Trail Blazers vs Bucks Saturday, 01/19/13 AT 07:00PM

LaMarcus Aldridge Makes A Different All-Star Case

  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0


    Before the season, there was a notion around the NBA that Portland could be a good team, but that LaMarcus Aldridge, coming off his first All-Star selection in 2012, would have to reach new statistical heights for the team to reach it's full potential. But somehow, despite drops in overall drops in field goal percentage and almost every single offensive metric, LaMarcus Aldridge has actually improved, and hence, the Trail Blazers have defied expectations.

    Danny Nowell of Portland Roundball Society, in an eloquent piece about Nicolas Batum said that Batum is more "the current that buoys the team than the foundation it sits on."

    "He's the core, he's the foundation," head coach Terry Stotts said of Aldridge. "I don't think he's necessarily unappreciated but I think a lot of people take what LA does for granted. He's our most consistent player on both ends of the floor,"

    Assistant coach Jay Triano raves about his consistency as well.

    "The one thing when you see him on a daily basis is his level of consistency and professionalism towards practice and towards every single game," Triano said.  

    The Trail Blazers, despite injuries to Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, managed a 9-4 record in December thanks in part to schedule featuring eight homes games. But after a difficult seven-game road trip and a January featuring a plethora of games against teams atop the playoff table, some wondered if those good times would soon end.

    But a 3-1 road trip to kick off 2013, which included wins versus the Knicks, Grizzlies and Timberwolves, made believers out of the cynics. While the likes of Damian Lillard, JJ Hickson and Batum, have gotten much of the praise for Portland's continued success this season, it's the steady play of Aldridge drives the Trail Blazers past expectations.

    For instance, Lillard's hitting a game-clinching three-pointer against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden garnered most of the attention post-game, but that dagger wouldn't have been possible but for Aldridge's work on the boards.

    "Damian got a lot of notoriety for his three," said Stotts, "but we wouldn't have been in that position if LA hand't got that rebound and put it back."

    Batum has been a teammate of Aldridge's longer than anybody on the roster and he has noticed a difference in his passing and court vision. Batum, who is having the best season of his five-year NBA career, was on the receiving end of two Aldridge assists that led to three-pointers in the final minutes of Portland's dramatic overtime win against Orlando.  Aldridge is averaging a career-high of 2.5 assists and is averaging 3.1 per game over his last 10 games.

    "(Aldridge) needed to improve his passing game and he's doing it this year," said Batum. "So he knows sometime we're going to be wide open. Sometimes before he pass, he just looks around and he can see that. It's a big difference from last year, from two years ago."

    Aldridge shouldered the bulk of the load offensively in December but has recently allowed his teammates to take on more of the scoring responsibility while still contributing  in other ways. He struggled through a 5 of 15 night from the field in the Jan. 4 versus the Grizzlies in Memphis, but added five blocks and 12 rebounds in Memphis in the winning effort. But when Portland can't get it going and needs a bucket, it's Aldridge they turn to, as they did in the victory against Minnesota.

    Despite Portland's team defense being a work in progress, Aldridge's individual defense continues to improve. He's averaging more defensive rebounds per game than in any time during his six-year career despite playing along side one of the league's best rebounders in JJ Hickson. According to the charting service Synergy Sports Technology, Aldridge gives us the second-fewest points per possession among players that have defended over 50 possessions. He's second only to Joakim Noah and ahead of lauded defensive players like Marc Gasol and Tyson Chandler. He's been more active with his hands, causing an increase in deflections before shots even go up. Aldridge says he's been disruptive but was often mistakenly called for fouls, though is reputation as a pest defending the ball is starting to catch on among officiating crews.

    "I'm not fouling guys, I'm just having quick hands on the ball so I think last year when I first started it, they would call it a foul and it wouldn't be," said Aldridge. "Now they've seen me do it for two years now."

    Here are plays from last year.

    And here are some from this season, and you can see the difference.

    Through 34 games, Portland has a better record than last year with a roster expected to do much less before the season. It's Aldridge's status as this team's everything man that has kept the Trail Blazers afloat when many thought they'd already be at the bottom.

    "When we need a rebound late in the game, he's the one who seems to come up with it," Triano said.  "If you look at all parts of his game, he is the one who is most consistently in correct coverage when we break down games afterwards. He's the guy we go to when we need a basket. What more can you say about a player? He's taken that next step, I can see."

    Stotts referred to two players he's coached, Jason Kidd and Gary Payton, after the Dec. 20 win against Denver, noting that they were the kind of players who "found ways to win games," in whatever way they could. Aldridge is finding ways to win games for Portland. That's Aldridge's greatest improvement and the biggest reason he deserves to be an All-Star for the second consecutive season.

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