Despite Damian Lillard’s rapid ascension to stardom, LaMarcus Aldridge is still the focal point of the Portland Trail Blazers for the immediate future. While he isn’t on Lillard’s level in terms of endorsements, appearances, or commercials, he is rightfully one of the most discussed players on the team.
Fans at any level of fandom can argue over whether he takes too many jumpers, should go inside more, if he’ll stay in Portland once this contract is up, etc. Much of this discussion, though, centers only on Aldridge’s scoring– and why wouldn’t it? He was the eighth leading scorer in the league last year, with that number spiking to third best when only looking at power forwards.
Aldridge is an offensive juggernaut, one who defies APBRmetric logic by somehow making his barrage of mid-range jumpers productive for the whole team. No one is going to argue that. But, because of his scoring prowess, it appears as if many of Aldridge’s other contributions fly drastically under the radar.
When David and I discuss various topics in the NBA, he often points out that when a player is incredibly gifted on the offensive side of the ball, if his statistics in other areas aren’t at the same level, common perception seems to say that that player is below average in those areas. This can, and often does, occur even if the player may very well be above average in these tertiary facets of the game, but just not as far ahead of the game as his offensive skills.
No one is likely to say that Aldridge is a “below average” or “bad” rebounder, but wow, he was seventh in the entire league in rebounds per game. Look only at the power forwards, and all of a sudden he’s second in the league, behind only Kevin Love. These aren’t all freebies either, considering that Aldridge’s frontcourt running mate, Robin Lopez, was an 8.5 rebounds a game man himself.
With the NBA’s new, fancy player tracking cameras, there are even more fun statistics to dive into. Consider what the NBA has termed “Percentage of rebounds per chance.” This, much like it says, is a measurement of the percentage of rebounds that a player was able to snag if they had the chance to do so. Assuming Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James are true small forwards and not power forwards, and Al Horford is a center, Aldridge has the highest percentage of rebounds per chance among all power forwards in the league who played at least 30 minutes a game.
This is partially due to his somewhat large number of uncontested rebounds, but his three contested rebounds per game are still respectable. (Speaking of contested rebounds, it’s worth pointing out that Lopez had the sixth most contested rebounds per game in the league, despite playing only 31.8 minutes a game).
Moving beyond rebounds, how often do we consider Aldridge’s assisting ability? I noticed more and more last season pinpoint Aldridge passes leading to layups for a cutting teammate. Aldridge’s 23.2 points per game well over-shadowed his 2.6 assists per game, but compared to other power forwards, Aldridge was still a respectable 11th in assists per game. While that doesn’t compare to being 3rd in scoring among power forwards, considering there are 30 starting power forwards in the league, it is still above average. This is a portion of his offensive game that is often taken for granted.
I’ve seen a sentiment thrown about saying something like: Great players generally excel at the entire sport of basketball – all phases. Offense is usually discussed the most, but players like the LeBrons and Michael Jordans of the world are more nuanced than that. They have proven to be incredibly talented no matter what they do.
Aldridge is no LeBron or Jordan, but he is certainly a great player in his own right. He is particularly exceptional on the offensive end, but this shouldn’t distract from the fact that he contributes in many different phases of the game. Portland has been blessed with his talent, and should not take his night in and night out excellence for granted.