Andrés Alvarez recently wrote a column arguing that LaMarcus Aldridge is an overrated player and not an MVP candidate in any sense. He says that thanks to Aldridge’s low True Shooting %, Portland would be better off if Aldridge took fewer shots. Since Aldridge scores a lot of points, he says, fans tend to assume that he’s an awesome offensive player. (This is a theme with Alvarez; one of his favorite hashtags is the sarcastic #yaypoints.) He also argues that the team is benefiting more from Lillard’s and Matthews’ phenomenal shooting seasons.
I have a lot of reservations about his argument. He briefly mentions that Aldridge “looks like a good basketball player” but never really returns to that thought. He makes some strange assumptions in debunking any potential arguments about spacing and shot-creating. I could spend a whole article discussing the merits of Alvarez’s article. I think Aldridge is a much, much better player than Alvarez thinks. The problem is that I also think that Alvarez’s case is getting more and more true.
His starting point, that Aldridge is inefficient relative to league average, is unambiguously true. The most accurate metric for this is TS%, but really anything beyond simple FG% will do. He doesn’t turn the ball over a lot, and he get a reasonable number of offensive rebounds. But his shooting numbers suffer from a lack of threes and a lot of midrange jumpers. The NBA has slowly realized this. LMA is seeing far fewer doubles in the post than he did before, and it’s putting unfamiliar stress on the players who share the court with him. Teams have decided that if they play him straight up with a strong defender who can refuse him good position, the best Aldridge will usually get is a fadeaway. Contrary to popular belief, his go-to shot in the post is not money–NBA.com’s classifications for shot types are strangely defined, but he’s a combined 84-184 on “Turnaround Jump Shots,” “Turnaround Fadeaway Shots,” and “Fadeaway Jump Shots.” That’s 47%, not awful as a FG%, but those are all twos.
The Trail Blazers’ recent troubles from three haven’t been flukey–no one’s sending doubles, or even soft doubles, to Aldridge anymore, which closes the floor for the shooters, the real spearhead of Portland’s attack. Portland got a pass early in the season, but NBA teams adapt eventually. In this case, they seem to have glanced at LMA’s efficiency numbers and done a collective spit take before collectively making things way harder on Portland.
One of my issues with Alvarez’s article was his rebuttal to any potential argument about spacing:
“Whenever the “spacing” argument is brought up, I notice that its effect conveniently moves as required. Do jump shooters open up the paint for post players, or do post players open up the court for three point shooters? Which is it? The mental gymnastics employed to defend poor shooting are amazing!”
Um, yes. It’s both. There’s really no reason those can’t both be true. If the post player is dangerous, defensive attention will be diverted to him, leaving a shooter open for an open three. If the three point shooters are dangerous, the defenders have to stay home on them, leaving the lane open for post players.
So my take is that this dismissal is fundamentally flawed. But it’s still true in the case of the Blazers, and it’s becoming truer by the game. Defenses have nullified the post-player-draws-defense half of the symbiotic relationship, mostly by pretending it doesn’t exist. It’s not just post kickouts either–defenses are doubling the ball-handler on the pick-and-roll because they don’t fear LMA’s pick and pops anymore. If his range were just a few feet more they’d have to stay with him, but the fact is that no one minds him taking an open 22-footer.
Portland’s offense is a mess right now, and it was the only thing keeping them afloat before. A large part of this is because the rest of the league has realized that they don’t really have to be afraid of Aldridge midranging them into oblivion–if they do, they’ll tip their hats to him, but it’s the outside shooters they’re most worried about. So the key to ending this current slump might be for Aldridge–still Portland’s MVP, I think–to play better. The league’s fear of him might have been misplaced initially, but he’s still a brilliant post player, and he can still restore that fear.