Batum, Lillard and Aldridge Make SI.com's Top 100
SI.com's Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney have been running down their list of the Top 100 players in the NBA and three Trail Blazers -- Nicolas Batum, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge -- make the cut.
First up is Batum at No. 51
Batum was pigeonholed as a three-and-D player for most of his first four seasons, but after signing a four-year, $46.1 million contract in 2012, he welcomed the increased offensive role those dollars demanded. New coach Terry Stotts encouraged him to handle the ball and make plays last season. Batum responded by registering more assists than in his first four years combined, but his turnover rate spiked to career-high levels, too. The Frenchman, lauded for his length and athleticism on defense, is a master of the chase-down block. After a strong start last year, he floated his own name as a possible All-Star; to achieve that recognition, Batum, who has battled focused issues on both ends of the floor, will need to find a level of consistency that has eluded him to this point.
Batum is sandwiched between Pistons forward Greg Monroe at No. 52 and Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic at No. 50
A few spots later we find Lillard at No. 47
Lillard is best known for his step-back jumper and steady demeanor,
but there really should be more talk about exactly how far he has come
over the last 18 months. Consider this: Lillard had just 2,000 followers
on Twitter in April 2012, a few months before he was the No. 6 pick in
the draft out of little-known Weber State. Now, after winning the Rookie
of the Year award, leading the NBA in minutes and starring in a few
national television spots, his following tops 226,000. All those new
eyeballs want to see big things from the Blazers’ point guard, who seems
to take pride in heaping expectations on himself. His goals this season
include an All-Star appearance, 46 wins (after 33 last year) and a
postseason berth, which would be Portland’s first since 2011.
If he is to achieve those objectives (or even some of them), Lillard
will need to take major strides defensively, cut down on his long
two-point attempts and improve his finishing in the basket area, where
he shot just 50 percent last year. A bolstered Blazers bench
should help reduce his workload and give him more distribution options.
Lillard’s rapid ascension puts him in position to take the franchise’s
reins from LaMarcus Aldridge, if and when the Blazers’ All-Star power
forward decides it’s time for a change of scenery.
A very respectable ranking for a player going into his second season. He's flanked by fellow the Hornets' Jrue Holiday, who is also a 23 year-old point guard sponsored by Adidas, at No. 48 and just behind Golden State's David Lee at No. 46.
(Lillard being ranked between two players who made the All-Star team in 2013 seems like a good start to his goal of making the roster himself this season.)
And finally we come to Aldridge, who squeezes into the Top 20 at No. 18
Aldridge is long, athletic and skilled with the ball. He’s become increasingly comfortable exploiting double teams with his recognition and passing. He grades out well defensively — especially compared to some of the other stars at his position — and he’s versatile enough to step out to handle pick-and-roll situations while still being long enough to defend the post in isolation. Aldridge has yearned to play alongside a true center, and he would have made a monster high/low pairing with Greg Oden if the No. 1 pick in 2007 had managed to stay healthy.
Even without Roy, and Oden, and a bench, Aldridge delivered the type of individual results last season that you would expect from an All-Star on a rebuilding team. Among Blazers rotation players, Aldridge posted team highs in net rating, plus-minus, Win Shares, PER and RAPM. The Blazers went 1-7 without him and their offensive and defensive efficiency numbers went into the tank whenever he stepped off the court. Portland’s status as one of a handful of teams competing for one of the last two playoff spots in the West is, it would seem, entirely reliant on Aldridge’s good health.
The question that Aldridge can’t escape: Is he talented enough to be the No. 1 guy on a team that can go deep in the playoffs? It’s the same question that dogged Chris Bosh and Dirk Nowitzki, and those two took drastically different paths to answer it. Bosh subjugated himself to third-wheel status and won two rings for his ego-free move; Nowitzki waited for the perfect combination of veteran talent to surround him and saw his patience rewarded with a title of his own. Either scenario seems like it could work for Aldridge, but the Blazers aren’t blessed with the type of talent to make the Dirk route a plausible option in the short-term. That fact has only fueled the rumor mill.
There's plenty more about Aldridge in Golliver's writeup but I didn't want to excerpt the whole thing out of respect to the pageviews, so make sure to click the link to read it all.
Not surprisingly, Aldridge is ranked between two of his contemporaries at power forward, with the Clippers' Blake Griffin coming in at No. 19 and the Heat's Chris Bosh at No. 17.
So what do you think? From my perspective, these seems about right. If I had to argue, I'd say Aldridge might be ranked a few spots too low and Batum a few spots too high, but again, both seem reasonable.