Out of the overall disheartening mess that was the Blazers’ season opener, I was pleasantly surprised by one bright spot: LaMarcus Aldridge (Damin Lillard’s 32 points obviously being another). As a player, Aldridge has always been somewhat of an enigma for me – I have genuinely never been sure what to think about him. Part of this is probably still residual surprise that out of the Brandon Roy / Greg Oden / LaMarcus Aldridge triumvirate, he has been the most successful.
I have certainly lodged my criticisms of him in the past, primarily centered around his unwillingness to look to score inside more often. While his insistence on jump shots was in full force again on Tuesday, the game just proved that when he is on, he is really on. The final stat line will read that Aldridge finished with 28 points on 12-22 shooting, with four rebounds and two assists.
I saw much more than that. I saw an assertive, dominant offensive force that was not happy about losing. When he wanted to score, Aldridge was scoring. I cannot, and do not, expect him to continue this offensive onslaught throughout the rest of the season, but even if he can average 80% of what he did last night over the season, it should go a long way toward helping this team get where it wants to be.
During the offseason, one of the themes during the overblown saga about Aldridge’s future with the team centered on the question of ‘if he wanted to be in Portland.’ I saw nothing to indicate anything of the sort against Phoenix; rather his effort utterly assuaged my fears about how much he cares. Because, quite simply, he cared. That was readily apparent.
This was most noticeable during the end of the third quarter when the game was starting to slip away from the Blazers yet again. For the last 5:15 of the quarter, he was the only Blazer to score, pouring in four jump shots in a row, until Dorell Wright chipped in three free throws at the very end. Aldridge also contributed two free throws and one of his assists during the period.
The frustration of letting such a winnable game slip away was evident in his body language, but even more than that, he was willing to step up at that moment. Much criticism has also been lobbed Aldridge’s way for a seeming lack of desire to truly be a leader, but I liked what I saw on the leadership front. Perhaps it is too soon to completely hand the reigns over to Lillard, as I have seen hinted at quite often recently. There comes a point when rather than just trying to win, a team or player has to refuse to lose. I saw flashes of this last night from LaMarcus Aldridge.
Officially, Aldridge only reeled in four rebounds last night, which is a fair concern, especially since rebounding was one of the hot off-season topics for the team. Personally, I thought I saw great effort from him down low doing the dirty work, and am legitimately surprised he only ended up with four boards. Nicolas Batum ended up with 13, however, which soaked up some of the opportunities. With that being said, it was still troubling to see the Blazers noticeably out-rebounded (47-39).
More than anything, it’s frustrating to see such stellar performances by Lillard and Aldridge go to waste. They stepped up to the role of being offensive focal points, but the rest of the team shot an absolutely anemic 11-39 (28%). Aldridge showed both his value and just how great his commitment to the team is on Tuesday, so hopefully in the future the rest of the team can do their part as well.