Here's the second part of our two-part Mailbag feature. If you missed yesterday's, it's right here.
I'm stoked about the chances of this team to go far. Really really far. I'm also cautious by nature and the Blazers have burned me before. I don't know whether to follow enthusiasm or reserved thinking. I'm going to gauge my approach by you. Are you more enthused or more cautious in your current approach?
More enthused than not, I'd say.
For all the years the Blazers have made the playoffs, only 5 lineups have ventured past the first round. (They've made more total trips past the first round than that, but they were multiple trips by the same basic roster...e.g. Clyde Drexler's Blazers from 1989-92.)
1. Bill Walton's championship team did it, obviously.
2. Jim Paxson, Mychal Thompson, and Kiki Vandeweghe took their teams to the second round a couple of times in the early 80's but no farther.
3. Drexler's teams did it thrice.
4. Rasheed Wallace's Traveling All-Star Team went to the Conference Finals in '99 and '00.
5. Last year's Blazers made the second round.
If you aren't at least a little bit pumped about the possibilities here, your standards are pretty darn high. Portland's performance in the 2014 playoffs may not have changed the NBA history books, but it was pretty significant in the Blazers' annals. We already know we're watching something that doesn't come around all that often.
The question is, are the current Blazers going to peak closer to Walton-Drexler levels or closer to those Paxson-Thompson-Vandeweghe teams?
History has largely forgotten them, but those early-80's incarnations of the Blazers were pretty darn talented. Kiki averaged over 22 ppg the year the Blazers made the second round with him. Thompson averaged 21 and 12 during one season. Paxson topped 20 as well. Salted among these luminaries were guys like Calvin Natt, Fat Lever, Wayne Cooper, Kenny Carr, and eventually a young Drexler. They didn't all play together at the same time, but these rosters were fairly well stacked. The current Blazers turning out significantly better isn't automatic, especially if they don't find more depth. Nobody would be shocked by a trip or two to the second round, then LaMarcus Aldridge aging out of his prime and looking to find a new home where he had a better shot at a ring.
That said, nobody would be shocked at this team making the Conference Finals either. Prior to this season, those words would not have rung true. Now it's easy to imagine Damian Lillard rising through the stratosphere, Aldridge continuing at the top of the power forward ranks for the next few years, and the supporting cast excelling in their comfort zones.
The Blazers are marginal contenders at this point--around the level of Memphis or Golden State rather than San Antonio or a healthy Oklahoma City--but they're still contenders...certainly for the Conference Finals and perhaps one day for more. That, my friend, is something.
My advice: life is going to be more fun if you ride the enthusiasm train as far as it'll take you. In the process realize that the Blazers haven't done anything spectacular yet. Don't bag on people who point that out. Avoid insisting that everybody has to predict Finals appearances in order to be a "real" fan. An NBA Finals showing is still unlikely. But it's possible. As long as that remains so, don't waste the opportunity to hope and dream. As the list above shows, you might have to wait a while until the next one.
Love the site, love the analysis of the games. Makes me connect to Oregon being stranded somewhere in the frigid midwest now.
On to the matter at hand. I'm not one to scapegoat or bully someone. However i know theirs an ongoing holy-war between BlazersEdge and Bill Simmons and i feel the need to contribute. It's seems some of Mr. Simmons minions have taken these anti blazers views to heart. Particularly in a recent article about a big man renaissance decrying LMA as a "tall small forward".
This frustrates me. Yes he's a jump shooter. Yes he'll take long 2's and pick and pop. Yes his signature move is a stepback fadeaway. However did anyone watch this man's 46pt 18reb playoff game? Did anyone else outside of Portland see how important LMA's interior D and rebounding is? His putbacks? Yes even his solid low post game when he's not taking open jumpers. Not to even mention the intricacies of that long jumpshot opening up space in the offense.
You know who else shot jumpshots? Kevin Garnett. Karl Malone. Heck Blake Griffin seems to think of himself as Aldridge these days with his numerous 18 footers. Their may even be some blonde german who won a championship shooting a healthy diet of jumpers.
I'm ranting but i see this perception throughout the media that LMA is "soft" or not a proper big man because of his style of play despite having a solid low post game. Anyways i couldn't help but send an email and wonder if this frustrates you or any other Blazer fans.
P.S. I'm joking about Simmons.
