LaMarcus Aldridge has enjoyed some well-earned MVP chants this season, along with prominent placement on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder. It has been a career year for the Trail Blazers’ power forward already, and the year is barely half over. He’s on course to graze the single-season 2,000 point mark, he’s averaging more points per game (24.3) than ever before, and the team he leads is ranked third in the Western Conference. So, can he win league MVP?
Only one Trail Blazer in NBA history has received the honor. Bill Walton won the 1977-1978 MVP award the year after Portland won their first and only NBA championship. Through 40+ years of existence, the Portland Trail Blazers have put some legendary talent on the hardwood, yet Big Red stands alone. Clyde Drexler came close a few times, but so did many players during Michael Jordan’s reign. LaMarcus Aldridge may be similarly doomed at the hands of a different phenom.
LeBron James is on a war path for his fifth NBA Most Valuable Player Award; as many as Michael Jordan had when he retired. I’d like to be able to say that LaMarcus is the Clyde to his Michael, but that role decidedly belongs to Kevin Durant, who is making a strong case for MVP himself. In that sense, LaMarcus Aldridge is not competing for the Most Valuable Player Award at all, he is competing to be in the conversation; a task that will prove exceedingly difficult for a number of reasons.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant have a storied rivalry. They’ve studied each other, explored the nuances of each other’s minds, and clashed with the title at stake. Aldridge has forced his way onto the NBA’s radar, but he’s still just a faint blip to James and Durant. This metaphorical town isn’t big enough for two Most Valuable Players, much less three. However; MVP is not about past, it’s about present, so why can’t Aldridge join the fray?
For starters, he’s a different type of player. As small forwards, LeBron James and Kevin Durant can be more directly compared, because they have similar skill sets. They both do everything. LaMarcus Aldridge, on the other hand, is more of a specialist. As a 6’11” power forward, he’s all about scoring and rebounding. Yes, James can play power forward as well, but he’s not the back-to-the-basket player that Aldridge is. There’s no side-by-side objectivity with which Aldridge can gain ground on the firmly established twosome.
In order for LaMarcus Aldridge to be truly considered for MVP of the NBA, one or both of the James/Durant duo would have to succumb to injury. That is how Aldridge was able to overtake Chris Paul (no longer ranked) on the MVP ladder. Had Paul kept doing his point guard thing and Aldridge kept doing his power forward thing, the Clippers would have had to plummet in the standings for Aldridge to pass him. Considering that we are unlikely to see either Miami or Oklahoma City falter more than Portland has already, James and Durant will remain their own conversation unless injury dictates that Aldridge step up.
If one of them fell, would Aldridge then be a realistic contender? The answer is probably still no. Although Aldridge is in the midst of his best season, his new career high scoring pace stands lower than the career averages of James and Durant (both of whom are outscoring Aldridge this season, anyway). LaMarcus Aldridge may be a better rebounder, but, as Derrick Rose proved by winning MVP over LeBron James in 2011, gaudy scoring figures get the last laugh. Points are the universal category of applicable comparison across every position when deciding MVP.
Even if they weren’t, LaMarcus Aldridge sports a less rounded stat line than either LeBron James or Kevin Durant. He will not win MVP this season, but you knew that. I think, at heart, we all did. That doesn’t make what he’s done with Portland any less special. I’ll still join in the MVP chants as they rise in the Moda Center, and I’ll still support him and the Trail Blazers through every success and failure they experience. LaMarcus Aldridge may not be the MVP of the NBA, but he’s our MVP, and that’s good enough for me.