This week I had the opportunity to talk with fellow BlazersEdge alumni Sophia Brugato (@Sophiabiabia) of BustaBucket and Women Undefined about all things LaMarcus Aldridge. For the Blazers, Aldridge has been somewhat of a polarizing figure and I wanted to get her opinion on the matter. She starts as the interviewer and then we switch places halfway through.
SOPHIA BRUGATO: LaMarcus Aldridge is often referred to as “soft," by fans and media alike. Do you agree with this assessment?
NATHAN BEGLEY: Well, Aldridge does have a finesse game. He shoots the midrange jump shot very well. While that shot is not the most efficient shot in the NBA, it’s one that Aldridge can get with regularity. I like to think the Roy/Aldridge pick and pop as a “left jab” that works the opponent by forcing Aldridge’s defender to stay with him, while allowing Roy a clearer path to the rim. I do wish the Aldridge would roll to the basket a bit more since he is a good finisher and hits free throws well. I think his ability to handle the ball held him back a bit from being able to drive the lane and get to the rim, or the free-throw line, à la Chris Bosh.
An area where I think Aldridge does not get enough credit for is rebounding. He usually averages between just seven and eight boards a game, but Portland routinely out-rebounds their opponent when he is on the floor, as opposed to when he was not. Because of Aldridge’s jumper, opposing power forwards get drawn out of the paint, leaving Oden or Przybilla (theoretically) with single coverage on the boards. With the exceptions of Dwight Howard or Yao Ming, I expect Oden and Przybilla to dominate the boards if they only have to worry about boxing out one guy. Aldridge tips a lot of rebounds to the guards and does not get credited with a board on those plays, plus he has been an excellent offensive rebounder, which I believe is a result of beating his man from the perimeter after the shot goes up. Now, as a caveat, Aldridge’s on/off rebound numbers could be influenced by the fact that he was backed up by Travis Outlaw, who is not a strong rebounder. However, I believe that this is offset by the fact that Aldridge played the five in small ball lineups. I think that Aldridge’s skills off the glass in recent games show that his rebounding average is more a product of his role than his natural ability.
SB: What are Aldridge’s most important strengths? That is, what does he do well that is most important to the team overall?
NB: I think that Aldridge’s ability to do a bit of everything is the most important contribution to the team. He is the Swiss Army knife of the team. He can get his own shot, he can play in the post or on the perimeter, he rebounds, he runs the floor, he passes, he stretches the court by allowing Roy and Oden more room inside, he doesn’t turn the ball over much, he doesn't foul often, he can block shots a bit, he tips passes, he can switch onto a PG and force them into a contested jumper and then defend in the post. Last year, he held his counterpart to about a league average PER of 15.5 while putting up a PER of 21.6 (according to 82games.com). Now, of course, defense is not just individual, but Aldridge wasn’t getting killed out there either.
SB: Do you feel Aldridge has the potential to be that 20/10 guy every night for the Blazers? Do you think he could become that type of player on another team or within another system?
NB: For the Blazers? No. For another team where he was the star? Yes. At the Blazers slow pace, Roy focused offense, and Oden dominated boards, I doubt Aldridge will average more than 18/8. However, put him on the Phoenix Suns replacing Amare’ and I think he’d average 22/10-ish. I think that if Aldridge wants to be an all-star, the answer is simply “get to the line.” If Aldridge got to the line for three more attempts a game, he’d be drawing at about the same rate as Pau Gasol and that would probably bump his scoring average up to over 20 per game.
SB: Aldridge is averaging well below what he did last year in a couple different categories, do you feel that is because he just gets a slow start to the season, or have the shifting lineups/rotations had an impact on his game?