Wait. Steffi Graf shot jumpers?
And who is Bill Simmons? Is he any relation to Richard? Cuz Soccer Moms love sweatin' to the oldies.
As to the matter at hand, when Aldridge was learning his craft criticism was justifiable. People will claim, "He was young!" but:
A. That explanation applies to every player, including the hundreds who don't end up making a significant impact in the league. And...
B. Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Anthony Davis...some superstars make a clearer impact on the game early in their careers than Aldridge did. His situation was different. Even now he may not belong in the same club as those guys. You could argue expectations were too high. But Aldridge was the 2nd player selected overall in his draft. High expectations come with the territory.
For those reasons I understand, and am relatively fine with, the former negative critiques of Aldridge. The key word here is former. If you've seen Aldridge play in the last year or so and don't think his impact is stuck on "unbelievable", I'm not sure I can help you. The last Aldridge-style player to anchor his team while playing this consistently (this forcefully) was exactly the guy you mentioned: Dirk Nowitzki. Watching Aldridge play right now reminds me of the days when the Blazers would travel to Dallas and nobody could contain Dirk long enough to win the game. As I mentioned in the New Orleans-Portland recap, Anthony Davis tied up Aldridge better than anybody I've seen since LaMarcus was a kid. And Aldridge still scored 22 on 50% shooting with 9 rebounds.
Put all doubts aside. LaMarcus Aldridge is one of those impossible-to-guard, leading his team to wins, you-better-hope-he-beats-himself (because you ain't doing it) superstars. He is one of the most dangerous players in the league. Whether he ends up ranking high all-time remains to be seen. That'll depend on production, longevity, and the success of his franchise. But you can't suit up all-time greats. Compared to people actually playing in the NBA right now, Aldridge ranks near the top.
I understand that some folks will point to Aldridge's field goal percentage and argue with the "impossible to stop" assertion. That's an inherent part of the mid-range game he prefers and Portland needs from him. You could put a high-percentage inside scorer in his slot and the guy would be tripping over Robin Lopez and Lopez's defender. You could put a three-point shooting forward in Aldridge's position and he'd just end up forcing a different shooter into the mid-range...a shooter who wouldn't have the impact LaMarcus does.
Aldridge's effectiveness goes beyond percentages. The pattern of Portland's mesh is woven around him. Neither this team nor its system have to work as well as they do. They work that well because of the talent and skill set of the guy wearing #12.
It might be awhile until the Blazers have 15 ready to play..... interesting question to debate....Crabbe has played well enough to at least dress for the games ongoing....Who, besides Claver stays in a suit from now on? Leonard, TRob, Barton or Dorell? TRob seems the only one completely safe, yes up and down but never so down he shouldn't dress. Leonard should dress just so he can get time if it's open, Will has shot horribly. Is it regression to the mean when things start to go well to average out? But, there are nights he can come in and turn things with hustle. My answer is Dorell. Opening nite he got caught on a flex cut pick 3 times in 2d quarter and has never showed a glimpse of being the as-advertised knock down shooter needed. But, could have some locker room ramifications putting a vet in a suit, and coach Stotts seems to want to give vets first look. Thoughts?
You're right that the Blazers will be in good shape when this is an issue again.
Until then it's going to shift depending on matchups and practice performance. Allen Crabbe is just as liable to sit as Meyers Leonard or Dorell Wright. Victor Claver may find his way onto the front bench.
I agree with your Thomas Robinson assessment...sort of. To me it's not about how up or down Robinson gets. He's gone both directions plenty. Robinson is like the emergency parachute, the roll of the dice you take when everything else goes south. Nobody else on Portland's bench has that same ability to turn a game, even occasionally. CJ McCollum and Will Barton mostly prosper when things are already going well. Freeland does fine work but not with the same juice. (Though Freeland continuing to play well may put Robinson in a street suit, as Meyers Leonard would provide a skill-contrast choice alongside Joel more than T-Rob would.) Robinson puts you into the game or takes you out of it. If you're already way out of it, where's the risk?
Then again, coaches don't think that way, so don't expect that assessment to hold true in real life.
In any case, few Blazers will spend the entire season on the inactive list and few Blazers will hold onto the 8th-10th rotation spots without wavering. You're going to see the bench players mix and match until somebody emerges in a fashion so obvious that you wouldn't even think of asking this question about him.
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