Shooting star's on fire

LaMarcus Aldridge becomes a force all over Blazers' court
by: L.E. Baskow, Rookie LaMarcus Aldridge takes a shot over Wizard Antonio Daniels in the Blazers’ 100-98 win Tuesday. As the team’s top shooter from the field, as well as its No. 3 rebounder and No. 5 scorer, Aldridge may have strayed into all-rookie team territory.

Eddie Jordan coached the East in this year's NBA All-Star game, so he knows a basketball player when he sees one.

The Washington Wizards' coach sees one in rookie center-forward LaMarcus Aldridge of Portland.

'He's getting better, which makes you think he works pretty hard,' Jordan says. 'He's making jump shots, which is scary to me with his other talents.

'He's just an athlete, first of all. He's long, he's flexible and he can keep up the pace of the game, which a lot of big guys can't.'

Jordan's comments came before Aldridge collected 25 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots in the Trail Blazers' 100-98 victory over the Wizards on Tuesday at the Rose Garden.

Since joining Portland's starting lineup March 1, the 6-11 Texas product has averaged 15.7 points and 8.6 rebounds while shooting .535 from the field in nine games (not counting Thursday's game at New York).

Portland coach Nate McMillan was a veteran guard in Seattle when rookies Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp came along.

'They had talent, they had (rookie) seasons like LaMarcus has had, and they became really good players,' McMillan says. 'LaMarcus will, too. I'm full of ideas on how to use him and what to do with him. That's a good thing. It gives you options.'

Aldridge is Portland's No. 5 scorer at 8.5 points per game, its No. 3 rebounder (4.7) and its top shooter from the field (.505). He will pass injured Joel Przybilla to become the team's top shot blocker with three more swats.

Among the NBA's rookies, Aldridge is sixth in scoring, fourth in rebounding (.2 a game behind leader Paul Millsap of Utah), third in field-goal percentage and the leader in blocks at 1.14.

Imagine what Aldridge might have accomplished had he not undergone surgery on his right shoulder in August, causing him to miss the first six games. Or had he not fallen into apparent disfavor with McMillan in December, playing only 39 minutes in one 10-game span. The No. 2 pick in last June's draft might be contending for rookie of the year honors alongside teammate Brandon Roy.

'I haven't really thought about that,' Aldridge says. 'Brandon has played consistently well all year. I'm just happy I'm doing well now; I'm trying to get better.'

The weight work pays off

Aldridge, who turns 22 in July, seems a good bet to make the league's all-rookie team with Roy, although it's no cinch. The final month of the regular season will tell.

'I would love to make the all-rookie team,' Aldridge says. 'That would say something about how I came on at the end.'

Aldridge arrived at training camp in October at about 230 pounds. Today, he is pushing 250.

'You can see it with his shirt off,' says Bobby Medina, the Blazers' strength and conditioning coach the past decade. 'He looks totally different. It's a tribute to the work he has put in. LaMarcus is one of our leaders in the weight room. That's unusual for such a young guy.'

Aldridge has built a weight room in the house he rents in Lake Oswego. He lifts every day, even during the season.

'Quad rack, bench, cardio, curls - everything you need for a workout,' Aldridge says. 'At the beginning of the season, I wasn't playing too much. That's when I could really work out a lot. You have to slow down a little bit (with weightlifting) as you play more, because the body gets fatigued. But I'm still working hard, trying to get stronger.'

Good as 'Sheed, minus antics

Assistant coach Monty Williams, who played 10 years in the league, loves Aldridge's inside/outside game.

'He's kind of a cross between Robert Horry and Rasheed Wallace,' Williams says. 'He's tall, not really great handles, but smart on the court, can make passes and stick the outside shot. I think he'll eventually be able to move out and stick 3s.

'He blocks more shots and is a better rebounder than Robert. He can run all day just like Rasheed. But the thing LaMarcus has over 'Sheed, they're both great teammates, but LaMarcus is much less of a distraction than 'Sheed.'

Williams wasn't shocked when Aldridge snared 10 offensive rebounds - one shy of the franchise record - March 13 against Denver.

'LaMarcus has proved a lot of people wrong in some areas,' Williams says. 'He has grown in his toughness, his ability to battle every night. In summer league last year, he went against (7-3, 275-pound) Peter John Ramos and got buried. That's the kind of thing that could leave a young guy who is slight of build thinking, 'I'm not going to post up anymore. I'll just shoot jump shots.'

'But LaMarcus hasn't done that. We knew he could shoot and run all day, but he's picked up the slack as far as rebounding. He and Millsap are the best young offensive rebounders in the league.'

Aldridge has a soft touch with a jump shot out to 17 feet and a nice right-handed jump hook.

'My freshman year at Texas, I shot it pretty funky,' he says. 'Coach (Rick) Barnes and I worked a lot on my mechanics.'

More improvement planned

Medina plans to visit Aldridge in Austin, Texas, this summer to continue work on strength and conditioning. Assistant coach Bill Bayno will work on expanding Aldridge's game.

'I have pretty good moves down low, but sometimes I'm on the block and I have to come back with my right hand, which is a little more difficult,' Aldridge says. 'I'm going to work on my drive and my left hand, which will help make me a more complete player.'

McMillan believes it will happen.

'LaMarcus and I have met individually before three or four games to spell out what we are looking for from him in that game, and he goes right out and does it,' the coach says. 'I like him at the 5 opposite Zach (Randolph). If LaMarcus is defending the basket and rebounding, it gives you that balance on the floor.

'He can be a 14 (points) and 10 (rebounds) guy real soon. At the center position, he has the potential to be an all-star one of these years.'

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