LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE, a 6'11" power forward, finished up a recent postpractice workout as he had many others during preseason—with a barrage of threes. So are they going to be part of his repertoire this season?
"A lot of them were going in, right?" asked Aldridge, smiling. "Coach [Nate] McMillan told me if I worked on [my three-point shot] and gained confidence, he would let me shoot it—if I'm open, that is."
In Greg Oden's absence Aldridge developed a solid back-to-the-basket game last season—despite his size, he had always been more comfortable facing up and either driving or making his move. "I could dribble real well even when I was young," says Aldridge, 23, who came to the Blazers in a 2006 draft-day trade after being picked second out of Texas by the Bulls, "so my coaches let me play outside. I actually ran point guard as a senior in high school." He smiles again, before adding, "Not that Coach needs me there. We have enough of those."
Perhaps if he did become the league's tallest quarterback, Aldridge would command more attention. Blazers brass insist that he is part of the team's Big Three along with Oden and guard Brandon Roy, but Aldridge is often a forgotten man. He still stews quietly (stewing loudly is not his style) about the TV commentary at the June draft, which included mentions of several of his teammates, but not him. "I'm comfortable just being a part of the Big Three," Aldridge says, "and I know which part I am. It goes Brandon, Greg, then me. But my coaches and teammates know what I bring to the table." This year, that could include a long-distance game.
A rival scout on the BLAZERS: I'm not ready to say Greg Oden will be a superstar. He has great hands, he can finish, he's decent at the line, and he's a good paint rebounder, but he's not good on his feet or at moving out for extended rebounds. I can see him getting into foul trouble.... LaMarcus Aldridge is a terrific rebounder and shot blocker who runs the floor and defends. He was already scary good at the offensive end last year without a true center beside him.... For a 24-year-old, Brandon Roy has tremendous poise. But what I like most about him—he's one of the best in the league at this—is that you cannot take him out of his game. Even if you press him, his skill level is so high that you can't control how he plays.... Point guard Steve Blake isn't easily intimidated. He doesn't need a ton of shots, but he's creative and can run the pick-and-roll.... Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw are underappreciated wings who are excellent in transition. Webster looks like a 10-point, five-rebound guy who can defend and hold his own on the glass.
Once an elite running team, the Blazers finished last in the NBA in fast-break points (645) for the second straight season, though they raised their average fast-break points from 6.3 in '06--07 to 7.9.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2007--08 statistics
GREG ODEN (R)‚Ä†
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: F Martell Webster, G Rudy Fernàndez (R), G Jerryd Bayless (R), C Joel Przybilla, F-C Channing Frye (R) Rookie
‚Ä† 2006--07 college stats
Record: 41--41 (10th in West)
Points scored: 95.4 (T-27th in NBA)
Points allowed: 96.3 (8th)
Coach: Nate McMillan (fourth season with Blazers)
RON HOSKINS/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
OPEN SEASON After scoring down low last year despite double teams, Aldridge will have a chance to step outside.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
THOMAS OLIVER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES