Last week, the Blazer's Edge panel looked at how Damian Lillard stacked up to his point guard counterparts. This week, in similar fashion, the panel discusses how All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge looks compared to others at his position, including a couple of Hall-of-Famers.
Sam Tongue | @SamTongue
It's always funny when we get into this ranking game, especially as Blazer followers. We get awfully protective of our players (as seen by the rankings last week), probably erring more on the side of overvaluing than undervaluing.
That said, I'm going to be a complete homer on this one. LaMarcus is a stud, plain and simple. The L-Train's inside-outside game, coupled with his ability to run the floor, pass out of double teams and improving defense (especially on the weak side) create a lethal combination. More importantly, seeing the team struggle without him for a few games in the spring and then seeing the type of run he had in the playoffs shows more than a stuffed stat sheet.
So when you're ranking them, it seems like he's really the tier with Kevin Love and Blake Griffin (and likely Anthony Davis this season). He's the number one option on a conference semifinal team. That's better than any of those guys can say.
To me, this isn't a "career achievement" award. It's about who I'd want right now. For this upcoming season, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better guy with the type of impact Aldridge can have as the top option.
Scott Horlbeck | @scott_horlbeck
I think Sagar is trying to get me killed. First Damian Lillard, now "Where does LaMarcus Aldridge rank?" Real quick -- if I say 6th, will the Blazer fans charge my apartment in their Timbers jerseys and throw Lardo sandwiches at my windows? You're right -- Lardo is probably too mainstream for a Blazer-hater-sandwich-throwing-witch-hunt. Olympic Provisions?
Besides LeBron James (and maybe Russell Westbrook), Blake Griffin might be the most physically dominant player in the league and has a fast-improving mid-range and low-post game. Kevin Love is more skilled, versatile, and a better rebounder. And Anthony Davis is going to own this league in t-minus 2 years. To me, those are the three best power forwards in the league.
Now we get into the Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, and Chris Bosh tier -- and I think Aldridge fits somewhere in between. If we're talking "long term," LaMarcus probably ranks higher than these three -- but the question is right now, and right now, I have him ahead of Dirk, but behind Duncan and Bosh.
Personally, I think Bosh is still a 20-10 guy; he's just been forced to play third fiddle for the last four years and people have forgotten how good he really is. Plus, his ability to develop a three-point shot basically over the course of an off-season (2012-13: 1.0 3PAs per game, 2013-14: 2.8 3PAs per game) is something that never got the right amount of credit/attention. He's also won two titles and made BIG SHOTS in BIG MOMENTS. Something you just can't put a price on.
Duncan is just too good to rank below Aldridge. He's too reliable, too good on the low block, too sneaky-good on defense, and too damn smart.
So all in all, I have Aldridge as the sixth best power forward in the league.
Side note: You could also make an argument for Al Horford, but he's been hurt and OH MY GOD THEY'RE THROWING SANDWICHES!!!!!!!!!
Evans Clinchy | @evansclinchy
Last week we discussed Damian Lillard and his place among NBA point guards, and this week we face an equally vexing problem with LaMarcus Aldridge. The dilemma here is exactly the same -- we're talking about an immensely talented player who happens to play the same position as a lot of other immensely talented guys in the league today.
Aldridge is in that elite class, to be sure. But how does he compare to the other guys in that group? Not well, I'm afraid.
Is Aldridge better than Tim Duncan? Get back to me when he's a dominant two-way player for five championship rings. Is he better than Dirk Nowitzki? He's close, as they're turning into quite similar players these days, but Nowitzki still has a clear edge in his shooting range, and he also has 13 career seasons of double-digit rebounds, while Aldridge has just the one. Is Aldridge better than Kevin Love? Sorry, but I don't think so. Defensive question marks notwithstanding, Love's shooting and rebounding are just too good to overlook.
Is Aldridge better than Anthony Davis. No, I think it's too late for that one, now that Davis has led the U.S. to a world championship and is only poised to get better. Blake Griffin? Don't think so -- Griffin is a more powerful player with a better arsenal of post moves. Chris Bosh? Eh, again close, but Bosh brings a great deal of versatility with the post play, the pick-and-roll prowess, and the outside shot.
So where does Aldridge rank? Sorry, but I'm gonna say seventh. None of these comparisons are laughably lopsided, but LMA is just a smidge behind each of the NBA's other six superstar bigs. The best is probably Duncan for now, with Davis looking to overtake him soon and Griffin and Love still lurking in the mix. Aldridge is behind those headliners, but he remains very firmly entrenched in the top caste. He may be losing the debate, but he's solidly in the conversation.
For point guards, I likened the position rankings to the Western Conference with a few elite and a large, mushy middle. Well, with power forwards the elite is just as mushy as the middle. I've got nine guys you could make at least a rationale case for being the best in the league and another nine who could vie for the spot after that. And that's assuming we only let LeBron James play one position.
Parsing through that many players is made even more difficult because the players are so different. You've got old guys declining, young guys rising, backseat winners, super-stat losers, defensive liabilities, transcendent scorers, and our all-around stud of a workhorse Aldridge. I could cut this so many different ways depending on how we define "best." Best for one game? Best for a series? Best for a season? Next season or last season? Is he playing with scrubs or complimenting other great players? Etc.
I'm going with "best for next season" with a conservative, show me first approach. With that, I've got Aldridge third behind Love and Griffin. Duncan and Dirk take a step because of the grueling 82 game schedule. Aldridge passes Anthony and Serge Ibaka because they're too limited on one side of the floor. Bosh is a better defender but not by much so I need to see him be a number one option again before I give him the nod. That leaves Mr. Anthony "I'm better at marketing weird shit on my face than the guy who played Omar in the Wire" Davis.
