Portland Trail Blazers: LaMarcus Aldridge, Defense, Influences, and Site Twitter Change

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

The Blazer's Edge Mailbag takes a look at LaMarcus Aldridge inside and out, Portland's need for an extra defender, site influences, and an expansion of Twitter coverage.

Here's a Monday Mailbag for you. If you have Mailbag questions, send them to blazersub@gmail.com and we'll try to answer them!

Hey Dave,

I just have a quick question- why don't you use twitter? I realize not everyone is into the whole social media thing, but I think it would be good place for you to share your thoughts and interact with other Blazer fans outside of Blazers Edge. Ben has around 18,000 followers, so I'm sure there would be many people (including me) that would greatly appreciate your presence in the twitter world. I mostly enjoy twitter for the up to the second sporting news and instant analysis, and I was just wondering why a popular writer like you wouldn't join in on the fun.

Thanks,
Michael

First of all, a side note: What's with all the Michaels and Mikes in the Mailbag recently? A couple years ago at SBNation we did a roll-call kind of thing and discovered roughly half of the 600+ authors at SBNation sites appeared to be named "Dave". Now I'm reviewing Mailbag questions and there are Michaels--different Michaels--busting out everywhere. Are Michaels represented disproportionately among Blazers fans or are they just more inquisitive than your average Joe or Fred or Susie? Or maybe we all got transported to the Logan's Run colony and I didn't know it?

So, anyway, Michael #632, there is no Sanctuary. Also, you are in luck. I got two things for Christmas. One was my very own, brand new, Cherry Brown MX mechanical keyboard to type on. Not only do the keys feel great, they make this wonderful clicking sound like I was Doogie Howser writing his diary or something. Seriously, it feels like I'm in a movie as I write this. I love hearing myself type. (This is the blogging version of unbearable narcissism, but I'll own it.)

My second gift was a brand...new...Twitter account! That's right! I can Tweet now! I'm not sure where my family got it or how much they paid, but it feels like chinchilla and I'm not returning it no matter what! The new Twitter handle is @DaveDeckard. You can go there now to see some real happening and groovy stuff. Or, you know, some tweets. Be sure to follow and whatever else you're supposed to do on Twitter.

For purposes of clarity and organization, all of us authors now have our own Twitter accounts which look like this:

@BenGolliverSI @DaveDeckard @ChrisLucia_BE @samtongue @danecarbaugh @BEdgeTimmay

As of today the official account for the website as a whole will be:

@Blazersedge

Be aware that you need to manually follow that last one even if you were previously following it with Ben. @Blazersedge is your one-stop place to get updated on every article that's posted here from all authors. Those who followed Ben at that address up until now will still get his content automatically but everybody--old followers and new--needs to sign up for the new version of @Blazersedge in order to get the updates posted there.

(Note: It may take the network a few hours to update the site feed to that handle but please follow anyway.)

Dave,

Now that we have had a lot of success in this season and Aldridge appears to be happy, what do you think the odds are that he signs an extension this offseason?

Daniel

I've been avoiding that topic because, well, how can you talk about such stuff in the middle of a 26-8 run? The best we can say is that if things continue at this level of success the chances have to be high, right? The Blazers would sure pay him and it's not like the choices for a better team would be plentiful. But the Blazers have to make that run of success first. Right now the win total still stands at 26 and the number of recent first-round playoff victories stands at 0. Those need to change before we can talk about the situation changing. The absolute best thing to do would be win, win, and win some more and then let the rest take care of itself. But yeah, if the Blazers make the Conference Finals the only reason I can think of to avoid re-signing would be endorsement dollars. I'm not sure Aldridge would have a ton of those coming his way anyway, not being flashy on or off the court.

Dave

I recently heard Michael Holton talk about the Blazers needing a defensive leader to take the next step and how that is still an evolving process for this team. Do you think the Blazers could pry Tony Allen from the Grizzlies considering they don't appear to be going anywhere fast this year? Perhaps Dorrell Wright (whom the Grizz coveted in the off-season) and Allen Crabbe or Will Barton? Those salaries would seem to match or come close. Thoughts on that potential or the fit of Tony Allen could he be landed?

Rudy

I'm not sure Memphis self-assesses as "going nowhere" yet but let's assume Allen could be had for such a price. I have several issues with him. He has a long contract, breaking up Portland's pattern. That's fine for the right guy but I'm not sure Allen is it. I like his defense but his three-point shooting is non-existent. He doesn't take them; he doesn't make them. You're paying for his defense by allowing an opposing defender to sag back and disrupt point guard drives, Lopez hooks, or whatever the heck Mo Williams is doing. But most of all, Allen plays shooting guard and that's it. His minutes are coming directly from Wesley Matthews who is a semi-decent defender (compared to his teammates, anyway) and who shoots the long ball better.

