Every October, SLAMonline rolls out their definitive Top 50 player ranking projections for the upcoming season
. It's important to point out that these rankings are based solely
on 2012-13 projections. LaMarcus Aldridge is the first and presumably only Trail Blazer to make the cut this season, coming in at No. 16. Here's what SLAM had to say about the L-Train:
Last season—Portland’s first full campaign without Roy—Aldridge scored 21.7 points and averaged 8 rebounds, which nearly matched his totals from the previous season. More impressively, Aldridge was the only player in the NBA last season to average at least 20 points, while shooting 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the line.
Over the past few seasons, he has become more comfortable in the post, and a more versatile scorer. According to hoopdata.com, Aldridge connected on 43 percent of his attempts from 16-23 feet last season. In comparison, Blake Griffin connected on 37 percent of those same shots, while shooting guard Kobe Bryant hit 41 percent. It also should be noted that since Aldridge has been in the League, the Blazers rank 25th with 79.6 field-goal attempts per game. Fewer possessions equal fewer points and rebound opportunities, as the pace has easily shaped his offensive and defensive stats.
Considering these are projected rankings, one would have thought since the Trail Blazers went away from the "grind-it-out" philosophy Nate McMillan installed throughout his tenure as head coach and moved towards a more uptempo, free-flowing style of play under Terry Stotts' watch that the writers at SLAM would have envisioned Aldridge getting more touches, more possessions which ultimately would lead to increased statistics.
While Aldridge has been a steady promise for the Blazers, garnering accolades including his first All-Star appearance and an invitation to USA Basketball tryouts, the team as a whole is trying to rebound from a lackluster 28-38 record last season. It will be tough for Aldridge to live up to his No. 16 ranking, coming off hip surgery and playing for a team in transition.
I'm not sure I follow with this logic. So, LA has his best statistical season of his career, is just entering into his prime, made the All-Star team last season, and could have been a member of Team USA had it not been for a late-season hip injury, but he's going to have a hard time performing as the projected fourth best power forward in the NBA? I'm not buying it.
First, the hip surgery was pretty minor and never had anyone in Rip City doubting that LaMarcus would miss any court time. Secondly, the team being in transition is all the more reason for Aldridge to shoulder more of the load. And for a player whose improved his game every season, there's little doubt LA fails to live up to the hype this time around.
Taking everything into consideration, being ranked as the 16th best player in the NBA is a fair assessment for Aldridge and this is also the highest ranking SLAM has ever dished out to the Trail Blazer big. Could he be ranked a spot or two higher? Probably, but a bigger complaint could be made that there are three other power forwards ahead of him (Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Dirk Nowitzki). Of those three, Love has the best case to be ahead of Aldridge, due to the sheer stats he puts up on a nightly basis and how he's continued to enhance his overall offensive repertoire (3-Point Champ, anyone?). But at this stage in Dirk's career (Dallas just announced Nowitzki had need knee surgery and is out six weeks
), Aldridge simply has more left in the tank to work with. In regards to Griffin, he may have more SportsCenter Top 10 plays, but defense has to play a factor too, which would be advantage Aldridge.
SLAM may not believe Aldridge is the best power forward in the game, but during a radio interview on 1080 The Fan
, LA made it clear that nobody does it better than him.
"I'm a realist. I do feel like I'm the best power forward in the game. But I do also know that I have to be an overall better rebounder. I think that's going to come this year. I still do feel like I'm the best power forward in the game."