged Wallace in the scoring department, this time modified by LaMarcus' higher usage rate and number of shots per minute and game. In his entire career Rasheed never sniffed (or likely wanted) the 17.5 attempts Aldridge took last year. Wallace and Aldridge are similar in the rebounding department...not that this is a compliment. But Rasheed was as much superior to Aldridge defensively as Aldridge is superior to Randolph. Throw in Wallace's great court sense and ability to step up in the playoffs and he still outranks Aldridge.
The concern for Portland fans: Randolph never took the Blazers anywhere and Wallace's success was predicated on fantastic teammates as much as his own play. We're not talking Drexler dominance here.
Compared to current players we're nowhere near Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan level production as they came into their prime years. THOSE are franchise players. Even now, after clearly the best season of his career, Aldridge is far closer to Kevin Martin than Kevin Durant...great player, love to have him, not going to be one of that small handful of guys who wills their team to elite status.
Sometimes the equation gets oversimplified. Our team has a great player + Our team is going somewhere = Our team's best player is now (or soon will be) among the league elite. In truth both the current league and this team's history are populated with really good players who don't end up being that definitive All-Time Franchise Guy.
LaMarcus Aldridge is the franchise player for this team. He would be the franchise player on several teams around the league. On a handful of others--maybe 8-10 depending on how you'd look at it--he'd be the second banana. The distinguishing line between the two sets is that the first group is full of mediocre-to-bad teams in need of a definitive franchise guy and the majority of the second group sits at the top of the league because they already have one. The Blazers aren't there yet. Aldridge may be the centerpiece to their master plan but, as it once was with Wallace, the team's ultimate success likely will depend on the players around him as much as upon LaMarcus himself.
What say you? Is Aldridge overrated by Portland fans because the team needs him to be that good right now? Will LaMarcus become one of those transcendent superstars in the league? Is he already? Weigh in below.