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.