Aldridge's message needs to reach teammates

Matt Calkins: Commentary

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

Published:

 

Proving people wrong, that’s the easy part.

Any schmuck can make a doubter feast on his own words.

Tom Brady in the sixth round? Kiss his three rings.

Undrafted Jeremy Lin? The news New York is spreading.

The Little Engine that Could? Just try and find a more celebrated locomotive.

It’s proving people right that can get tricky sometimes.

So far, LaMarcus Aldridge has done the former. When the Trail Blazers forward was left off the All-Star roster last year, he retaliated like a wasp whose home was just dislodged. He played so well that the league named him Western Conference Player of the Month for February and made him third team All-NBA by season’s end.

In other words, if Aldridge was left off the All-Star team this year, it would have been viewed as a Saturn-sized snub. But he made it.

Now, he has to justify it.

Justify it?! you scream while having your vintage Drexler jersey tailored. His numbers would bust through every floor of the Chrysler Building!

Oh, there’s no doubt his statistics are huge. Aldridge’s 23.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game are fifth and 10th in the NBA, respectively. His .509 field-goal percentage, meanwhile, is on pace for a career best. Perhaps that’s why ESPN’s Maurice Brooks recently listed Aldridge among his top 10 Most Valuable Player candidates, or why LeBron James praised Aldridge’s game on Twitter last week.

But all that said, what is the proverbial barometer for measuring a player’s true value? Easy — whether you make your teammates better. And right now, Aldridge is like DeNiro surrounded by cast from “The Facts of Life.”

It’s almost comical to think that Portland had more players on this year’s All-Star ballot than any team in the league. That’s right, Raymond Felton, Gerald Wallace, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, and Marcus Camby all joined Aldridge as potential participants in Orlando.

Currently, Jamal Crawford and Wallace are the only two Blazers within 10 points of Aldridge’s scoring average, but Crawford is shooting .386 from the field while Wallace has failed to score in double digits 10 different times -- including two games in which he was kept to under two.

Meanwhile, Felton, Batum, and Matthew’s scoring figures are all down from last year, while Camby’s rebounds per game have dipped.

OK, but how is this Aldridge’s fault?! you yell while customizing your Walton wig. It’s not LaMarcus that’s causing their production to dip!

Another fair point. Aldridge shouldn’t be blamed for his teammates’ shortcomings. That said, there are plenty of people who have been in car accidents who weren’t at fault — but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have been avoided.

We hear stories about Michael Jordan riding his fellow Bulls so hard that they were terrified of doing anything else but winning. We hear similar tales about Kobe Bryant placing stratospheric expectations upon his teammates.

Since the start of last season, Aldridge has been the Blazers’ best man. But that’s a whole lot different from being the team’s Alpha male.

At 14-12, Portland sits in danger of fading from the playoff picture in what may be the deepest conference the league has seen in years. And when you’re dealing with grown men who cash six-figure paychecks at the start of each month, a coach’s words can only pierce so deep.

Aldridge may have deft jump hook, a Downy-soft jumper and sonic-boom finishing power, but right now he should worry about getting through to his teammates just as much as he does getting through post-defenders and double teams.

Maybe he does it with words. Maybe he does it with actions. Whatever the method, something in Portland needs to change.

Aldridge being away from his teammates during All-Star weekend is one thing. Being away from them when the playoffs start is something else entirely.

Matt Calkins covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. He can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or email matt.calkins@columbian.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blazerbanter