If you're talking about adding a defender off the bench why not go for someone who would change the complexion at his position (like a point guard) or at least play behind a guy you anticipate getting fewer minutes in the natural course of things (like a center)? Failing that, you want to at least get him at a position where you can push around the current starters to make lineups work, like moving Nicolas Batum to shooting guard for brief stretches or moving Aldridge to center. Shooting guard is the last position where you'd want to get stuck with a single-position back up because you already have a single-position starter firmly ensconced there.

I didn't hear Holton's comment directly but is it possible that he was focusing on developing a defensive leader instead of acquiring another defensive player? In other words, was he asking for a current player to step up, take pride in defense over and above pride taken in offense, and spur/cajole/scold his teammates into doing likewise? I forget who it was now but a Blazer coach once said that he knew the Drexler Era teams had turned the corner when they walked into the locker room bragging about their defensive stops instead of how many points they scored. The Blazers could use some of that, be it from a new addition or someone currently on the roster realizing the need.

Hi Dave,

First time emailer, long time reader. I have a question about LaMarcus. He has always been labeled as a "soft" player and a "jumpshooter". But I feel like this first month and a half he has taken a great leap to becoming a great low post scorer. He has been driving to the middle, has a really nice up and under move, and the deadly fade away.

But the past week or so he has been back to his jump shooting ways. He is a great jump shooter so it isnt nessisarily a bad thing, but I feel like he is MVP caliber when he goes into "BEAST MODE" as I like to call it.

My question is why do you think some games he goes into beast mode and some games he goes "soft"? When I think everyone agrees the Blazers are better when he mixes some low post scoring in with jump shots. Is it matchups? Or effort? Or caliber of opponent?

Nathan

How about an answer you didn't suggest...need?

We should start with the admission that a player's comfort zone is his comfort zone. Generally speaking an NBA offense prospers when they get their best players shots in their preferred, natural scoring areas. Aldridge is the Blazers' best player. Portland's offense should be designed with him in mind. If he does his best work on the left side between 10-18 feet out, that's where he should get the ball.

The story was different during the Brandon Roy years when Aldridge was pretty clearly the second-best offensive player on the team. Roy's offense consisted largely of mid-range jumpers from the right side. Having even more mid-range looks from the second option wasn't appealing, especially with no low-post threat in the lineup, Greg Oden being injured. In that era it was better for Aldridge and the team to have him fighting down low.

Who else shoots mid-range jumpers now? Who else can draw so much attention to that side of the floor and free up space on the weak side? Having Aldridge going to the hole consistently might hamper Portland's overall offense now.

Consider that Aldridge rarely passes once he's put the ball on the floor. If he's dribbling you know he's trying to score. You eliminate the weak-side three-point threat long before he gets in scoring position.

What's more, having Aldridge make a move down low puts a defender in the passing lane should he want to try that weak-side pass and lessens the distance that defender has to cover to return to said shooter in case of a double-team. If you send an extra man against Aldridge 15 feet from the bucket on one side of the court (something his offense mandates on good nights) you know somebody's going to be wide open around the arc, likely Matthews in the opposite corner once all the scrambling's done. There's no way the defender recovers (or enough teammates rotate fast enough) to beat the ball to the open spot when they're committed so far over. LaMarcus doesn't even have to hit the shooter with the pass himself. The moment he clears the ball from the oncoming double-team every teammate on the court has a simple, binary decision: fire if I'm open, hit the next guy if I'm not. Taking the ball down low Aldridge has to see the open man, find the passing angle, and deliver the ball precisely to that exact player. Meanwhile the defense has a fairly simple rotation to get back to the guy, one which any player should be able to cover. Having to cover the extra distance to get to Aldridge on the perimeter makes a huge difference in how clear the court is and how easy passes become.

Despite all that, Aldridge does take the ball into the lane. Some games he does it more, some less. I'd argue that's need-based. When the offense is working fine without interior offense (defined by Blazers taking and making reasonably open shots) Aldridge stays in his usual zone. But when the offense is stumbling, particularly after you get the sense that Coach Stotts called a timeout to address the issue, guess who gets the ball and guess where he's going for the next few possessions? If you said "Aldridge" and "closer to the rim", give yourself a prize.

Whenever the offensive ship needs righted, LaMarcus does his duty. Between that and the occasional nifty spin to the hoop when defenders overplay the turn-around, what more can you ask of him? His shooting percentages are down but his points per minute are way up and his foul shooting rate is consistent with his career numbers. The Blazers have shots to spare, so I'm fine letting Aldridge play his game unless the situation demands otherwise.

