NBA PM: NBA’s Most Underrated Franchise Player?
Most of the time, when an NBA franchise starts a youth movement and uses the dreaded “rebuilding” word, the veterans who led the previous regime bail quickly in search of greener pastures. That hasn’t been the case in Portland, where LaMarcus Aldridge is all-in with the rebuilding effort and looking forward to new challenges.
“A lot of change,” Aldridge tells HOOPSWORLD of this year’s team. “I think it’s all good for us to have new players. We have a bunch of good guys who can play, they’re hungry, they’re trying to prove that they can put their stamp on this game. We have a new GM whose trying to show us that players are first. I think everything has been good so far.”
Aldridge also has a new head coach, one intimately familiar with an offense where the power forward is the central focus. Terry Stotts was an integral part of Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle’s staff when the Mavericks won the 2011 NBA championship, a championship made possible by the brilliant play of All-Star power forward Dirk Nowitzki.
“I think in some ways they’re similar,” says Stotts of Nowitzki and Aldridge. “Obviously their size, they both have a great touch, they’re unique for their position. LaMarcus is a great block player. If I can get him on the elbow a little bit more, probably will take him a little time to get him as comfortable as Dirk is up there, but that’s one way, utilizing him, and spacing the floor a little bit. Not necessarily to the three-point line, but he’s a good eighteen-to-twenty-foot shooter. LaMarcus is his own player, his own man, but I think there are some similarities there that we can take advantage of.”
Aldridge has always wanted to be more of a post player, but the Blazers haven’t always wanted that to be his role. He welcomes the comparison to Nowitzki, but sees some key differences, too.
“I’ve always wanted to be that guy, if the team let me be that guy, that was always a question,” says Aldridge. “But, I’ve grown into that role of being that guy who is trying to make shots for my teammates. We can’t do pick-n-rolls all game, we can’t take jump shots all game, so we’ve got to have that guy that can go down low and make teams double team.”
Promising young rookie Damian Lillard fits Stotts’ system perfectly, and the Blazers’ head coach hopes to utilize him next to Aldridge in some of the same ways that the Mavericks utilized Jason Terry next to Nowitzki.
“There is a familiarity of how to build a team,” says Stotts of his new duo. “When I was [in Dallas], obviously, Jason Terry had a lot to do with offensively what we did when we were here, and the two-man game with Dirk and Jet was a big part of what we did. So trying to incorporate some of that will be one of the things I want to get to as we go down the line, but the similarities between LaMarcus and Dirk are noticeable and so it gives us a foundation to work off of.”
Aldridge sees the same kind of potential in his new floor general, having watched him in summer league play and fought some battles with him during training camp.
“If I didn’t go through training camp with him, I think I’d be surprised,” says Aldridge. “I’ve seen him all through training camp and he’s done this day in and day out, so I’m not overly surprised. He’s that good, he’s talented, he’s smart, he knows the game very well. He has that pace to his game that next-level guys have. He doesn’t get sped up; he kind of dictates the offense, so that’s good for him.”
Another thing that will help Aldridge this season is having J.J. Hickson next to him in the front court, ready to do some of the dirty work Aldridge isn’t as inclined to do.
“He’s just active,” says Aldridge. “I think he compliments me well because he dives hard, he’s active on the boards, back to the rim. I need someone next to me that is high energy because I’m kind of mellow, so I need someone with that high energy. He’s been that so far and it’s been big for us.”
There are some around the NBA who look at the Blazers and see a playoff team, and while they do look like a team that isn’t far off, Aldridge isn’t ready to make any such claim.
“It’s too early, we’re just going to try and keep building, keep getting better every game,” says Aldridge. “If we keep growing, anything is possible. … I’m a realist. I’ve done this one or two times. When you have a really young team, you can be high and you can be low, so we’re just going to try and be in the middle.”
