During LaMarcus Aldridge’s first couple seasons as a pro in Portland, I have to admit that there really wasn’t a whole lot to make me even consider a question such as this one. Brandon Roy was the team’s unquestioned leader, and soon after the arrival of Roy and Aldridge, the Blazers also drafted Greg Oden. Everyone had high hopes that Portland had lucked into their own “Big Three”, building through the draft, though it seemed that most people would have positioned Aldridge as the third member of that group at the time.
Fast forward to today.
Move through the ups and downs, the injuries, the disappointments, the good times and the bad, the memorable and the downright crushing, and we are left with…LaMarcus. Brandon Roy may yet reinvent himself with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but injuries have robbed him permanently of the lofty ceiling he once possessed as an NBA player. Greg Oden has yet to play a full NBA season, and may never do so. I love both of those guys, but the disappointment of losing your presumed top two cornerstones to injury is so hard. The thought of never being able to see that long sought after Big Three together and healthy for any length of time is something most Blazer fans would simply like to forget about, and just move on.
Which leads us to Aldridge, and the question I posed in the title to this article.
It never ceases to amaze me how we go into seemingly every NBA season now with the hopes that Aldridge will finally get his due, but it never quite seems to materialize in the way that it should. Kevin Love and Blake Griffin are the flashy up-and-comers whom most NBA fans seem to recognize and heap praise on. And although Aldridge is every bit as good (and probably better) than both of them, he never seems to get the respect he deserves. Maybe that’s due in part to growing up in the NBA with Roy and Oden as far more recognizable teammates, but if so, the time for that is past. Last season, the Blazers cut the cord with their past, and chose to move into a new era that has Aldridge as the central figure.
He’s not alone, of course. Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard should be good if not great at the NBA level, and Nicolas Batum still has room to grow and talent to exploit (he and Lillard are nearly the same age). How this team’s young talent develops will determine how far they can rise into the Western Conference rankings in the years to come.
Sometimes perception is just as important as numbers when you talk about someone having an MVP-type season. While Griffin and Love may put up bigger numbers, neither guy is as good as Aldridge on defense, and his arsenal of offensive attacks is far more vast than what either of his counterparts has to offer. Part of that is due to having more years in the league to develop, but because of Aldridge’s more well rounded game, the other two guys should not be mentioned before him in MVP talk.
Now, I’m not saying he will win an MVP, but wondering if he’s capable of having an MVP-type year. LeBron James has to be the favorite, with Kevin Durant or Chris Paul as the runner up. Maybe Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose can get back into the conversation once completely healthy. That’s a tough top five to crack, and for Aldridge, it would require several things.
One: Staying healthy, which he has done well at as a Blazer these past several seasons.
Two: He probably would have to become even more of a vocal leader, on and off the court, than he already is.
Three: He’d probably need to bump his scoring average 3-4 points per game, and maybe get his rebounds up near 10 per game.
Four: His team would have to win. With Aldridge, the Blazers have never made it past the first round of the playoffs. The playoffs don’t factor in to the MVP race, but because the Blazers haven’t won enough during the season to have home court advantage, they seemingly always end up with very difficult first round opponents. They would probably need to win close to 60 games, and compete for a top two or three spot in the conference, for him to be considered.
Five: Show up big in big moments. The Blazers don’t get too many games on national TV, for various reasons, but those are the moments that need to count the most for Aldridge if he can be recognized in that MVP discussion. People don’t see this team play on a regular basis, so when the chance comes to stand out, he has to do it.
I don’t think Aldridge cares as much about the MVP as he cares about helping his team to wins, but I think the two can go hand in hand. With so many young players, the Blazers will need Aldridge to step his game up another level, and I think he can.
L.A. for MVP in 2013? Maybe. L.A. as a serious candidate sometime in the next five years? I would say yes.