Maybe it’s a good thing no one is talking about Portland. They have a rookie point guard, and while it’s obvious he’s both mature (during the preseason, he’s scoring 12.3 of his 16.3 points a night in the second half) and comfortable running high screen-n-rolls (he was a better-than-advertised distributor in college), Damian Lillard still has a ways to go to understand running a NBA offense. The Blazers are also in their first year under new head coach, Terry Stotts, and lost both their best defensive player in Gerald Wallace (per 100 defensive possessions last year, Portland was 12.5 points better with Crash on the court) and one of their best perimeter shotmakers in Jamal Crawford within the last year.
(On a sidenote, say what you want about Raymond Felton and his career-worst turnover rate last year – 19.52 – as well as his inability to make anything outside of 10 feet, but Portland was much better with him on the floor last year. Although, considering what we now know about the players’ mutiny against Nate McMillan, in large part because of these three names, maybe it’s a good thing they’re gone…)
Still, the Blazers have talent, depth, a lot of athleticism, and a few promising young studs. They also have a legitimate All-Star, and as we recently wrote in Smack, that makes them dangerous, perhaps even more dangerous than last season’s Nuggets.
However, LaMarcus Aldridge doesn’t plan on moving quietly through the season. In fact, he’s not conceding anything. He considers himself the best power forward in the league, telling 1080 AM The Fan:
“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.”
Aldridge admitted that yes, it’d be weird if he said he wasn’t the best four man in the league. But is he right? Is there any shred of fact in what he said? Give him credit for acknowledging the obvious: he must rebound more. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2007, he’s never averaged even nine boards a night, and last year, that number dipped to just eight in over 36 minutes a game. And this isn’t because he’s been playing beside great rebounders. Last season, Portland was well-below average on the glass, finishing No. 22 in the league in total rebound rate. Boston was the only successful team that was worse.
With Crash last season, the Blazers played some more small ball, and while Aldridge rebounded much better as a five (11.5 per 48 minutes), he just wasn’t as effective. The Blazers are intent on pairing him with another big man to help alleviate the pressure of manning the middle (Meyers Leonard, anyone?), and for the sake of LMA’s career, this is a good thing.
But by any statistical measure, Aldridge is a below-average rebounder for an All-Star big man.
Last season, everyone knocked Blake Griffin for doing nothing but dunking, and yet he hit the glass at a clip that dwarfed Aldridge’s numbers. Pau Gasol, once considered the best big in the league, has never had a rebounding rate below 14.7 in four full seasons with the Lakers; Aldridge’s career-high has never exceeded 14. Even Chris Bosh, long scrutinized for being soft, collected a much higher percentage of boards on the defensive glass, and was overall more effective on the backboards last year. Kevin Love? Let’s not even go there. Dirk Nowitzki is really the only top power forward who does worse glass work than Aldridge, having seen his rebounding numbers steadily drop over the past six seasons. But the German was never known as a particularly tough inside player, and his problems are nearly all on the offensive side, where Dallas virtually concedes every second chance opportunity. Dirk makes up for it in other ways… you know… like being the best-shooting big man that’s ever lived (even if Aldridge himself has one of the most automatic midrange jumpers in the league).
Not all of this is Aldridge’s fault. For years under McMillan, the Blazers talked about speeding up the tempo, but rarely ever did. Last season, they played with a middle-of-the-road speed – No. 15 in pace – resulting in less shots and fewer opportunities for Aldridge to pad his numbers.
But they also took the eight-highest number of three-pointers per game, despite being a very average outside shooting team. Long jumpers means lots of potentially long offensive rebounds, and Aldridge didn’t capitalize as often as he should’ve.
Still, the 6-11 beanpole’s real problems are on the defensive glass, where he grabbed just 15.6 percent of the available misses. Aldridge isn’t happy just making one All-Star team. He says he wants to be there between five and ten times. Well, out of the nine power players selected for last year’s midseason classic (Aldridge, Nowitzki, Love, Griffin, Bosh, Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert and Marc Gasol), the average defensive rebounding percentage was 21, and Aldridge was dead last among that elite group. For Portland’s best player, it simply comes down to man-ing up and getting more aggressive and physical. Yes, he’s a phenomenal jump shooter for a 6-11 player, but especially in his matchups with Griffin, Pau Gasol and Love last season, he was completely abused on the glass.
Of course, if LeBron starts suiting up as a full-time power forward for Miami, we can forget this argument ever took place. But if Aldridge is serious about being a team leader and becoming the best four man in the league, he needs to hit the glass harder.
Will he ever become the best four man in the game?
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