As expected, there’s a lot of finger pointing going on today. Lot’s of people want someone to blame after the Blazers stood up from the dinner table, took five steps into the first quarter and summarily collapsed at mid-court. Why? Because it’s easier to digest tough situations when there’s someone to blame. Nevermind that the Blazers are a Kazzoo going up against a grand piano, or that the Suns somehow administered the Five-Point-Palm-Exploding-Heart Technique during pregame. Nevermind that LaMarcus Aldridge is dealing with double teams, and was sitting on the bench with foul trouble when Phoenix made their biggest run of the game.
It’s just easier to say Aldridge is soft and call it a day. To this I say, “(Long-Horned) Bull“.
Aldridge, as with every other individual on the team, deserves his fair share of the blame. He’s not consistently making quick decisions when dealing with double teams and he’s letting the defense get comfortable when the ball goes into the post. But when Aldridge picked up two fouls with 7:55 in the first quarter, it was a four-point game. Eight minutes of Juwan Howard defense — for all the effort Howard puts in, this is a terrible defensive matchup for him — later, and Aldridge is returning at the start of the second quarter with the Blazers down 18.
Just as we shouldn’t expect Rudy Fernandez to suddenly become an impact playmaker — even with Steve Nash marking him — when he hasn’t done so all season, we can’t expect Aldridge to be the type of explosive scorer that single-handedly brings a team back from the brink. What you can do is use his post offense as a foundation for that run, which otherwise requires a boost from he perimeter players.
So let’s take a look at Aldridge’s post offense, quarter by quarter, to see how he did. This is not a complete rundown of Aldridge’s post looks, just those that he attempted to score out of. As mentioned earlier, his passing out of the double teams needs to be more fluid.
First Quarter: Aldridge shoots 0-for-3 with a turnover and two fouls. A play that is not shown is a nice assist to a back-door cutting Nic Batum for the dunk.
The first thing you notice is the quick jumper in the first clip, but for some reason Rudy was bringing the Steve Nash double over. But being how far Aldridge was from the hoop, Nash likely would have taken a swipe at the ball and kept on moving with Rudy.
The next two possessions probably please most of you, as Aldridge makes strong moves to the basket, getting a shot — easily rebounded — look in the paint on the first one and drawing the foul on the second. Both times, the double comes at Aldridge from the top side, but he handles it well in getting into his move. I’m not seeing anything “soft” here.
Second Quarter: With the Blazers down by 18 at the start of the quarter, Aldridge doesn’t make a move out of the post until the six-minute mark. Aldridge shoots 2-for-5 overall, getting to the line for six shots, with a turnover.
The first possession is the worst, as Aldridge uses his dribble and takes a bad, but makeable, fadeaway. Had Martell Webster made a quicker cut, though, Aldridge looked like he was ready to pass off rather than taking the forced shot. Then he takes a quick jumper on the second look, faking the spin away from the help defense that’s ready on the baseline, but this time follows up the miss with the offensive putback. As long as Aldridge is shooting within 15 feet, and thus producing softer bounces, the opportunity was there for he or another teammate to grab the miss.
Remember, Aldridge is working with two fouls and has already committed a charge trying to get into the lane, which can affect aggressiveness, especially if you haven’t recognized where the help is coming from.
The next two shots are what you want to see, as Aldridge shows quick awareness of the defense. First, Aldridge establishes deep position, makes the catch and immediately goes up for the hook shot, drawing the foul as the help sinks into the paint. Then, his finest possession of the night, Aldridge keeps his dribble, sees the help available from Nash on the top side, so he spins baseline for a lefty hook.
Third Quarter: Aldridge shoots 3-of-5 in the quarter, getting two free-throws with no turnovers and a technical foul for barking with Amar’e Stoudemire. The game is clearly out of hand.
On his first back-to-the-basket look of the quarter — he previously spun off a fronting defender for an alley oop to lead things off — Aldridge again spins away from the top-side help for the baseline jumper. Second look: Aldridge quickly faces up and makes a strong move to the hoop, missing but leaving an offensive rebounding lane for Webster as the defense was drawn to the left block.
Then he goes back to the jumper. Not the ideal shots, especially down a hundred, but you can see that there is defense waiting for him on both sides if he chose to try and get around his man. The problem isn’t the shot he took, but that he was positioned far enough away from the hoop to give the defense plenty of recovery space.
If anything, that’s what you come away with: that Aldridge needs to get better position. When Aldridge got closer looks, it collapses the defense and creates opportunities for his teammates. When he doesn’t get good position, it allows the defense to just stand around and look at him without having to react. And when the defense is forced to inch closer, Aldridge often made the right reads to go away from the defense and create his kind of shots with only one man defending.
After watching this video, does it make sense to put all the blame on Aldridge or to start evaluating his trade value? Doesn’t seem like it to me. The problem is, without Roy, the expectations for Aldridge to score are greater, and it’s tough for him to all of the sudden become something he’s not when he has to be close to perfect with his defensive reads. He’s been steady. Perhaps steady would have prevented that monster run by Phoenix in the first quarter, but it wouldn’t have changed the outcome even had Aldridge played all 48 minutes.
As it’s been all season long when Roy is out, the Blazers need someone other than Andre Miller to capitalize on how Aldridge affects the defense. In the last two games, they haven’t gotten close to enough. Instead, while Aldridge works in the post — remember, this is a huge learning experience for him, too — half his teammates are taking five steps from the dinner table of offense and….thud.