In the early 2013-14 NBA season, the recently deemed Player of the Week LaMarcus Aldridge is making his mark. Consider the following of Aldridge: he’s 3rd in field goals made, and 2nd in points amongst big men; he’s 4th in total rebounds, 11th in points, and 9th in usage percentage. Acting as a heavily impactful two-way player, LaMarcus is also the go-to guy on the surging Portland Trailblazers, who are currently 14-3.
Much of all this stems from the fact that LaMarcus is gifted in a way that very few NBA players ever have been. Until he was officially playing for Portland, he was actually quite undersized for a big man: Aldridge quotes himself as being 185 pounds (!) during his time in college, a period during which his game was predicated on finesse over power. He was supremely coordinated for his size, often pulling off a string of movements that we only see from skilled wing players. Current LaMarcus retains these qualities, which is why he’s the only big man who can consistently beat his man off the dribble in the post, drain contested fadeaway shots over the biggest defenders, and do things like this:
But for LaMarcus, these gifts come with curses: questionable shot selection, and less of a commitment to big man things. LaMarcus has filled out nicely in recent years, sitting at around 255-260 pounds, and with added strength has become very capable on the block — he’s often able to back down his opponent and overwhelm them with a combination of size, strength, and savvy. But he doesn’t always act upon his advantages. He won’t fight for position in the low post as much as he could, and will be quick to move towards the outside or give the ball up if shown resistance whilst fighting for position. He’ll back down his defender with purpose, but take what his defender gives him too early in the play (resulting in many difficult fadeaway jumpers). Sometimes, he’ll simply rise up instead of taking a much more efficient shot that’s open to him:
Plenty of numbers speak to these tendencies of Aldridge’s. As of November 30th, he’s submitting a stellar 22.1 points per game — second highest amongst big men this year — but averages just five free throws a contest. That’s an alarmingly low rate. Per NBA.com, 62% of his shots are taken outside of the key despite no three-pointers taken. No one else does this. Though his points per play on post-ups is consistently within the top 20-30 in the league, he elects for jumpshots — which are a less efficient option — in the majority of post-up situations. Per nbawowy, his average field goal distance sits at 11.94 feet — amongst starting big men, a length surpassed by only Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett.
If I were a Portland native, I’d dream of a sit down with LaMarcus where I’d assure him that we fully understand he can make the tough shot. We know that for LaMarcus, long twos, contested fadeaways, and off-balance one-legged jumpers can be a cinch. But also that I’d like to see him use his large, 6’11″ frame and 34-inch vertical to finally average double-digit rebounds per game. I’d like to see him commit to attacking on the inside a bit more, knowing there’s plenty of midrange and outside shooting on the current roster. I’d like to see him embrace the Center position a little more, because the numbers suggest that on both ends he excels at it. I’d like to see better than 45% from the field from my big man. I’d also like to see exchanges like this more often:
There doesn’t seem to be much that LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t capable of. But if I’m Portland, I don’t feel 100% comfortable relying on him deep into the playoffs until his efficiency and shot selection see improvement. If LaMarcus finds it within himself to make these tiny adjustments anytime soon, not only might he become the league’s most indispensable offensive big man, but Portland could very well be on its way to submitting one of the most surprising seasons in recent memory.