When it comes to being a more vocal leader, LaMarcus Aldridge realizes ‘when i talk, guys listen’

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
3 years ago

There was an interaction that occurred in the second quarter of Portland’s 96-86 victory against Utah on October 11 that was a sure sign of the progress the Trail Blazers have made during training camp. Of course there was no television coverage of that game, so the only people who saw it happen were the fans in attendance at CenturyLink Arena in Boise, and even those who were in the building probably didn’t pay it much mind.

Early in the second quarter, Mo Williams lost control of the ball, leading to a steal by Utah’s Dominic McGuire and a fastbreak opportunity for the Jazz. Utah center Enes Kanter received the ball in the paint and went up for a layup, but was met at the rim by Trail Blazers power forward Joel Freeland, who was able to block Kanter’s attempt. Unfortunately, there was no Trail Blazer in position to grab the loose ball, which allowed Kanter to get his own miss. He went back up and was once again met by Freeland, though this time, Freeland was called for a foul, sending Kanter to the line for two free throws.

The important part is what happened next. After the whistle blew, LaMarcus Aldridge walked up to Freeland and said something to him while patting on Freeland’s chest. Come to find out, Aldridge was not only praising Freeland’s defense while also holding himself and the rest of the team accountable for not fulfilling their responsibilities.

“(Aldridge) said ‘We have to have your back for the second challenge,” said Freeland. “I actually challenged the first one but I got the foul for the next one.”

After the game, Aldridge would make a point of singling out Freeland for praise to his teammates, coaches and the media for Freeland’s effort on the defensive end.

That simple acknowledgement was something we haven’t always seen from Aldridge. During his seven seasons in Portland, Aldridge has sometimes struggled with being vocal in his leadership, as he’s often noted in the past that he generally prefers to lead by example, letting his play do the talking rather than his voice. According to Aldridge, that will no longer be the case.

“Not this year, I’ve been opposite,” said Aldridge regarding transitioning from leading by example to being more of a voice on the court and in the locker room. “I’ve done the most talking in this training camp than I’ve ever done. I’ve been talking to guys. Even during the last game (against Utah) I stayed on Robin about being that dominant force in the middle, blocking shots, clogging the lane. I was talking to Joel about being dominant as far as coming weakside, so I’ve definitely done more talking this year.”

Aldridge says there are numerous reasons he’s made a conscious effort to be more vocal this season, from changes in his own personality to the group of players general manager Neil Olshey has surrounded the two-time all-star with.

“It was just time for it,” said Aldridge. “Just being comfortable, being older. I think we have a great group of guys here that definitely respect me and listen to me, so that makes it easier. It’s just that next step for me.”

While being more of a vocal leader isn’t something Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts has asked Aldridge to do, it has been a welcomed surprise.

“In the relatively short time I’ve known LaMarcus, I think he continues to grow,” said Stotts. “I didn’t know him for the first four or five years of his career and what his interactions were with his teammates, but I’ve been pleased. He’s taken the leadership mantle as far as being a vocal leader. I think he’s always been a good leader by example and I think a lot of times that’s underrated by people. But now he’s taking the next step, because when he speaks, people listen.”

Stotts has talked at times during training camp about holding the team more accountable, which is easier to do when your best player buys in. It’s also worth considering that holding players accountable doesn’t always mean pointing out the negative. As in, by pointing out Freeland’s effort against Kanter, Aldridge held both himself and Freeland accountable in a positive way.

“I think too often, people want that accountability to be disciplinary and negative in nature,’ said Stotts. “I think you can have accountability going both directions. Good play needs to be acknowledged and reinforced, whether it be by me or by the players themselves.”

Which is one of the reasons why Aldridge is stepping out of his comfort zone to engage his teammates more often this season. In past years, maybe Aldridge felt like his words fell on deaf ears, but that no longer seems to be the case. It could be that Aldridge has improved when it comes to expressing himself or perhaps his teammates are more receptive to his message, or a combination of both. What is certain is that Aldridge has found a better balance between verbal and non-verbal leadership.

“I can see that when I talk, guys listen,” said Aldridge. “I feel like, I go out and play hard every day and I’m going to practice every day, I’m going to block shots. I think because I do it, they listen. If I was one of those guys that just talked about it and didn’t do it, I don’t think it would carry as much weight.”

