Blazer's Edge Mailbag: Lee vs. Aldridge, Lillard's Defense, Bench, and Draft Picks

USA TODAY Sports

Blazer's Edge readers ask about potential draft picks, Damian Lillard's defense, Portland's bench, and the value of LaMarcus Aldridge versus David Lee in this version of the Blazer's Edge Mailbag!

Time for another edition of the Blazer's Edge Mailbag. Power forwards, draft picks, defense...we've got it all!

Hey Dave,

Who is the more valuable (or more skilled) player, David Lee or Lamarcus Aldridge? I know that asking questions like this can be like comparing apples to oranges, but the arguments still interest me. Anyways, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Which of the two do you prefer?

Alex

It's not entirely apples to oranges. More like slightly different kinds of apples. Aldridge is the better scorer, Lee the better rebounder. Lee gets the ball inside more but Aldridge is a better shooter. Both depend on teammates and system defensively but Aldridge has more in the tank on that end than Lee. Lee's been a great stats guy but Aldridge has caught up in the eye-popping department. For the most part Aldridge has been more valuable to the Blazers than Lee has been to his teams, though Lee has had a couple great seasons.

This is probably one of those "eye of the beholder" things where if the guy's on your team you prefer him. But I'm going to give the edge to Aldridge anyway, if nothing else because up to this point the Blazers wouldn't even think about dealing him and Lee's been moved. Plus Steph Curry is the straw stirring the drink in Golden State whereas Aldridge has carried this team for a few years now. There's no way the Blazers would trade Aldridge for Lee straight up but the Warriors might think about that deal.

On a given night, though, this is a strong matchup and you can't predict either way head-to-head. They're both talented guys.

Dave,

Neil Oshey has repeatedly said he will not be trading LA this off season. However, I look at this team and don't see a contending team. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge Blazer fan and want nothing more than the Blazers to be competitive again. However, I see a lot of comments regarding building around our big 4. Do you believe our core group can take us out of the lower level? And if so, will the roughly 13 mil bring in enough help?

Jeff

That's what we're going to find out this summer, right? My gut instinct says the front office will have a hard time delivering players that will turn this lineup from not-so-good to great. I believe they can get to decent in any number of ways but decent is a long way from great.

The Blazers need to hit a home run this summer, period. If we have to put on beer goggles to appreciate who they come home with the team is in trouble. As I said before, the minimum necessary for excitement is two really good players plus a draft pick plus a handy vet with the room exception or one great player in place of any two of those four signings. I might even take a great player in place of any three.

If the Blazers can make good on their summer promise, though, don't underestimate the power of cap exceptions going forward. Last time we answered a question about why the Blazers can't just exceed the cap to sign players while still falling short of the luxury tax. They can't this year because they're starting too far under the cap to get the mid-level exception. Presumably they'll be at or over the cap next summer and thereafter though. If they've already built a solid rotation that MLE could bring in a nice final piece...maybe more than once. The Blazers don't have to do it all this summer but they have to build much higher than they have so far.

Dave,

Saw the article on the Blazers taking Kelly Olinik. How would he fit? Good pickup?

Fritz

Isn't drafting a Gonzaga guy the international signal for "I don't like my GM job anymore"? Besides, I don't want to have to learn how to spell it either.

Dave,

Would Michael Carter-Williams be a good fit in the Portland back court? He's a 6'6" PG, long wingspan, handles the ball well to play alongside Lillard at the 1 offensively so Lillard can catch and shoot and can guard the 2 with his size, and obviously can play the 1 both ways with Matthews. His best attributes appear to be his passing (NCAA assists leader this year I believe) and his defense. Good fit for the Blazers? Then grab a C and a good bench scorer in FA? Just a thought.