Dave,

I'm curious about your influences in basketball and writing. Your combination of basketball thinking, storytelling, and humor is addictive. Where did it come from?

Gary

Identifying cause and effect is always hard. You're tempted to Popeye it, saying, "I yam who I yam." The story is likely far more complex than I perceive it to be but I do know these things:

I owe my love of the game to Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas, Lionel Hollins, Dave Twardzik, Bob Gross, and the '77 Blazers who inspired a young kid to a lifetime obsession. I also owe Bill Schonely heavily because I never would have loved it if he hadn't described it.

My dad's always been a good storyteller and he was my earliest and most natural influence for description. My mom was a critical thinker and was never satisfied, both of which distinguish good writers from great in this field, in my opinion. I owe Jesus for encouraging us to find meaning in stories...meaning it's impossible to complete or get to the end of, for making us explain things well even though we don't understand them and always end up with more questions than answers. I'm indebted to Jerry "The King" Lawler for the example of getting across those stories briefly and with unexpected humor.

But if you're really talking about the craft of writing, I owe most of my ability to James Conover, once the Senior Honors English teacher at Grant High School before he passed away in 1986 at 46 years of age.

Mr. Conover was the kind of teacher you feared instinctively. Nowadays he would undoubtedly be termed a "hard ass" (and far worse given the proliferation of barely-considered opinion on social media). He ruled his desk with a red pen. You approached that sanctum with trepidation, if at all. Heck, if you had time to approach you were probably doing something wrong.

Mr. Conover would teach you a principle of grammar thoroughly, but God help you if you weren't listening because following the lesson would come a multi-page worksheet with 50, 60, 75 examples. The examples came unstained. No punctuation, no clues...you got nothing besides the bare words on the page. Your job was to mark every sentence, clause, and parenthetical aside on each page with precise and orthodox grammar exactly as had been outlined to you. Then the red pen came out. Miss one comma and you were re-doing the sentence. Confuse an independent and subordinate clause and you were re-doing the sentence with a disdain-filled glare besides. There were no 94% scores in Mr. Conover's class. You either did it perfectly or you did it over.

In that environment turning in something you'd written yourself was an otherworldly experience. You cringed as you submitted. No matter how well-crafted your prose, you knew Mr. Conover would find at least a half dozen mistakes...per paragraph. You almost wished for another worksheet to fill out instead. At leas you had a shot at perfection there.

I remember the day Mr. Conover told us, "Technically speaking beginning a sentence with a conjunction--'and' or 'but'--is permissible by modern rules of grammar."

I thought, "Man... there's an option? I don't think I've ever heard him present one!"

Then he said, "I still say it's bad form, though. I won't mark it wrong but you'd better have a good reason for it."

And I still don't do it much.

I don't claim to abide by Mr. Conover's iron-clad grammar today, especially here. The form and purpose for my writing are different than he envisioned. Serious grammarians often take me to task for same. But I understand something that I suspect most people miss nowadays when confronted with such figures: by defining a standard and demanding I learn and live up to it, Mr. Conover gave me options. In the microcosm of the classroom it seemed like he was limiting my choices when he said, "Do it this way and not otherwise." That perception was false. Adhering to the highest standards, I then had the option to stick there or to adopt other measures, whichever served my intent and the needs of my audience. Had I never understood those pinnacle requirements I never would have been able to meet them when necessary.

By the time he had run me through the wringer James Conover's passion, attention to detail, and unyielding task-mastery made me feel like I could comfortably write anything from a Facebook post to a speech for the President of the United States. Whether I could actually do the latter is up in the air, of course, but feeling like you could if needed gives you the confidence to attempt endeavors like the one you're reading now.

Mr. Conover also instilled the idea that public discourse--particularly written discourse--was a privilege and should be held to a high standard. You didn't dare phrase an essay like you'd phrase a casual note to your friend. You were lucky the Quasi-Deity of All Things Grammatical even bothered to look at your work. You were doubly fortunate if it escaped his grasp without being obscured by a sea of red ink. That idea of doing your best every time--not just blurting out whatever happened to be floating through your brain but considering your words and respecting the people who would read them--provides the cornerstone upon which this site was founded and remains a visible standard by which we ask you to judge your words here as well.

So...Walton, Schonely, Mom, Dad, Jesus, Jerry "The King", and James Conover. If you like the work here, raise a glass to them all tonight. If you really like it, raise a glass to each! Just make sure you invite me too.

Keep those Mailbag questions coming to the address below, and see you on Twitter at @DaveDeckard and @Blazersedge and don't forget to help us send 1000 underprivileged kids to see a Blazers game on Blazer's Edge Night, 2014!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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