Aldridge has certainly been “doing it” during the preseason. His game has always possessed a certain effortless quality, but the ease with which he’s operated, both on offense and defense, in limited minutes during the three games he’s played during the preseason has been impressive. And when he hasn’t played, he’s stayed engaged, choosing to join the team in uniform on the bench rather than wearing a suit and sitting behind the bench. Aldridge says it’s easy to offer encouragement and suggestions from that position.

“Just talk to them about things I see during the game,” said Aldridge of how he stays engaged from a vocal leadership perspective while on the bench. “If I see something that guys are doing well or something they could do better that they don’t understand, just trying to talk to them and let them know what I see from the sideline.”

Aldridge is expected to play in Portland’s final preseason game Thursday night in Oakland against the Warriors, which will be the first and only game this preseason that all of the expected regular season starters will have an opportunity to play alongside each other before the start of the regular season in Phoenix against the Suns (though Wesley Matthews did leave practice early on Wednesday and his status for Thursday is not yet known). Unfortunately, Thursday’s game won’t be televised so you likely will have to wait until October 30 to see the difference in Aldridge’s on-court leadership.

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Joel Freeland (Shoulder) Active For Today’s Game Versus Kings

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
1 year ago

Trail Blazers power forward/center Joel Freeland will be active for Sunday afternoon’s game versus the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train after missing the last two months with a right shoulder strain suffered in Portland’s 115-107 loss to the Atlanta Hawks back on January 3.

While there’s no guarantee that Freeland will be see time in Sunday’s game, the 6-11 Brit said that, after missing the last 23 games, he was “just happy to be back on the bench” after spending almost all of 2015 on the inactive list.

Here’s what Freeland had to say prior to the game regarding this return (questions are paraphrased, answers are almost verbatim)

—————————————

How do you feel about coming back for tonight’s game after missing the last two months with the injury?

Joel Freeland: I’m happy to be back. It’s been eight weeks yesterday. Just happy to be back and hopefully maybe get an opportunity to play. If not, just happy to be back on the bench.

Do you know if you’ll have a minutes restriction?

Joel Freeland: We haven’t spoken about (a minutes restriction) at all. If Coach needs me or if he feels like I’m ready to play, I’m sure he’ll put me in. But I’m not sure if that time is today or if it’s going to be in the next game or the game after that. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. Like I said, I’m just happy to be back on the bench instead of being behind it.

What is different today than, say, three weeks ago in terms of the injury?

Joel Freeland: I think my overall confidence. I’ve been playing a little bit more, I’ve been playing up against people a little bit more and I know what I can tolerate and what I can’t. Before, it was like I had pain and I just felt like I definitely couldn’t do anything. I do still have some pain, some discomfort, but I know what my limits are.

Have you gone through a whole contact practice?

Joel Freeland: I’ve done contact, three-on-three, four-on-four, one-on-one, but I haven’t gone through a full five-on-five practice.

When was the decision made that you were going to be active tonight?

Joel Freeland: We were aiming for this game. Coming back off the All-Star break, speaking to the doctors and they said “I think these next two week are going to be key for getting you back into the game,” get back playing. This was kind of the game that we had on the schedule for me to come back. So I feel good about it. We had some talk about maybe coming back the last game, but we all felt more comfortable with me trying to get a couple more practices under my belt and coming back for this one.

Are you going to play with that protective neoprene sleeve? What does it do?

Joel Freeland: Yes. It’s compression and it adds a little bit of support, but it’s more for my mind kind of thing. It keeps me aware of it all the time and I know that there’s something there giving me a little bit of support. It’s confidence thing really.

You said you’re aware of the shoulder. Does that change anything that you do out on the court?

Joel Freeland: Not at all. I don’t think it does. Things can happen at any moment on the court. It’s not something I’m going to baby or I’m going to try to limit my game because of my shoulder. I’m just going to play the way I play.

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Joel Freeland (Shoulder) Active For Today's Game Versus Kings

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
1 year ago

Trail Blazers power forward/center Joel Freeland will be active for Sunday afternoon’s game versus the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train after missing the last two months with a right shoulder strain suffered in Portland’s 115-107 loss to the Atlanta Hawks back on January 3.

While there’s no guarantee that Freeland will be see time in Sunday’s game, the 6-11 Brit said that, after missing the last 23 games, he was “just happy to be back on the bench” after spending almost all of 2015 on the inactive list.

Here’s what Freeland had to say prior to the game regarding this return (questions are paraphrased, answers are almost verbatim)

—————————————

How do you feel about coming back for tonight’s game after missing the last two months with the injury?

Joel Freeland: I’m happy to be back. It’s been eight weeks yesterday. Just happy to be back and hopefully maybe get an opportunity to play. If not, just happy to be back on the bench.

