Aldridge and Lillard are the building blocks to Rip City success

Building Towards the Future

The future of the Portland Trail Blazers lies in the hands of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, it’s as simple as that. If Portland can manage to build the team around these two stellar athletes, they will become more competitive, win more games, and finally reach those elusive playoffs.

We’re sick of the Blazers being the joke of the northwest. And though they showed promise at times during the season, it wasn’t enough.

Portland needs to give Lillard and Aldridge players who will compliment their styles. Should they choose to do so, they will see success in the near future. Let’s talk more about this.

The Rookie of the Year

Damian Lillard was officially named the 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year. Congratulations, Damian.

His rookie season was remarkable. He achieved certain accolades that few rookies have in the past. His 19.0 points per game and 6.5 assists per game were first among all rookies. He also lead all rookies with 38.6 minutes a game. Even with playing so many minutes, he never hit that so-called “rookie wall”. He played and started in all 82 games for the Portland Trail Blazers this season. In doing so, he never wore down. He is the real deal, the whole package, and a potential all-star in this league.

His play this season earned him a unanimous Rookie of the Year Award. In a draft class that was widely viewed as a “deep draft”, this is special. Lillard is a special player. He is a player that you build your franchise around.

The All-Star

LaMarcus Aldridge has now earned himself two straight all-star appearances (2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons). The Blazers had high hopes for Aldridge alongside Brandon Roy and Greg Oden to become somewhat of their own ‘big three’. These three guys were supposed to turn Portland into a championship contender. Unfortunately, as we all know, the team suffered severe and career threatening injuries to Oden and Roy – leaving Aldridge by his lonesome.

LaMarcus will be key to Portland's rise. (Photo: Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY Sports)

LaMarcus will be key to Portland’s rise. (Photo: Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY Sports)

No one expected what came next, Aldridge carried the load while becoming one of the more dominant players in the league. His true colors shined in their absence. All of the sudden he was no longer the soft, passive, third option player he once was. He has now become the man. It took a little getting used to, and it was even confusing for him at times as Roy was still hobbling around on the court with him.

Once he figured out that Roy’s knees weren’t going to allow him to be the same player he was, there was no turning back.

How Does it Work?

Now comes Lillard. You may think, “Lillard will become the man now and Aldridge will take a back seat.” I don’t think so. I see it as a 1-2 combo – being Aldridge-Lillard, in that order. Aldridge is the veteran and has earned his stripes to become the man. It will be like a Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook type of thing. Not that they are similar skill wise, but both can be number one options on any given night, but Durant is still the clear number one player on that team -as Aldridge will be for the Blazers.

They compliment each others game so well that this should become a none issue. Some nights Lillard will carry the load, other nights L.A. will. If you bring an extra guy their way, they’re both unselfish enough to hit the open guy for an easy bucket. They can both play inside-out.

Aldridge has improved his inside game over the past couple of years. He can take bigger guys off the dribble or post smaller defenders.

Those bigger defender back off, he can drain the open jump shot with ease and can shoot over the top of those smaller defenders as well.

Lillard can take just about anyone to the basket and he has improved his ability to finish at the rim throughout the season. He has a step-back jump shot that leaves most people stumbling backwards and shaking their downwards tilted heads while running back to other end of the court.

With a pick-n-roll offense and simple spacing, these two create a deadly duo.

What Will it Take to Build Around Them?

Defensive minded players and a bench.

Neither Lillard, nor Aldridge, are the best defensive players out there. They’re decent and they work hard on both ends of the floor, but if you want to them to be more effective on the offensive end, you have to have defensive minded players around them. That way you take some pressure off of them and allow them to really play their game.

For Aldridge, you need a center that can be a defensive presence and rebounds.

He knows it, too. He has stated before, and I’m paraphrasing here, that he wants to play alongside a true center – a Tyson Chandler type of guy. This is exactly what they need. The problem is that these guys are rare and expensive.

I loved the move to try and get Roy Hibbert last off-season. That could have pushed them to the playoffs this season. It’s going to be tough getting someone that fits the mold this off-season, or at least another building block.

They might have a better chance of getting an older player like Samuel Dalembert or Jermaine O’Neal.

Damian Lillard Blazers

Damian Lillard continues to wow the crowds in Portland (Photo: Bleacher Report)

These guys can help mold Meyers Leonard to be that guy. Sign either one to a one or two-year contract if you can’t sign a guy like Tyson Chandler. O’Neal has already gone on record to say that he would love to join Portland to mentor Leonard and it’s an idea that works.

Then we have Lillard, who is also not the best defensive guy. He needs wing players that are defensive minded to help him out. Nicolas Batum  and Wesley Matthews fit the bill. They are both good defensive players and can knock down 3’s. This is exactly what they need. They have it.  Batum and Matthews just need to continue to develop defensively and work on their consistency a little bit.

And now that leads me to the bench. They have the starters, minus the center at the moment. But boy do they need a bench. The starters are good, but they can’t play every minute of the game.

Bench Options

At point guard, I think they will re-sign Eric Maynor. He played well once he was traded to Portland. I like his game, he fits well with the team.

At wing, I like Elliot Williams, if he can ever get healthy. However, that has been the issue. Will Barton showed some improvement in scoring late in the season. Neither are reliable, though.

The bench is more for specialty players – like a scorer, or a shut down defender. Either one would work, but a lock down defender works better with the team having Barton and potentially retaining Williams.

I also like Victor Claver at times. I don’t like Luke Babbitt, I think he, along with Nolan Smith need a change of scenery.

Wing options via free-agency: Kyle Korver, Dohntay Jones, Ben Gordon, Corey Brewer, Matt Barnes, Earl Clark, Tony Allen, Mike Dunleavy, Dante Cunningham, Dorell Wright, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Randy Foye, and Trevor Ariza. 

These are all options that are better than what the Blazers have and could be in their price range.

For big men, they already have Leonard, who will likely be coming off the bench once they sign a center. Other than that, they could add some depth with low-priced veterans or even use a draft pick on a power forward to challenge Aldridge in practices.


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About Jason Hartzog

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