This is the second in what will eventually be a fifteen-part series on this season's expectations for each Blazer player. Yesterday we were slightly muted in our initial expectations of Greg Oden. Today we're going to be absolutely effusive about his frontcourt running mate Lamarcus Aldridge. Simply put: this is going to be Lamarcus' year.
There are several reasons I make that observation. First he showed consistent improvement throughout last season, ending up a very strong player before the heart condition took him down. Second by all reports he's shown the work ethic on the court, in the weight room, and in practice. Greatness doesn't happen in spurts. It comes from fighting the burn on your fourteenth rep of twenty every day. Third, at Summer League he was obviously bigger than last year and obviously more dominant. Summer League isn't for big guys, it's for guards. When a big man shines in July there's a much greater chance it's for real. And Lamarcus is for real. It shows in every line of his body and step. Fourth the team is set up to feature him this year. Yes Brandon and the point guards will handle the ball more but Lamarcus doesn't have to hold it forever to score. People are going to be paying a ton of attention to Brandon Roy and Greg Oden at first. We're going to game plan specifically to get the ball to Lamarcus and let him work his two-way magic from 12-15 feet. (Don't forget the offense is already set up to work through the power forward anyway.) I would be very surprised if he didn't end up the leading scorer on the team at season's end and I'll be surprised if he doesn't approach 20 ppg. Mind you, I don't think this will be as prominent when we actually get good. Our hallmark will be a balanced attack. But we aren't that good yet and we're looking to get someone off the ground. That's why we're going to feature Lamarcus so much.
More than anything else I am excited to see how the Aldridge/Oden frontcourt looks on defense. Lamarcus is not a traditional banger at power forward but with G.O. in there he doesn't have to be. He should be able to use his quickness to help shut down the lane. In fact if both he and Oden can stay between their men and the basket each one should be able to play off the other for nasty off-ball blocks. In a couple of years that frontcout is going to be tight on defense and there's no reason that can't start now.
I have two and a half concerns about Lamarcus. The one that's floating around right now is injury/durability. Those are the only issues that could derail his season in a major way. My fingers are crossed and my breath is held. Despite the promise he really does need a year or two of solid development before he becomes a legit, dependable, (perhaps) star-level player. If he doesn't get that our development will be set back correspondingly. My second concern is defensive rebounding. He wasn't all that great at it last year, though he managed to shine the glass at the offensive end. Having Oden out there might take some pressure off but they're both so young that they'll need to help each other out. He has the ability to become a mean rebounder but does he have the technique and the desire? My half-concern is how he's going to take to being a main option in the offense. I have no doubt that he'll be comfortable with the idea of getting a ton of touches. But how will he react when NBA reality smacks him in the face and he starts getting doubled every night? I think he'll learn that pass/shoot/bail decision-making process fairly quickly compared to many young guys, especially given the multitude of options on this team, but it's never an easy transition. I want to see him progress without getting down on himself. I don't need or want swagger from him (that's not his style) but I want him to walk out of the season with the same confidence that he walked in with.
This will be one of Lamarcus' landmark seasons. There will be plenty of other mileposts before he's through but this will be his first big test. My best guess is somewhere around 19 points, hopefully 9+ rebounds, a couple of assists, and a block or two, plus some serious consideration for team MVP.