The Portland Trail Blazers finally have a point guard that is worthy of having LaMarcus Aldridge to pass to.
Ironically, that point guard is thriving as a direct result of having Aldridge on his team.
But it is safe to say that the Blazers' Aldridge and Damian Lillard are both thriving due to the presence of one another.
So that's what a point guard looks like!
Since they last had an elite point guard in the late 90s, the Blazers have essentially been patching together the position.
For awhile they were running with Andre Miller, an effective yet flawed option that never really was the answer for this team. He struggled to fit in with the team's best player, Brandon Roy.
After Miller left, the Blazers brought in Raymond Felton, more of your typical pass-first point guard with the hopes that he would not only get along well with the team's best player, but help him flourish. But Felton's inability to stay in shape brought the whole experiment crumbling, along with the season.
Heading into the draft, the Blazers desperately needed to improve two spots: their point guard and their center.
With Lillard without question the top point guard in the draft, the Blazers wasted little time in selecting him.
Lillard was viewed by some people as a gamble. He came from a small school and though he showed some impressive skills in college, it was hard to trust his numbers given that they came against inferior competition.
But Lillard hit the ground running in large part due to his willingness to defer to Aldridge as well as using his game to complement the star power forward.
A symbiotic relationship
Lillard thrives in an up-tempo game, due in large part to his elite quickness and ability to play under control.
It also doesn't hurt that he already is one of the league's better defensive point guards, something that will routinely lead to easy buckets.
On this roster, the Blazers will need Lillard to push the envelope in transition.
Nic Batum is a ball-hawking demon in the full court and young guys like Meyers Leonard thrive in running the court.
This also plays into one of Aldridge's strengths, which is his ability to run the court like a gazelle.
That being said, what sets Lillard apart from other young gunners is his ability to also thrive in the half-court game.
Lillard is an elite shooter from deep, which, paired with his superb quickness, makes him exceptionally dangerous on pick-and-rolls. Not only can he set up his teammates, but he can either dart to the hoop if his man plays above the pick, or he can knock down the three if his man plays below the pick.
This also plays into Aldridge's strength as a stretch 4. Aldridge gives the pick-and-roll another dangerous element since he can roll and pop the 18-20-foot jumper.
Ask Utah Jazz fans how effective this type of pairing can be. They rode the pick-and-roll between a power forward with range and a point guard with intelligence to countless playoff runs and the NBA Finals.
That's right, this pairing in their first year together are calling to mind a young John Stockton and Karl Malone.
But before they can reach those Hall of Famers, they will need to continue to trust one another as they develop their individual games.
Aldridge is reaching the next level
For Blazers fans, it has been a work in progress figuring out just exactly who LaMarcus Aldridge is.
During the Brandon Roy era, Aldridge very often deferred to the leadership of the charismatic Roy. He was happy to be one of the supporting pieces as it seemed to suit his quiet demeanor.
When Roy's career started to stumble due to injuries, Aldridge often spoke of wanting to step up and become the leader.
In a lot of ways, he did. On the court, he raised his game to new heights and became an All-Star-caliber power forward, even if the national fans and media failed to realize it.
But he still didn't seem comfortable being "the man" in Portland. Aldridge isn't your typical rah-rah kind of guy. He prefers to lead by example and play the silent hero.
That type of approach can work on some teams, but with a young team like Portland, you also need some flash.
Lillard allows Aldridge to slip back into his more comfortable role as silent assassin. He can let Lillard be the sizzle and he can be the steak.
By having a point guard that is knocking on the door of the elite in this league, it allows Aldridge the luxury of letting his game speak for itself.
Furthermore, Aldridge is becoming a more rounded player by giving up some of his scoring duties to Lillard.
Last year and the year prior, there was too much pressure on Aldridge. He was the only legitimate scoring threat on this team. As a result, his scoring numbers went up yet the team's wins went down.
By ceding control of the offense to Lillard, the Blazers are a more dynamic team that punishes teams not only through their power forward, but also through their point guard.
The path forward
The Blazers certainly will have nights where they suffer. They are still a very young team. Their play at shooting guard and center can be inconsistent at times, and Nic Batum still hasn't fully figured it out at small forward.
But for the first time in a long while, this team is not only exciting, but dangerous as well.
The most important position in basketball is point guard, and the Blazers finally have a good one.
The key for this team will lie in two aspects of their game that feed off of one another: defense and transition offense.
In order to fully utilize this roster, the Blazers will need to push the ball. But in order to do that, they will need to get stops.
On the nights they can do this, they will have a legitimate shot at a win. On the nights that they fail, they will continue to struggle.
But the fact remains that they have one of the best power forwards in the game. And now they have a point guard that is knocking on the door of elite as we speak.
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