The Blazers may be rebuilding, but with LaMarcus Aldridge in the middle they won’t be rebuilding for long. He’s proving once again to be precisely the leader Portland needs going forward.
Pacers Take A Step Back?
Coming into the 2012-13 NBA season, the Indiana Pacers were supposed to be among the league’s elite teams, and many (including this writer) even had them pegged as contenders. A loss to the rebuilding Charlotte Bobcats was not a great start for the team, and a subsequent blowout at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs has the 2-2 Pacers starting to question their status as an elite team.
“It’s just a little bit of back to where we started, making sure these guys believe that we’re a top team,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel told Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star. “By the end of last year there wasn’t any doubt, we knew it. We’re going to have to re-establish that belief. I do talk to them about that despite Danny being out, we still have a beast of a team.”
The Pacers, of course, have been playing without leading scorer Danny Granger, whom some fans believed to be expendable before the team’s rough start without him. Vogel has made the most of it, and has seen impressive play from Paul George and Gerald Green at times, and understands this is just part of the process.
“I think it is more challenging, but again, this is what this league is about,” Vogel said. “Teams deal with injuries to their top guys. It’s something a lot of coaches go through. I haven’t had to deal with it much. This is my first real look at it so we’re just trying to have fun with it.”
With Granger out, the Pacers are struggling to score and rank in the bottom five in the NBA in field goal percentage, assists and turnovers committed as well. Vogel hopes that by getting back to some fundamentals he and his staff can get the team back on track.
“When you’re not executing anything well you’re better off executing a fewer number of fundamentals well,” Vogel said. “Dialing into a few different things and trying to execute those. I have to fill out my part in terms of putting the guys in the best position to succeed.”
It’s no small task for Vogel and the Pacers, but it’s a long season. If they can get the offense rolling before Granger comes back (and reportedly he will miss three months), his return could spark a run that gets the Pacers right where they want to be.
**In related news, the Pacers are said to be considering signing Mickael Pietrus to help them get by until Granger can return.
Sanity Break From Stan Van Gundy
When the NBA announced that it would be cracking down on flopping this season, many of us scratched our heads. How, exactly, would they do that? Sure, we read the official rule, but there’s so much gray area involved that the entire rule might as well be written in disappearing ink.
Former Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy is an astute observer of the league, and he recently injected a shot of sanity in the discussion of how to get players to keep their feet and play defense instead of falling all over the court in an effort to fool the nearest referee into blowing his whistle.
“To me it is pretty simple but they won’t do it this way: Leave it to the referees,” Van Gundy offered in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated. “If you just told referees, ‘Look, you have a guy flopping and don’t give him any calls, period.’ That would stop it in a heartbeat. It’s natural selection. Once it does not work anymore, it’ll disappear. A $500 fine will not have much of an effect. What will have an effect is a guy not getting any calls anymore. Once he stops getting calls, all of sudden the behavior disappears. But they don’t want to handle it that way so I don’t think anything will really come off this.”
Makes way too much sense, doesn’t it? Let a player get a reputation as a consistent flopper and simply stop making calls for him. All of a sudden that player’s opponent gains a huge advantage, and soon the problem will correct itself. There’s no question that flopping is out of control and needs to be addressed, but the way to address it is still a work in progress.
“I think the attempt to try to address it is a good thing but I don’t see the rule having much effect,” said Van Gundy. “First of all, I think the only ones that you will see penalized are very, very egregious flops. I’d be surprise if it even got to one a game, and I think anybody who watches basketball knows that there is far more than one every game.”
We’re certainly not anywhere close to one a game yet, and the refs usually enforce a new rule more strictly early in the season to show players they mean business.
It remains to be seen whether or not the new NBA crackdown on flopping will have much of an effect, but if it fails to curb the practice perhaps Van Gundy’s idea will get some consideration.
It really does make too much sense.
Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @alexraskinNYC, @SusanBible, @DPageHoopsWorld , @stevesraptors, @TommyBeer and @YannisHW.