LaMarcus Aldridge is an enigma to me. Usually, when a player is the best on his team, he absorbs the most criticism, but Aldridge generally gets a free pass where others do not. It’s as if headlining the Rose City comes with a fan base supply of rose-colored glasses. It’s not his fault, it’s not your fault, and I’m not entirely sure it’s the media’s fault (biased *cough*). Aldridge just isn’t the automatic scoring machine we collectively perceive him to be.
As a jump shooter (yes, we’re starting there), Aldridge is more susceptible to off-nights than your standard 6’11” bruiser. He can get just as hot as a 2005 Jason Terry and just as cold as a 2014 Jason Terry, as long as he’s playing outside the restricted area—which is almost all the time (see below). There are rare nights where he’ll shoot 12/16, then there are night’s like Wednesday where he shot 1/13. More often than not, he displays a concerning mixture of the two.
There are two main types of Aldridge shooting slumps that occur in Blazer games. In the first, Aldridge spends quarters 1 & 2 trying to get something to drop. These are the cringers where you hold your breath and squint one eye at the halftime numbers. That way, when you see 2/9 out of the corner of your eye, you can pretend you were looking at Mo Williams’ column by mistake. It’s okay, I do it too. By the end of the game he’s picked it up to a respectable 9/20, or what have you.
The second has less to do with Aldridge than it does Head Coach Terry Stotts. These are the games where Aldridge rolls through three quarters shooting 70 percent until the 12 minutes remaining exceed the point differential on the scoreboard. Then, the offense is run through Aldridge regardless of double-teams, because he’s expected to lead and he’s got the “hot hand.” Cue several minutes of 0 percent success on highly contested turn-arounds until Aldridge gets too tired or time expires.
On the season, Aldridge is shooting a career low 46.2 percent from the field, yet he is averaging a career high 23.5 points per game. This isn’t because he’s living at the free throw line, it’s because he’s taking more shots than ever before. Here is the part where I make a few enemies (sorry): His shot volume is not so different from notorious “ball hog” Carmelo Anthony. On average, it takes Aldridge 20.7 shots to score 23.5 points, before factoring out his 4.3 points per game from free throws. Anthony attempts 22 shots per game, but averages 28.1 points because he favors the three. Yeah, the realization felt like this.
This is the part where I make a lot of enemies: Aldridge is not the best power forward in the league right now. “Best” is subjective, so feel free to discuss why I’m wrong, because you could be right, but the best power forward in the league cannot be this inefficient on offense if it is his primary calling card. He’s certainly top-3, but we’ll leave the other spots unclaimed because I enjoy the post-digestion food fight that is NBA positional ranking (also, I don’t want to be the target).
Aldridge is still the very best in the Pacific Northwest and I’m extremely grateful to have him. He is the All-Star caliber player that a playoff team, and maybe even a championship team, can be built around. He’s just not the be-all end-all that he is so often touted as. I don’t think he cares whether he is or not anyway. He just plays hard night in and night out. Maybe that’s why he is so difficult to criticize, but recognizing his shortcomings can be just as important as applauding his successes so the rosy hue of our lenses doesn’t blind us to areas of improvement.