While discussing LaMarcus Aldridge last night with David (the RCP editor), we arrived at the topic of Aldridge’s defense. I had never been enamored with it, but David suggested that I investigate his defensive rating (approximate points allowed per 100 possessions while on the court) before passing judgment.
David’s intuition proved correct, and I was pretty surprised to see Aldridge leading the team among main rotation players, with a defensive rating of 103.5.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that Aldridge has never really stood out to me on the defensive side this season, which might actually be a good thing. I think players that often make risky gambles for steals or go for spectacular blocks generally soak up most of the media’s attention to defense, which is already extremely low.
Before diving in, I must make one huge disclaimer. It is readily apparent that Head Coach Terry Stotts almost always has Robin Lopez guard the opponent’s best big man. So, in effect, LaMarcus Aldridge can be somewhat “hidden” on the defensive side of the ball, which in reality just lets him save his energy for offense. This trade-off is fine by me, and should not be counted against Aldridge, as he can only do what he is assigned to do.
With that being said, let’s go. The problem with evaluating defense is always a dearth of stats, but we’ll work with what we have. The two most basic defensive stats are blocks and steals. Aldridge is averaging exactly 1.00 block a game, which puts him at 14th in the league among qualified power forwards.
While not normally a statistic associated with big men, steals can still really gum up an opponent’s game plan, and Aldridge is tied for 15th in the league with 0.87 a game. For these metrics, Aldridge grades out as about average.
With the start of the SportVu Player Tracking technology this season, fans are able to get a small glimpse into a more advanced measurement of a player’s performance, thanks to cameras installed in the rafters of every NBA arena. One of these newly available stats is the percentage that opponents shoot at the rim while the player in question is guarding them.
This is certainly a valuable statistic to consider for big men, since protecting the rim is a primary focus of their defense. I tried to keep the filters pretty basic when looking this up, so I only considered players who played at least 30 minutes a game and were challenged at the rim at least six times per game.
Twenty-eight players fit these requirements, and Aldridge ranked 12th, so slightly above average. Opponent’s only shot 49.4% at the rim while Aldrige was guarding them, which places him ahead of players such as Chris Bosh, DeAndre Jordan, and DeMarcus Cousins.
Lastly, we’ll come back to defensive rating. According to the NBA stat keeping, there are also exactly 28 forwards that average at least 30 minutes per game. By defensive rating, Aldridge’s 103.5 rating is ranked 13th among these players, so again slightly above average.
In a most basic sense, consider that there are 30 starting power forwards in the league. While not a direct translation to these 30 slots, the four stats that we could look at for defense placed Aldridge in the 14th, 15th, 12th, and 13th positions in roughly the same group of players. The overriding trend is pretty apparent – by almost any metric, Aldridge is nearly exactly average.
This is in no way a bad thing. On the contrary, I think I (and likely others) have held onto the idea that he is below average, or soft on defense for far too long. While it may have been true in his earlier days, it is quite clear that LaMarcus Aldridge has transformed himself into a completely serviceable defender. When added to his deadly offensive game, this is more than acceptable.