All the hype around The Brow seems like an over correction and a year or two early. Nobody paid much attention to him last year even though he had a monster season and now everybody is saying he's already arrived. Not to mention his recent World Cup exploits showed all of his strengths (crazy athleticism, freakish length, unstoppable rolling to the hoop, did I mention length and athleticism?) and none of his weaknesses (shaky jumper, gets pushed around the block, inconsistent positioning/footwork). If Kenneth Faried looked like an All-Star then take the performance of his physically gifted partner in crime with a grain of salt. I'm not saying I would bet against Davis being the best PF next year, but he has to prove it against NBA competition before I'm giving him the title.
Oofta. And I thought the point guard position was loaded.
Sagar Trika | @BlazersBySagar
Last time, I started out by listing the top tier point guards. Rather than doing that this time around, partly because Aldridge is in that tier at his position, I'm going to compare him to his fellow power forwards directly.
Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki are both Hall-of-Famers, without any doubt in my mind. They both stretch the floor and are excellent rebounders. However, given their age and the length of the NBA season, it's worth questioning whether they can continue the high level of play they have been for the last 10+ seasons.
Anthony Davis is a freak of nature. He's lanky and has an excellent post move to get closer to the basket. He showcased very well in the 2014 FIBA World Cup for Team USA, leading the team to a gold medal. However, that was against weaker, sub-NBA level players. While he was fantastic last season for the Pelicans, I'd like to see him duplicate again this season before giving him the sole position of best power forward in the league today.
Kevin Love put up fantastic numbers in Minnesota, but he had a horrid "supporting" cast. I want to see how he plays as a second or third option behind LeBron James and maybe Kyrie Irving before giving Love the number one spot. Chris Bosh is a very good shooter who flew under the radar behind James and Dwyane Wade for the last four seasons. With James's departure, Bosh is now a first (arguably second, behind Wade) option for the Heat. Because of that, I expect to see both his scoring and rebounding numbers to increase. However, I am still critical of Bosh's defense. Lastly, we have the high-flier that is Blake Griffin. He puts up very good offensive numbers, both scoring and rebounding, but like Bosh, Griffin's defense is suspect.
Aldridge himself has a few major flaws as well. His defense is sub-par for the position and he doesn't have the capability to shoot the three and stretch the floor like Bosh, Love, or Nowitzki. Aldridge also doesn't have the durability of some of his competitors. In his career, Aldridge has never played a full 82-game season (to be fair, he has played 81 games per season twice). For comparison, Nowitzki and Duncan have both done so twice.
I've now picked apart small flaws in each of Aldridge's competitors' play-style and skill-set. For me, the best power forward in the league right now is Blake Griffin. He can score and he has now even expanded his range to the free-throw line extended. I do have Aldridge slotted in at second. He can pass out of double-teams, which he now commands, and is an excellent rebounder.
Long story short: Blake Griffin is the best power forward in the NBA right now, but Aldridge is a close second.
Chris Lucia | @ChrisLucia_BE
Power forward is one of the most loaded positions in the NBA, making the numbered ranking of players sort of an arbitrary task. Several power forwards can be considered "elite," but the skillsets of those at the top are pretty varied.
Serge Ibaka and Anthony Davis probably reach the peak of their respective values at the defensive end (though Davis is also an offensive force). Kevin Love and Dirk Nowitzki test opposing teams' defenses with their ability to hit outside shots and if you consider Carmelo Anthony a stretch-four, you have one of the NBA's most skilled pure scorers at the position. That's not even mentioning Blake Griffin, Tim Duncan, Chris Bosh, Paul Millsap or Zach Randolph.
Let's make some tiers to sort this out:
-Carmelo Anthony (according to 82games.com, he played 73 percent of his minutes at power forward)
The guys in the third tier are all good power forwards, but are either deficient enough in certain areas to not be ranked higher (see: Lee's defense), are unproven long-term (Monroe) or past their prime but still highly serviceable, like West. Faried makes this list for his ability to score around the basket, rebound and the possibility that he could carry some momentum from his FIBA World Cup performance into the 2014-15 season.
Gibson gets his own tier because I'd take him over any of the guys below him but not over everyone above him. With starter's minutes, I think he's one of the better two-way power forwards not considered elite.
I've got Nowitzki in Tier 2 because of age and his rebounding slowly dropping off the last several years. Because of his offensive ability -- a killer fallaway jumper and 38.3 percent accuracy from deep over his entire career -- Nowitzki will be a great power forward for a few more years, but he's not at the top anymore. Millsap has been an underrated scorer his entire career, who's also developed into one of the better passers at the position. Randolph is one of the craftiest low-post scorers in the game, also a great rebounder with a solid jumper, but he's 33 years old now and on the downside of his career -- time flies, right?
I won't even try to sort out the Tier 1 guys, but I consider them to be the elite power forwards of the NBA. Aldridge isn't the best shooter, rebounder, defender or athlete of the bunch, but outside of Davis, he might be the most well-rounded. He can score from the mid-range, has a refined post game, rebounds well on both ends and can serviceably defend just about any other power forward. Aldridge attracts as much attention from opposing defenses as any of the other elite fours, and is just as valuable to his team. He's not the best, but he's among them.
How do you think Aldridge stacks up against his power forward counterparts? Let us know in the comments!