LaMarcus Aldridge POWER FORWARD

To teammates, analysts, and fans alike, LaMarcus Aldridge is a conundrum. At 6-foot-11, he towers over almost everyone he comes in contact with, yet when conversing he has a tendency to look down. Not at the wee folks he’s talking to, but past them, all the way to the ground. To his feet. In the rare print-media profile—there have been only two—he comes off as shy and uncomfortable with the attention. In person, it’s clear that his lack of eye contact and his navel-gazing are less a nervous tic, and more of a self-defense mechanism for blocking any perceived judgment.

It makes sense. Since Aldridge entered the league after his sophomore year at the University of Texas, his unique game has drawn both gawkers and detractors. His tattooed arms, loping stride, and penchant for drifting away from the hoop instead of barreling toward it made him an easy target for those who believe that power forwards should be, first and foremost, powerful. Despite solidifying himself as the Blazers’ second most valuable player—behind Brandon Roy—a perceived lack of toughness dogged him every time a feathery fadeaway jumper missed its mark.

Until this past February, that is, when the ballet dancer began transforming into a bull. Where once Aldridge relied on his freakish athleticism and seven-foot, five-inch wingspan to avoid contact, he was now banging, inflicting psychological and physical damage on his opponents. The kid who used to dart gracefully through the lane for an open shot started charging and dunking violently on anyone who got in his way. And instead of shrinking in the face of on-court skirmishes, Aldridge now stoked the fire, gesticulating at opponents’ benches after big plays. Yet as he unleashed his inner beast, he lost none of his agility or refinement. He even became a coach-on-the-floor leader.

Aldridge is perhaps best understood as a benefactor—and propagator—of a leaguewide revolution that has swept the power forward position. He shoots 20-foot jumpers like a marksman. He possesses the foot speed to stay with much smaller guards, but also has sufficient bulk to do a passable defensive job against the league’s centers. He’s encouraged to be as active as possible in disrupting passing lanes and gathering rebounds. A similar player in the 1980s would have languished under the basket, tasked solely with bumping and bruising.

Of this new model of Swiss Army knife power forward, there isn’t a better example than Aldridge. General manager Kevin Pritchard is touting him as a future All-Star. His raw skill means his coach, Nate McMillan, draws up the first play of most games for him, hoping a hot start from Aldridge will crush the opposing players’ spirits. But those eyes remain humbly focused on the ground, his nose to the grind. While Blazers fans may never fully understand Aldridge, this season they will come to fully appreciate him.