30 Questions: Is Aldridge a sure thing this season?
Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each NBA team. Be sure to check out the 30 Questions Index to see them all.
Portland fans who have pulled themselves from their misery brought on by the announcement of Greg Oden's season-ending microfracture surgery should be pleased to see that they are not bereft of talent up front. While the loss of Oden and the trade of Zach Randolph to the Knicks would seem to leave a gaping hole in the middle, there is a hyped young player who is ready to contribute now. Having read the question, I am guessing the smarties among you have surmised I am talking about LaMarcus Aldridge and that I agree with the "can't-miss" label. I am and I do. But he is not the only one who will have value.
Aldridge has indeed been seen as a sure bet this season in fantasy circles. This opinion was being formed by the end of last season after he flashed his potential in March. That month, he averaged 30.5 minutes, 14.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 0.9 steals on 51.9 percent shooting from the field and 73.0 percent from the line. Aldridge missed April after experiencing a rapid heartbeat in a March 31 contest against the Clippers. The problem was diagnosed as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and was treated with minor surgery. There are no limitations being put on Aldridge and the resolution of this situation should encourage drafters, not deter them.
After Oden was drafted No. 1 overall, fantasy scribes swooned at the thought of Aldridge paired with the big man. OK, maybe not swooned, but I was pretty excited about him. Oden would command double-teams, freeing Aldridge to stroke midrange jumpers and clean up the glass on the weak side. It seemed perfect. Then came the microfracture news. I am undeterred. While Aldridge will play most of his minutes at center and will be the focus of opposing defenses in the post, I am still bullish on his value this season. Why? Because the March stats I cited earlier were generated with LaMarcus playing center.
But wasn't Randolph there then? And won't Aldridge lose value without another frontcourt scorer playing alongside him?
The thing is, he does have another scorer up front: Channing Frye. I am not suggesting Frye is the equal of Randolph. I would not risk the wrath of a sorely abused Knicks fan base to make a statement like that. However, Frye and Randolph do share characteristics that benefit Aldridge. For starters, they like to shoot midrange jumpers and have middling percentages at doing so. Randolph is a career 46.6 percent shooter, while Frye's at 45.4 percent for his career. This kind of shooting produces the potential for a lot of offensive rebounds. If you scroll through the Blazers' box scores from March, you will see the preponderance of offensive boards pulled down by Aldridge. He averaged 4.1 offensive boards for the month. For you mathematicians paying attention at home, that was over 50 percent of his rebounding total. This is something those of you drafting in leagues that count offensive rebounds as a category should note. Aldridge is especially valuable in these formats and I grabbed him with the 54th overall pick in one such league and considered that a bargain.
The other thing besides a willingness to take jumpers that Frye shares with Randolph is the inability to block shots. Frye (42 blocks last season) is actually better than Randolph (15) but will never be confused with Marcus Camby. It will be on Aldridge to police the lane and deny slashers easy access to the rim. His length, timing and experience from last season should serve him well and I expect him to approach 2.0 blocks per game this season.
I have used Frye to show why Aldridge is likely to enjoy a breakout season and may have seemed unfair to him as I did so. Note to the Frye family: Save the hate mail, I am about to give your boy some props. Frye is in a great spot this season. With defenses sagging on Aldridge, Frye should find plenty of room to get his shots off. He is mobile and the Blazers would like to run more. All in all, I see something like 13 points, six to seven boards and 80-plus percent shooting from the line. Because Aldridge can take it outside, I expect to see more of Frye on the block which will only help his field goal percentage. Last season, Eddy Curry moored himself to the post and forced Frye to play more perimeter and his shooting suffered. This season, look for the blend of inside and midrange shooting that led to his 47.7 percent shooting as a rookie. Take Frye late in your draft if you are looking for a solid bench player who is unlikely to hurt you anywhere.
Guy Lake is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.