Given the frustration following the Portland Trail Blazers home overtime loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, it would be easy to rant about the bad goal-tending call by referee Scott Foster near the end of regulation. Instead, who put the Blazers in a position to win, and who should’ve been credited with a block, deserves attention that is far too rare. LaMarcus Aldridge, one of the best power forwards in the NBA, was that player.
Not long ago, Aldridge was a tentative, albeit productive sidekick to Brandon Roy. He was a jump-shooter, with a 17-footer and not much else. Then everything changed, for a very unfortunate reason. Roy got injured, came back hobbled, and was never the same. Aldridge had to become the guy. The ball went through him constantly, and he flourished. On February 7th of last season, he scored a career-high 42 points in win over the Chicago Bulls, the team that drafted him second overall in 2006.
“It was fun,” he said following the 109-103 win.
He continued to enjoy his new role, and along the way he added to his repertoire. There was the hook shot, the turnaround jumper, and the up-and-under move. He lived more in the post. He was more aggressive. He got mad. And he often had the look of someone who knew how good he could become.
He hasn’t harnessed his full potential yet, but he has matured faster than many stars. The changes to his game have been so quick. Now, due to his vast improvement, the Aldridge that brought Portland back from a deficit to Oklahoma City is the player coaches, teammates, and fans have come to expect. The 26-year-old, on the one-year anniversary of that memorable game against Chicago, scored 39 points. He made 14 of 28 field goals and all 11 free-throw attempts. It was the most points scored by a Trail Blazer all season, and it was appropriate he was the one to accomplish the feat.
His performance was soured by Foster’s call and the ensuing loss, but Aldridge proved his worth. He didn’t make much of it postgame, being stunned by defeat, but this was just another step for the under-appreciated star. ESPN’s J.A. Adande and TNT’s David Aldridge recognized his effort, praising his overall game. Miami Heat star LeBron James raved about him a few days ago. So did the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He is finally, albeit slowly, catching on. Yet, other than these endorsements, it has been far too quite on the Aldridge front. He is noted into the most underrated category, as other power forwards have stolen the media’s spotlight. Blake Griffin is celebrated because he can dunk. Kevin Love, playing for small market Minnesota, is even managing to get more publicity. Aldridge has had to try to make a name for himself, and, with more outings like his against the Thunder, the word will undoubtedly and rightfully spread.
This season, the team’s leader has notched career-highs left and right, averaging nearly 24 points per game on 19 shots while shooting 51 percent. He is doing all of this in only 36 minutes, his lowest mark since his second season. Heightened production in less time. And none of it is surprising.
In scoring 39 points against the Thunder, he specifically tormented center Kendrick Perkins. Against him in the post, he made multiple turn-around jumpers. On one in particular occasion, he was walking down-court before the shot arced through the basket. He was that confident. Oklahoma City had no answer for him. Considering he entered with 10 games of 25 points or more, few teams have.
‘We’ve kind of got used to having guys in and out over the years,” Aldridge told CBS Sports in January. ” I definitely have to take on a bigger leadership role, be more of a vocal leader and a go-to guy.”
He has succeeded. What forced him into the role as the face of the franchise is saddening, given Roy’s injury-riddled decline and ensuing retirement, but that he is leading the Blazers to the upper-echelon of the Western Conference is so uplifting.
Years ago, he would be hesitant to go inside and be aggressive. Now, he prefers to take the initiative and, as a result, time and time again frustrates opponents. He knows who he is, and in turn knows he is deserving of his first All-Star selection. Those who matter in the process have overlooked him. That is nothing new, but it is evident that he and everyone else associated with the Blazers are tired of the blind eye turned by the media.
He is not just trying to create a team that is relevant and championship-caliber; he also wants himself to be widely known and respected in the process. Considering how often he puts up prolific statistics, he should soon get the credit his extraordinary talent warrants. Portland has flown under the radar for years, but how can they not give him his dues? The Blazers cornerstone keeps taking more and more steps towards greatness, and the rest of the NBA world will be in awe once they consistently witness who, from one-dimensional sidekick to multi-faceted star, has created such a bright present and future in Rip City.