Having devoted much time to the Blazers’ beloved rookie of the year, Damian Lillard, I wanted to turn my attention to the team’s other most recognized face: LaMarcus Aldridge. An All-Star the past two seasons, Aldridge has arguably been the face of the franchise for the past few years.
As is the nature of the business, however, Aldridge’s name has increasingly appeared in trade rumors, especially since his contract with the Blazers will be up in two seasons. To his credit, Aldridge has said all the right things so far, denying that he has requested a trade, while at the same time offering no future commitment to the team (which is certainly not something he can or should be faulted for).
Fellow Rip City Project writer, Kevin, covered the nuances of a possible Aldridge trade here, but in short: the thinking is that if it appears that Aldridge will leave after his contract is up, it would make sense to trade him beforehand to recoup some value. For lack of a better, more refined word, this part of professional sports sucks. It really does. No fan loves to see their beloved players leave, but the sad truth is that oftentimes this is the best course of action for both parties.
Thus far, I have been adamantly against trading Aldridge, especially now, when he has two years remaining on his contract. It would, like Kevin said, make much more sense to wait until the expiration of his contract is much closer. The primary reasoning behind my reluctance to consider trading him is simply that talent is hard to find in the NBA. We can’t just go down to the forest and pluck a new All-Star power forward off a tree. With the difficulty of finding legitimate talent, it does not make sense to jettison Aldridge before absolutely necessary.
This concept of talent, though, goes back to something I have been wondering for a while: just how good is Aldridge actually? I pored over page after page of his stats, and it was uncanny how little they deviated from the eye test: by all accounts, he is an above-average power forward who rather likes his jump shot. Defense is suspect but not absolutely horrible. Rebounding is subpar for his size, but not low enough to cause panic. He’s been good for 20 and 8 nearly four years straight. The list of unsurprising stats could go on – I wish there was something, anything eye-popping I could tell you, but there really isn’t.
As I have said before, though, it makes more sense to compare players to their peers. Doing the best refining I could, Basketball-Reference said that there were 70 players who could be considered a power forward (more or less) last season. Using that number as a guide, we can get a clearer picture of Aldridge’s comparative value.
He was 35th in rebounds per 36 minutes (dead average), 55th in defensive rating (noticeably below average), 33rd in offensive rating (barely above average), 18th in free throws earned per 36 (great), and in perhaps his strongest category, tied for 4th in points per 36 (elite). While that is a large chunk of numbers to digest, in my eyes it offers a pretty fair assessment of Aldridge’s value – good but not great. His one elite skill is scoring, which, for better or worse, is what determines if a team wins a game or not, and has likely disproportionately boosted his value.
There are a couple of ways to treat this information. On one hand, his middling performance in categories other than scoring seems to imply that he may be more expendable than common perception indicates. On the other hand, what he does (score) he does well, and scoring proficiency is not always easy to find. Teams need scorers, and Aldridge certainly provides that ability.
However, think about it like this: could Aldridge be the best player on a championship team? No. Could he be the second best player? That is harder. Personally, I don’t think so. I think on an elite team he would be third best (while perhaps being second best on offense), which further illustrates the difficulty teams face in accruing talent.
When the time comes, while it would pain me greatly, it could make sense to trade Aldridge for other valuable assets. This is made easier by the Blazers’ acquisition of Thomas Robinson, who I think could develop into a legitimate starter (this just shows how much faith I have in him). However, the time to explore a trade is not now, and not for the near future. At the moment, his skills are too valuable and scarce to part with.