LaMarcus Aldridge loves the left block. If you don’t believe me you can look at the numbers. Aldridge takes 15.3 percent of all his shots from the left-side area between the low and high post. He’s effective, too, shooting 42.7 percent from this range. Clearly, any play to get him a touch here is a smart move by the Blazers. Despite taking a tough loss in Memphis Wednesday night, they showcased some sets that let Aldridge operate from his cherished spot.
The first play actually ended up not working, but could be a smart set when used correctly. Damian Lillard brings the ball up and passes it to Will Barton in corner. Lillard then sets a screen for Aldridge, who is standing at about the free-throw line, in order to get him position down low.
Barton’s job is to now make the entry pass to Aldridge who can either continue a drive or use the position, ideally with Lillard’s defender switched onto him. Rather unfortunately, Barton did not make a great pass and Memphis’ manic turnover forcing defense (2nd highest opponent turnover rate in the league) gets to the ball before Aldridge.
The reason this play could be promising is because instead of Barton, Wesley Matthews can be put in the corner position. Matthews is a 39.1 percent 3-point shooter and converts a startling 50 percent from the left corner (Barton shoots 14 percent from 3). Add in the fact that the 3-man unit of Aldridge-Lillard-Matthews sports an offensive rating of 105.4, which would rank 10th in the league and far better than Portland’s overall 102.5, and this combination would seem advantageous.
Portland utilized another triangle-like set last night that actually resulted in a couple of baskets. In the play below, Aldridge has the ball on the left side, pretty close to the corner. J.J. Hickson will set a back screen for the entry man, Nic Batum. Batum the fades to the top of the key for a potential 3-point look, a shot he makes at a 37-percent clip.
With the defense paying attention to Batum, Hickson will make an aggressive slip to the basket where Aldridge finds him underneath (with quite a nice pass) for an easy basket.
The Blazers obviously felt good about this set because they used it just a few possessions later with a slight variation. This time they had Wes Matthews enter the ball and take the screen from Hickson. Except instead of fading out along the 3-point line, Matthews made a hard cut down the lane.
Ed Davis gets caught out of position and again Aldridge is able to make a deft pass leading to another shot at the rim.
These last two sets remind one a little bit of what the Lakers allowed Pau Gasol to do when they won their championsihps. It’s no surprise that when you have a skilled big man, putting the ball in his hands to pass or turn and score in his favorite place is a solid primary strategy. It helped in particular last night because with Marc Gasol defending him, Aldridge shot just 2-13, so he needed to distribute in order to be effective offensively. The Blazers will meet Memphis’ stingy defense twice more this season, so perhaps we will see a few of these plays again.