Trail Blazers' LaMarcus Aldridge climbs ranks largely unnoticed

Trail Blazers' LaMarcus Aldridge climbs ranks largely unnoticed
Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge, left, tries to work past Toronto Raptors forward Amir Johnson during the Trail Blazers' win on Dec. 30. (Don Ryan / Associated Press)

Perhaps the moment when Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge truly entered the consciousness of NBA fans was in the first-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets last season.

The Trail Blazers won in six games with Aldridge putting up back-to-back 40-plus-point games. It should have signaled an elevation in his NBA status as a player who can make things happen.

But, here in the next season, Aldridge's prowess as a power forward goes unrecognized for the most part. He's rarely mentioned in the same breath as Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and now New Orleans' Anthony Davis.

"To me, you have to look at LaMarcus as a franchise, cornerstone power forward, or player in general," said former Laker Rick Fox, who is a studio analyst for NBA-TV.

"He's that kind of guy. He's a 10-year guy. If you've got him on your team, your franchise is all right for 10 years."

At 6-11 and with long arms, Aldridge has turned his game into an art form.

He has the ability to post up on the left or right side and do damage. He has the ability step outside and shoot jumpers, even knocking down the occasional three-pointer. He can drive to the basket, rebound and has improved his defense.

"He's one of the best power forwards in our league," said Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who often has to defend Aldridge. "He's an elite player in our league. He pretty much has everything in his game."

Aldridge, 29, is in his ninth season and has averaged double figures every season except his first. He has averaged at least 20 points a game for five consecutive seasons.

He's coming off last season with career highs in points (23.2) and rebounds (11.1) and has shown similar numbers (23.0, 10.6) this season in his first 31 games.

Aldridge also has helped his team have the second-best record in the super-competitive Western Conference this season and third-best in the NBA (28-8).

"He's just gotten better," Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. "He's got Kevin Garnett-ish in that pick-and-pop, in those turnarounds. He's just gotten better. You used to be able to play him physical and it would affect him. That doesn't happen anymore. I think he's figured out the game."

When Aldridge dropped a career-high 46 points on the Rockets in Game 1 last season and then 43 points in Game 2, he joined Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady as the only players to score 89 points or more in the first two games of a playoff series.

Aldridge averaged 29.8 points in the series.

"Not to be arrogant, but I think I always believed in myself to play at a high level," Aldridge said. "Obviously I put the time in to try to get better every year. I always felt if the opportunity was there, I could play better and play at a higher level.

"I can't say I thought I'd have back-to-back 40s, because I'd be lying. But I think that playoff series definitely helped my confidence, just knowing that I have another level that I can go to. It just showed that all of the hard work pays off."


Yet, the quiet Aldridge still seems to go unnoticed by fans.

He received the sixth-most votes for Western Conference frontcourt players when the NBA released its third balloting last week.

Aldridge has been an All-Star for three seasons, picked each time as a reserve.

He said being tucked away in the Pacific Northwest, late at night when many East Coast fans are sleeping probably doesn't help his notoriety.

"I think I've come to understand that I'm going to get in the All-Star game on the coaches' votes," Aldridge said. "I think that means a lot to me because those are the guys that are coaching against me and know what I do to certain teams and what I do every night."

Aldridge will become an unrestricted free agent after this season, making him one of the most attractive players on the market.

He turned down a three-year, $55-million extension from Portland last summer, knowing the Trail Blazers can give him a maximum deal of $108 million over five years.

But Aldridge also knows he'll be sought by a lot of NBA teams, even laughing when told the Lakers' fans fancy him in the purple and gold next season.

"I'm here in Portland and I'm locked in on this season," Aldridge said. "All those things will happen this summer after the season. Right now, I'm locked in on being here and trying to win and trying to be better."