NB: Well, there is a reason I haven’t used this year’s statistics very much in evaluating Aldridge. Take a look at this table from Basketball Reference:
His True Shooting Percentage and effective Field Goal Percentages are as high as they’ve ever been, as well as his defensive and total rebounding percentages. He’s blocking a lot fewer shots, but Aldridge's offensive rating has never been higher and his defense has never been better. He’s also passing better. While it’s true that Aldridge seems to start slow and then end the season on fire, Portland has asked him to change roles quite a bit. The Blazers first had him playing farther out on the perimeter and less in the post to make room for Oden, then he went down Portland asked Aldridge to play in the post a bit more. When Przybilla went down the Blazers asked him to be the lone force in the middle at both ends. Aldridge has done very well for what he has been asked to do. One reason I believe that his blocks are so low is because he absolutely cannot afford to get into foul trouble. As I said before, Aldridge does not foul much, which is important because he’s out only player over 6’9” that is not in a knee brace. I expect Aldridge, barring a trade for a big man, to reach a career high in rebounds this year and finish with a PER of over 19.
SB:You stated that Aldridge is like a Super Boris Diaw, can you expound upon that?
NB: He’s that same sort of “do it all” stretch four, but Aldridge is taller, better, and with less attitude problems. When Aldridge disappears in a game, it’s because the team quit going to him, not because he’s inconsistent. Another example is that Aldridge may be a better rebounding, worse three point shooting (and paid), Rashard Lewis in the Nate MacMillian offense.
NB: If you could improve one thing in Aldridge’s game (like a slider in NBA 2K10 or something) what would it be?
SB: I want Aldridge to be a sniper three-point shooter. So far this season he has attempted three-point shots seven times (not including half court heaves) and has made five. Overall he is a career 22% three-point shooter but if LaMarcus developed this shot I think it could fit into McMillan’s system. He already draws opposing defenders out with the high pick and pop, if Aldridge becomes reliable behind the three he could further open up the lane for someone like Brandon Roy, Jerryd Bayless or Andre Miller. If he was a legitimate threat from the arc, defenders would have to stay on him. With a team of healthy players, this could potentially work.
NB: Do you think Aldridge is going to be worth the contract he signed?
SB: $10,477,000—that is roughly what Aldridge will be paid next season. He signed for $65 million, with a reported $5 million in incentives over a five year period. Considering the current economic climate and financial plight of several NBA organizations this year, the amount is staggering for a player who didn’t make the All Star team and averaged less than 20 points per game last season; a year which led to a disappointing first round playoff exit. Had the Blazers waited until 2010 to sign Aldridge, they could have potentially retained him for millions less.
Despite all this, I do not think Aldridge was overpaid. According to several sources, Aldridge’s contract was based on his age, production, and projected contributions. In the end I feel the contract was fair for all parties involved.
NB: Is Aldridge sacrificing his own stats for the good of the team?
The absurd amount of injuries aside, the optimist in me thinks Aldridge is always trying to make the best out of every possession. There could be some sense that Aldridge is sacrificing in order to get more wins for the team, but I don’t think that is the case. This reason some of his stats are taking a hit is in part because of his shifting roles and increased responsibilities. I don’t think he is purposely shooting less or trying to "Z-Bo" (read: pad) his stat line, as he doesn't strike me as either careless, or malicious. There are many parts of Aldridge’s game that could be criticized this season, however, he has consistently displayed a tireless work ethic and faithful commitment to the team.
NB: Can you name another (non-all-star) young power forward that you would rather have than Aldridge?
NB: Dave Berri thinks that the gap between Tyrus Thomas and Aldridge isn’t very large. Do you think Berri is totally delusional, or just on good drugs? [Warning: We'll be discussing this later on PRS.]
SB: I have always been under the impression that good drugs and delusions often go hand-in-hand. I won’t get into too much detail because you are going to take care of this yourself, but I will point out that Aldridge has averaged 15.5 points per game over his career, compared to Thomas' 7.8. Aldridge has over 1800+ rebounds and averages seven per game; Thomas has 1200+, averaging 5.1 per game. Furthermore, Aldridge has played many more minutes and has a higher PER.
Berri contends that based on Wins Produced on a per-minute basis Thomas has done more, thus is not so far behind Aldridge and has not been such a bad deal for Chicago. To that I say “whatever,” I would take Aldridge over Thomas every time.
We hope you enjoyed looking in on our conversation. Please let us know what you thought about it in the comments below, who knows, we may do it again.