At the beginning of the season, the Blazers organization and fans alike had one thing on their minds: Don't need Brandon Roy. As everyone knows, Brandon Roy was the keystone guy in Portland. Had the All-Star games in his pocket, had the ball late in games and had first dibs at contract extensions. He was the highly touted character and skill guy, The Natural, that the city and team seemed to lean on.
But, he retired. Without him the city was sad, but one thing was still guaranteed. That thing being the season ahead. Trades and acquisitions were all well and good, but without the Wonder Roy, the question remained: What will we be? Oden out again, Roy gone, the holy Trifecta kaput. Only 76 together as a group. Could we still be good? Will we turn heads or continue to under-produce? Worse yet, will more knees crumble like like the Byzantine Empire resulting in a team more patched together than my grandmother's holocaust quilt?
In a mere 8 games, the answer was clear. LaMarcus arrived. Every season he has stepped up a little more, outplaying the term 'soft', adding to his game, becoming a more complete player. But, every season he was left with a bigger chip on his shoulder, in part due to playing second fiddle. Well, this season, with his new role, he gained new confidence. Perhaps he's just produced more now that he feels wanted. Much easier to commit when you know you're wanted (my girlfriend taught me that). With the ball in his hands it was like LaMarcus was looking us in the questioning eyes and saying "Do we need Roy? Of course not."
Averaging 22.3 points per game, the dude is a beast on the block. He's become the offensive threat Blazers fans always knew he could be, drawing double teams that never came before and has added moves to his repertoire that enable him to be, at times, unguardable. Even everyone's favorite player to hate, LeBron James, couldn't help but tweet that LA is an All-Star. High praise coming from a perennial All-Star, future HoF player known for his strength and skill.
As much a fan as I am, I won't say LA is perfect. There is always room for improvement in sports, and LA knows it. He could be more consistent, especially with free throws. He could get more rebounds, or block some more shots. He's still not yet the elite player I anticipated on draft day. He could be a double-double machine, and he's not there yet. But, the keyword there is 'yet'. He's still got youth, he's only just become really needed, and he's still clearly on the uprise. And, as aware and self-driven as he is, LA will make sure – as he always has – that he gets better.
That's the magic I see in LA. The very best is yet to come. His greatest weapon has always been his opponent's lack of confidence in him. They've said he's soft, he can't play the low post, that he can't carry a team, and he's always proved them very wrong. He got snubbed from All-Star Sunday last year, just like Ryan Gosling did from Oscar Sunday this year, but instead of complaining, he found motivation to make certain it didn't happen again.
He's added facets to his game that even he still doesn't comprehend. The first time he tried his new up-and-under, his opponent couldn't help but shrug. As if to say "Not much I could do about that." The best part was though, I swear I saw LA shake his head in wonder also. Probably much faster in realtime than he was in practice. When you're surprising yourself, that's a good thing.
So ,with this year's selection to All-Star Weekend 2012, LaMarcus has gotten some acknowledgement that is long overdue. But what makes him the true All-Star is not the game this weekend, but the game he has yet to bring. He's no Little Engine That Should, he's the MuthaFreakin' L-Train.