Terry Porter was a very good NBA player and a decent coach, but unfortunately he’s struggling with this new interviewer gig. During last night’s Blazers/Heat game, Porter the sideline reporter spent a few minutes with Brian Grant in one of the Rose Garden luxury suites, stumbling and mumbling for a while before eventually asking Grant about how LaMarcus Aldridge has “transformated” his game into that of a legit post player.
Grant did a smooth job of finding the nicest possible way to say, “The whole NBA is softer than the top of a baby’s head compared to my era, so I guess Aldridge is ‘tough’ by today’s standards.” And almost on cue, Aldridge pounded his chest and threw on a mean-mug after hitting a fallaway jumper from 15 feet.
Aldridge has long been criticized for not using his size (6-11, 260) and skills to his advantage in the low-post, settling for long-range jumpers and shying away from rebounds. But now in his fifth pro season, Aldridge (20.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg) is living up to the potential the Blazers saw for him when he was acquired with the No. 2 pick in the 2006 Draft. And with Brandon Roy‘s long-term health a huge question mark and Greg Oden … well, you know … Aldridge’s timing couldn’t have been better.
On his way to 31 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in Sunday’s overtime loss to Miami, Aldridge put his entire repertoire on display: He deftly slipped behind the defense for alley-oops, hit some jumpers, and showing good passing instincts. But most impressive was his work in the post. Time and again he overpowered Chris Bosh (his big bro from their Dallas high school days) on the block to set up hook shots and hammer dunks. Down the stretch in the fourth quarter and overtime, Aldridge demanded the ball repeatedly and never shied away from a big moment. Bosh wasn’t a slouch (18 pts), but Aldridge clearly got the better of him, and he did it like a true power forward.
Portland is currently in 8th place in the West, and Aldridge is making a solid case for his first All-Star selection. (The West is stacked at forward, however.) This is the first year of the five-year, $65 million contract extension Aldridge signed in 2009. In preparation, he reportedly put on 20 pounds of “good weight” over the summer, worked on improving his ball-handling and ability to score with both hands in the post.
But everyone knows LaMarcus can put the ball in the basket. What the Blazers and their fans really want is for him to impact the game as a rebounder. In that way, LMA has been a lot like Amar’e Stoudemire: For someone who stands so tall and talented and athletic, the fact that he isn’t averaging nine or 10 rebounds a night doesn’t even make sense. This season Aldridge is averaging a career-best 8.7 boards per night — including double-digit rebounds in each of his last five games — but also has nine games where he’s pulled down five or fewer rebounds.
Ideally, LaMarcus would be something like a prime Kevin Garnett — challenging for the NBA lead in rebounding while also dropping 20-plus points a night and blocking a few shots. But you can’t get everything out of every player. The Blazers have one of the NBA’s best young power forwards in Aldridge, and if he’s acting and playing like a franchise cornerstone now, that’s good enough for them.