Tyson

I'm not sold yet. He can handle the ball. He can pass. But he doesn't score well off the dribble. Sound like anybody you know on Portland's roster yet? Worse, his shooting percentages are low. Right now he's a catch-and-shoot guy who only has the catch part down. Also Syracuse + Defense = Danger Will Robinson! Granted he had a great run during March Madness but I'm generally leery of tournament guys whose body of work doesn't live up to the hype. Plus he'd be Portland's lottery pick. They need to turn that asset into tangible production and they need that production soon. I'm OK with a guy who has a few holes in his game. It's the 10th pick, not the 1st. I'm also OK with a guy who might not be as talented overall but does everything well and will play a solid bench role for years to come. I have a harder time with a guy who will need to fix 3-4 major things before you're even sure he can play regularly. The Blazers have enough of those guys already.

I'm not at the point of ruling anybody out yet but I view Carter-Williams with a healthy dose of suspicion at this point. That may change as we find out more about him. Maybe not though.

Dave,

What do you think of the Blazers' bench at this point? Early in the season we would cringe to see any backup on the floor for any number of minutes; by the last month, it seemed like there were six players contributing. Besides Pavlovic, who is more of a veteran, that would be: Maynor, Barton, Claver, Leonard, Babbitt. Not huge talents, maybe, but they had some good games and usually looked like they belonged on the floor in the NBA, at least as role players. If you saw some of these guys in the second unit next fall, how would you feel about it?

Joshua

The Seattle Sonics will have a better bench than that next year. Sasha Pavlovic and Eric Maynor looked like pretty good subs towards the end of last year for one reason: they knew their heads from their rear ends. Let's give Luke Babbitt a little credit too. He actually learned how to function as a semi-complete NBA player. His body doesn't let him do a ton of things but he uses it much better now than he did the prior two years. On this team even being competent made bench players look like superstars. That was all comparative though.

Our continuing roster rundown will let you know which of those players will likely be back and how they need to grow. Watch for that over the next couple days. But if the Blazers come back with that group at the core of their reserve roster this summer will be a failure no matter who else they sign. Nobody wants to swallow a second helping of the worst bench in the NBA.

Dave,

I have a question about Damian. We talk a bunch about how he's been pretty much ineffective on defense (he really has). What I want to know is with this talk about him working out with Gary Payton and trying to become a lockdown defender, can he actually make that change? He's a guy who likes to give all his effort and seems to achieve most goals that he sets for himself. With his good but not elite physical ability, can he actually become a decent to even good defender solely by working with GP and his usual amount of hard work?

Jesús

It's a great question.

First off, I think "working with [insert Hall-of-Famer's name here]" is overrated. That's something you say to fans like, "Nicolas Batum and LeBron James are the only two forwards with X points and Y rebounds!" Those Hall-of-Famers can teach but so can any number of assistant and head coaches. It's not unproductive by any means but it's not like working with Payton will give Lillard 300% of the results of working with a decent defensive coach.

Several factors go into defense: physical gifts, knowledge/experience, dedication, desire, instinct, and system.

Lillard makes the most out of his athleticism on offense but he isn't able to translate that to the defensive end. He isn't an overwhelming physical specimen and his instincts haven't been honed. Neither his college nor his rookie pro career depended on defense. The basic evaluation: when you can score like that, who cares? Neither of those starting points is encouraging.

Knowledge and experience will develop as Lillard continues to train under mentors and play in the league. That's a given, except...

Knowledge and experience only translate into better play if you have the dedication and desire to apply them. Normally a guy who just got drafted 6th overall and won Rookie of the Year without having to play much "D" would raise red flags. Let's face it, Lillard could coast on defense for the next ten years and still become an All-Star making tens of millions. But this is where Damian's attitude comes in. He's grounded, poised, and he realizes that his team didn't win this year despite his individual accolades. I believe him when he says he wants to be a star and win in this league. I also believe he understands that playing decent defense will help that process. He doesn't seem to be the type to let others carry the load for him. Therefore my money is on him becoming a reliable enough defender even if he's never a great one.

This will be the proof in the pudding, whether his great attitude really exists and really means something. He's already a player to get excited about. If he develops his defense to a competent level he'll prove himself a player you want to build your future around.

I'm still not close to getting through the Mailbag backlog but I do take recent questions along with the older ones. Send yours to the e-mail address below with "Mailbag" somewhere in the subject line. Thanks for all the great questions!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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