LaMarcus Aldridge took the initiative speaking out as the team’s leader last season, becoming a more vocal leader in the locker room and in the media. With Damian Lillard in his second year, and a Rookie of the Year title under his belt, it’s the balance between the two that’s set the Blazers up for early-season success.
Aldridge decided he’d be the one to break the silence and become the Blazers vocal leader during February of last season.
“I realized that I had to be more vocal, more demanding — and that I have to still do that more, I think,” Aldridge said. “I have a tendency to roll with the punches. But this year, especially with things getting rougher, I call my own play. I think that’s the start of me being more of the leader. I can still shoot it, but if they double-team me, I can still make the right pass and we can score. So I think that’s part of my growth, knowing when to take over, knowing when to be more dominant, and knowing when to just flow with it.”
Although Aldridge has long been a top-tier player, he has played second-fiddle to Brandon Roy, who was drafted only five places later in 2006. Roy was “The Natural” — the closer, the face, the team leader and Portland’s adopted son from their Northwest neighbor of Seattle. Meanwhile, Aldridge stood by, quietly but assuredly. He scored with Roy locked down, gone cold, or injured. He rebounded, fought down low, and played hard.
Now, Aldridge is a back-to-back All Star with a significantly different team surrounding him. With Roy gone, a stable of impressive role players looks up to him as their leader. With the addition of Lillard’s breakout season last year, his role changed once again.
Aldridge’s presence is sunblock for Lillard; a young man not unlike himself at that stage in his career, with a quiet demeanor and another star on a rising team. The addition of Lillard should have relieved the weight of putting Roy’s team on his shoulders, and come 2013-2014, it appears as though that load is finally no longer his to bear alone. Lillard, humble off the court, is a different animal on the floor.
He darts for balls, takes big shots without hesitation, and offers Aldridge plays off from constant pounding on the far left block. He comes up in the clutch, too.
In a recent game against Milwaukee, Gary Neal forced a bad pass late in a tightening fourth quarter. Nicolas Batum stole the ball, and threw a pass up the floor for a streaking Lillard, who dunked it home. A few plays later, with the Bucks within eight points and less than three minutes left in the game, Lillard would trail a Wes Matthews-led fastbreak to position himself at the arc. When Matthews was double-teamed on the drive, he kicked to Lillard who would hit a three to ice the game.
Lillard was the only Blazer starter that scored in the fourth-quarter; he had nine points, a rebound, an assist, a steal, and a block to help seal the victory over Milwaukee. When Aldridge couldn’t produce, Lillard stepped up. Much like Aldridge did with Roy before him, it’s Lillard’s cold-blooded, hardworking mentality that allows him to lead by example, even as another rises as the face of the team. For Portland, it’s the determination to win for both stars that’s leading them to early-season success.