Do you know if you’ll have a minutes restriction?

Joel Freeland: We haven’t spoken about (a minutes restriction) at all. If Coach needs me or if he feels like I’m ready to play, I’m sure he’ll put me in. But I’m not sure if that time is today or if it’s going to be in the next game or the game after that. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. Like I said, I’m just happy to be back on the bench instead of being behind it.

What is different today than, say, three weeks ago in terms of the injury?

Joel Freeland: I think my overall confidence. I’ve been playing a little bit more, I’ve been playing up against people a little bit more and I know what I can tolerate and what I can’t. Before, it was like I had pain and I just felt like I definitely couldn’t do anything. I do still have some pain, some discomfort, but I know what my limits are.

Have you gone through a whole contact practice?

Joel Freeland: I’ve done contact, three-on-three, four-on-four, one-on-one, but I haven’t gone through a full five-on-five practice.

When was the decision made that you were going to be active tonight?

Joel Freeland: We were aiming for this game. Coming back off the All-Star break, speaking to the doctors and they said “I think these next two week are going to be key for getting you back into the game,” get back playing. This was kind of the game that we had on the schedule for me to come back. So I feel good about it. We had some talk about maybe coming back the last game, but we all felt more comfortable with me trying to get a couple more practices under my belt and coming back for this one.

Are you going to play with that protective neoprene sleeve? What does it do?

Joel Freeland: Yes. It’s compression and it adds a little bit of support, but it’s more for my mind kind of thing. It keeps me aware of it all the time and I know that there’s something there giving me a little bit of support. It’s confidence thing really.

You said you’re aware of the shoulder. Does that change anything that you do out on the court?

Joel Freeland: Not at all. I don’t think it does. Things can happen at any moment on the court. It’s not something I’m going to baby or I’m going to try to limit my game because of my shoulder. I’m just going to play the way I play.

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Aldridge, Lillard Keep Pace In NBA 'Race To The MVP' Rankings

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
1 year ago

It’s been a while since we checked in on NBA.com’s weekly “Race To The MVP Ladder” rankings, so let’s catch up on where LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard stack up among the most valuable players in the NBA this season.

Aldridge comes in at No. 6 this week, a four-spot improvement from last week …

Forget about the pedestrian recent numbers (15.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists in his last five games) and consider that Aldridge might be the toughest player in the league this season, playing with that torn ligament in his left thumb. The Trail Blazers are going to need every bit of energy he can muster down the stretch of this regular season if they’re going to hold on to their spot in the top half of the Western Conference playoff chase. Aldridge, who is averaging an impressive 23.1 points and 10.3 rebounds on the season, and the Blazers will get a huge test from that revamped, Russell Westbrook-led Oklahoma City Thunder team Friday night at Moda Center. The Thunder frontcourt better be ready for heavy doses of Aldridge early, often and all night as the Trail Blazers try and make a statement of their own.

After taking the first two games this season, the Trail Blazers could clinch the season series with the Thunder by winning tonight’s game, always a nice ace to have up your sleeve in case the Western Conference playoff race comes down to tiebreakers. Portland, as we saw on Sunday versus the Grizzlies, needs Aldridge to beat the best teams in the league, and with the way Westbrook has been playing, the Thunder certainly qualify as one of the best right now.

Aldridge is ranked behind Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague at No. 5 and ahead of Golden State guard Klay Thompson at No. 7.

As for Lillard, he comes in at No. 9 this week, two spots lower than last week …

Lillard’s role as catalyst and director for a team that has a player as accomplished as LaMarcus Aldridge makes his inclusion on this list even more impressive. Lillard is asked to play so many different roles (facilitator, scorer, etc.) that a simple position designation doesn’t do his game justice. In eight games this month, Lillard is averaging 19.6 points, 6.4 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 1.2 seals. Lillard worked the San Antonio Spurs for 18 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists in a home win Wednesday night, knocking down 7 of his 15 shots from the floor and 3-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line. When Lillard is consistently knocking down that deep ball, he’s as dangerous as any point guard in the league.

Wednesday night’s performance was a step in the right direction for Lillard and Wesley Matthews, both of whom have experienced minor lulls in their three-point shooting percentage since the start of February. But both players, particularly Lillard, have tried to attack the basket more often while waiting for the three ball to come back around, so it’s not all bad.

Lillard is ranked behind Grizzlies center Marc Gasol at No. 8 and ahead of Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry at No. 10.

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