Aldridge

Kevin Durant, former Longhorn and current Oklahoma City Thunder, drives to the basket during a game on April 16. 

Photo Credit: AP Photo/ Sue Ogrocki | Associated Press

It’s no secret that Texas is considered more of a football school than a basketball school.

But, while the Longhorns have produced many NFL stars, they have also started the careers of multiple NBA personalities, six of whom are currently playing in the NBA playoffs.

The two most well known Texas Exes in the big leagues are Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge, both of whom can be considered among the current top 10 players in the NBA.

Durant, with the Oklahoma City Thunder, sits among the top three leading scorers in the league during these 2014 playoffs. While he’s had a few shooting problems in his first four games against the Grizzlies, Durant is still averaging 28.5 points per game with a 39.6 shooting percentage.

Durant is also a front-runner to claim a well-deserved Most Valuable Player honor this season after averaging a league-best 32 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game in the regular season. He captured his fourth career scoring title and is currently in the lead for the MVP title above two-time winner LeBron James.

But Aldridge, who left Texas the same year Durant came to Texas, has taken the spotlight in the playoffs. Aldridge, a Dallas native, sits atop the playoff leaderboard with an average of 35.3 points per game during the Trail Blazers’ first series with Houston.

Aldridge is having what might be his best season during his seven-year NBA career after finishing the regular season with a career-high 23.2 PPG and a career-high 11.1 RPG. He has led his team to a 3-1 series lead against the Houston Rockets with a 52.9 shooting percentage during the playoffs. Aldridge’s interior offense, combined with his jump shot skills, has propelled him as one of the best power forwards in the league.

Other Longhorns have also shone in the postseason this year. While the Bulls have gone down three games to one against the Wizards, D.J. Augustin has tallied 15.5 points per game during these playoffs. 

While basketball continues to grow in popularity in the state, Longhorns are making their own basketball stance in the NBA. While veterans like Durant and Aldridge continue to shine, young stars such as Augustin and Cory Joseph are still growing and will soon make their own spotlight in the NBA postseason.

Rick Barnes, coming off one of the biggest regular-season wins of his career at Texas, reached out to one of his former players.

The Texas coach gave his praise for former Longhorn LaMarcus Aldridge and hopes that he is named to the Western Conference all-star team.

Aldridge is currently not in the top 10 amongst Western Conference forwards in the ballot returns released on Jan. 13. Online voting concluded Jan. 23 with lineups to be announced Jan. 27.

“One thing I wish could happen more than anything is that the fans could really vote for him and get him on that all-star team because he’s having a great year,” Barnes said.

Aldridge was named the league’s Western Conference player of the week on Monday after averaging 28.3 points and 10.3 rebounds for the Portland Trail Blazers over a 4-0 streak. Overall he’s averaging 21.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game this season. The No. 2 overall pick in 2006 is now the top offensive threat on a team that seems playoff bound.

Aldridge’s mother, Georgia, was diagnosed with cancer in the offseason and the Dallas native has said her strength in fighting the disease is added motivation for him to earn an all-star spot.

“I know it’s been a really tough year on him,” Barnes said. “The fact that he got some recognition today is a really good thing for him and we’re happy for him.”

At Texas, Aldridge averaged nearly a double-double for his entire sophomore season. He became the highest draft pick in Longhorn history when he went second overall in the 2006 NBA draft, a record matched by Kevin Durant a year later.

Now Aldridge is having the best run of his professional career and is averaging more than 20 points per outing for the first time since joining the league.

“I don’t think they are going to pick me,” Aldridge told Yahoo! Sports’ Marc J. Spears over the weekend. “I think this will be the first year they take guys with losing records.”

<strong>Defensive satisfaction</strong>

Texas’ defensive prowess was on display when the Longhorns held Kansas, the nation’s best field-goal converting team, to 26.7 percent shooting in the second half of Saturday’s win at Allen Fieldhouse.

“Our defense really set the tone,” said senior Matt Hill. “We got a lot of stops, which led to our offense.”

But the team’s defense has been a crucial ingredient to success all season, especially in conference play, where not a single Big 12 opponent has shot better than 41.5 percent from the field. The Longhorns have also held Big 12 opponents to a combined 13-of-59 from beyond the arc.

Freshman Tristan Thompson also leads the conference in blocks with 2.21 per game. That isn’t always a good thing, as the rest of the team must rotate when Thompson leaves his man to stop a shot, but luckily guards Cory Joseph and Dogus Balbay are playing lockdown on individual defense.

“I’m just trying to make him feel me,” Balbay said about his defensive strategy. “I don’t want anybody to get the ball comfortably and bring the ball down and see the court well.”

<strong>Parting shots</strong>

Texas swept the weekly conference awards announced on Monday. Jordan Hamilton averaged 22 points per game last week in wins over No. 13 Texas A&M and No. 6 Kansas to be named conference player of the week, while Tristan Thompson was named conference rookie of the week for his 15 points and 4.5 blocks per game.

Texas jumped to No. 7 in the most recent Associated Press poll. It’s the highest the team has been ranked all season after starting the 2010-11 campaign outside of the Top 25. The Longhorns are the highest ranked three-loss team.