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NBA / May 3, 2011 / 11:30 am

Who’s Better: Zach Randolph Or LaMarcus Aldridge?

LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge (photo. Aaron Hewitt)

No post players took bigger leaps this year than LaMarcus Aldridge and Zach Randolph. For LA, it was about taking control of a team that desperately needed leadership once Greg Oden and Brandon Roy were both lost to injuries. For Z-Bo, it was about changing a perception that he was selfish, a guy who never passed once the ball came down to him.

While only one of them is still playing, both had the best seasons of their careers. Now, the next step is making the leap to perennial All-Stars. Which power forward is better? That’s a tough question.

We argue. You decide.

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LaMarcus Aldridge

There’s a notion that the time to judge a draft class is after three to four years, in which case, we’d still would have been wrong about LaMarcus Aldridge. In his fifth season, Aldridge has taken the considerable potential he came with to Portland as the No. 2 pick and broken through with his best season. First, the vitals: 21.8 points, 8.8 boards, both career bests for the 6-11 forward with superior speed for a player his size. We all knew Aldridge could play. But now, the hard-to-pin-down part about Aldridge. This season has answered the other questions about Aldridge, answers that tip the balance toward the Texan versus Memphis’ Zach Randolph.
Aldridge is unquestionably tougher mentally and physically this season after it was asked — demanded? — that he take over Portland’s leadership role after Brandon Roy’s knee injuries at midseason.

After Roy went down in December, Aldridge answered the bell, averaging 23.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in the next four months, crossing a line between effort and hate-to-lose in that span, something I’m not sure Randolph had ever done in Portland. Randolph came into the league with unquestioned scoring touch, but “leader” isn’t something you expect to pop up in a game of Z-Bo word association. And it’s Aldridge’s continued production and potential that makes this an easy call over Randolph. Four years younger, Aldridge has flourished playing the third-most minutes per game (39.6) in the league with a newfound confidence that the Blazers are his team. Even after the best basketball of his career this year, it could still be too early to judge his ceiling.

Power Forward rankings

(Research. Kristofer Habbas)

Few players his age had such a burden this year — carrying a team for months with a revolving cast of teammates with varying health — and played so consistently with such narrow room for error. It started immediately, putting up 35 on Dallas in December the game before Roy left for surgery. It continued into the big stretch games of spring, where put up 42 on Chicago, after scoring 40 just six days earlier. He scored more than 30 points 11 times this year, after doing it just twice in 2009-10. While still too prone to take the 15-to-18-foot jumper rather than barrel inside the key, Aldridge does get to the free-throw line more often, and is the reason why Portland led the league in alley-oops. (Everyone knows he’ll spin hoop-side when a defender plays high — so why can’t they stop it?)

Aldridge seemed fine playing in Roy’s shadow, if quietly chafing at the number-two status in the past. This year, he’s earned the title of “Big Man On Court” in Portland. And maybe there’s a hard-to-quantify aspect here, that he wants to dominate. Snubbed as a West All-Star in February, Aldridge was genuinely bothered before coming out with the PC responses. It’s almost like he had heard how people had judged his career to that point, and wanted to show them they’re all wrong.

-ANDREW GREIF

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  • JAY

    They’re both very good players. They both stepped up when the best wing players on their respective teams went down w/ injury. Preference is one thing… saying one is better is retarded. Neither is better than the other.

    Personally I prefer Aldridge. No reasons. I just do.

  • LMNOP

    I dont think Z-Bo is any better than he has been. i think his attitude has changed and he plays next to another big man who compliments his style an does the things he doesnt.
    Between the two, id choose LMA every time, unless i was getting Z-Bo and Gasol, then i might change my mind.

  • top_gun

    Randolph is consistently productive which you have to appreciate. People tend to forget Aldridge was struggling towards the end of the season after the Blazers acquired Wallace.

    Aldridge is the far better athlete but Randolph is kind of like the fat guy in the paint that you don’t really know how to guard and ends up getting buckets.

    I’ll give the edge to Randolph because it bothers me that Aldridge isn’t a great rebounder for his length and athleticism.

  • http://dimemag.com bullet380

    Good question. Both players are very good. If I were starting a franchise I’d probably take Aldridge. But today, in one game, I’d probably go with Zach.

    It’s funny because the media, and so many others are saying how much better Zach is as a player. He’s ALWAYS been a 20/10 guy. It’s his perception as a person that the media didn’t like. Granted he gave the media plenty of ammunition earlier in his career. I don’t buy into him being a transformed player. To me he’s the same player, but a better passer out of the double team now; as well as a better teammate.

  • JAY

    Well said, bullet.
    Cosign, with a sharpie.

  • CLAW

    LMA is younger and coming into his own, while ZBo has been playing longer and his game has matured to being a better overall player. If it was a 3 year contract I’m taking LMA but for one year only I might take Zbo because of his experience and his game being more well rounded then LMA at their current stage.

  • thenatural

    Z-Bo has always been a consistent 20-10 guy, much like Shareef Abdur Rahim was throughout his career (oddly enough SAR also played for the Blazers and Grizzlies). While both guys had different playing styles, they were always on losing teams and thus, never got the attention they deserved. Most critics were quick to argue that anyone can put up 20-10 if your team is only winning a handful of games a season…

    Back to the comparison – It’s hard to compare these guys because of the age difference, but I’d probably take Randolph just in the sense that he knows how to handle pressure. LA has gotten better, but he still panics when he gets double teamed. Randolph has also NEVER been on a winning team so it was hard to gauge how well he’d perform in a group. I think it’s safe to say that he’s done a pretty good job…

  • Chaos

    Randoplh has a chance to be a top 10 to top 5 PF in the L but he really needs to keep taking his game inside. He is 6’11” and like 250lbs and can really get up and down the courts as well as above the rim. he is one of the young guys thats coming their own. Randolph as the type of game that is a grinding style. He is effective and i dont really know how. if u saw him walking down the street u wouldnt really know if he played ball or was just tall.

  • yentron

    @chaos
    you talkin bout LA in the first 3 sentences?

  • Ian

    2 weeks ago lma was better

  • Me

    one’s soft, one’s gettin a lil long in the tooth.

    Z-Bo all day. Only because I can’t stand big, soft ass players.

  • http://deleted dagwaller

    Who’s Better: OJ Mayo or James Harden?

  • darko’s doughnuts

    @dagwaller: I would say Mayo. Good comparison though.

  • wes craven

    @dagwaller- Mayo all day