Thursday, December 4, 2008

LaMarcus Aldridge: The Student Becomes The Teacher

It’s no secret that Brandon Roy is considered the unquestioned leader of the Trail Blazers locker room, but when you’re playing on a team as young as Portland’s, there are plenty of opportunities for mentorship. That’s where LaMarcus Aldridge comes in.

Despite being just a third-year player himself, Aldridge, along with Roy, has the credibility that comes along being one of the cornerstones of the franchise’s future. But aside from that, Aldridge has proven himself as a trusted source of basketball knowledge; a player who has the smarts and understanding of the system to guide teammates on the court when necessary. Rotations get missed and assignments confused, and when that happens, Aldridge is there to help out. It’s a role he’s more than comfortable in assuming.

“I have to try and direct guys to spots during the game sometimes,” Aldridge said. “Being one of the captains on the team, if a guy doesn’t know where to go they can always come to me, so I have to know where to send them.”

Starting alongside two rookies in Nicolas Batum and Greg Oden makes Aldridge’s understanding of the system that much more important. Having played significant minutes at center and a little at small forward has given Aldridge a working knowledge of both positions, which can come in handy when trying to direct traffic on both offense and defense.

“To be able to play multiple positions -- as I try to do -- I think I have to know more than one thing on the floor,” Aldridge said. “I try to know the rotations. I can’t tell the next guy what to do if I don’t know what to do, so I try to pay attention and try to be a student of the game.”

That student mentality is most evident on the practice court. When going through rotations and drills, Aldridge is usually one of the first players to speak up when a play breaks down. Often times the coaches will ask during walkthroughs who is in the wrong spot or where the next rotation should move to, and Aldridge seems to always have the answer immediately.

That court awareness is one of the reasons Kevin Pritchard took the necessary steps to acquire Aldridge from the Bulls during the 2006 Draft.

“One thing we’ve always known about LaMarcus is that he’s a student of the game,” Pritchard said. “For being in just his third year, he’s already picked up a lot of the nuances of the NBA and he continually will because he wants to be great. That’s what is so good about him: He wants to be great.

“We’re really happy with his willingness to be a student. We talk about that all the time: If you’re going to be great in this game, you have to be a student, because the game is always changing.”

But according to Pritchard, basketball IQ alone isn’t enough. Having the ability to be a coach on the floor takes accountability and self-assurance, two traits Pritchard has seen recently out of Aldridge.

“He’s becoming confident with who he is,” said Pritchard, “and the important part is that he’s willing to take responsibility for himself. If you’re willing to do that then you’re ready and willing to take a leadership role and coach and help guys out. And we need that, from Brandon and LaMarcus.”

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