Trail Blazers vs Warriors Wednesday, 04/17/13 AT 07:00PM

LaMarcus Aldridge's Ever Expanding Offensive Repertoire

04/30/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    Saying that LaMarcus Aldridge has become a better player after the end of his 2012-2013 season is hard argument to make. His stats, both basic and "advanced" have actually declined since Aldridge became the best player on the Portland Trail Blazers. Any metric you want to look at for offensive statistics, and Aldridge has declined, even if the decline was not all that drastic.

    Despite this, the eyes, spaces and charting data show us that he has become a more versatile player. He's been asked to do more and is doing more than he ever has within an offense that empowers all of it's players to make plays.

    Terry Stotts' flow offense has gotten a lot of credit, as it should. Nicolas Batum started the season on a tear and Stotts' system has made him more than just a spot-up shooter form the corners. Batum ran more pick and rolls than he ever had and despite some growing pains in turnovers, he proved to be an effective pick and roll player when healthy. Wesley Matthews showed ability to run pick and rolls at a very good rate, finishing in the 75th percentile. Damian Lillard put together a rookie season unlike many. JJ Hickson had the best season of his career.

    Aldridge has been playing at an All-Star level since December of the 2010-2011 season and there has never been any question of where Aldridge has been the most effective since that time: the left block. So, when Aldridge started off the season running pick-and-pop with Damian Lillard, popping out to the elbow and taking jumpers at higher volumes than ever, there was both concern and outrage that Stotts was going away from Portland's biggest strength in Aldridge manning the low post.

    Removing ourselves now that we are no longer in the heat of the season, worrying about story lines, injuries, losing streaks and playoff races, the picture becomes quite clear.

    The NBA is a league where everyone knows the strengths of others. Teams will learn your strengths, they will scheme to defend against them, and becoming predictable in your placement and what you do on the court is the antithesis of NBA survival. It's the same reason why LeBron James developed a post-game or why Kevin Durant needed to develop his left-hand dribble and his passing. You're not great until you are good at things outside of your initial comfort zone. Aldridge is starting to show up everywhere offensively.

    Two years ago, the story was that Aldridge was finally "getting it." That "it" was getting down on the block or in the paint and going to work. And, while fans knowing Aldridge's primary strength is a good thing, becoming too reliant on it could work against him. Also, post-ups are becoming more of a wrinkle in NBA offense rather than a building block of them, due to the fact that they are not efficient plays on average. Since 2004-05, as far back as Synergy Sports archives go, the number of post-ups including passes on at least 10 percent of their plays has gone from 22 in the 04-05 and 05-06 seasons to 12 in 2012-13.

    With the league going away from the post-up and Stotts' desire for Aldridge to "do everything," Aldridge had to learn a completely new offense with new responsibilities, a new point guard and a new role to deal with.

    For the last two seasons, Aldridge spent 49.6 percent and 49 percent of his possessions in the post, whether finishing or passing the ball out according to Synergy Sports Technology. This past season Aldridge was in the post on only 39.6 percent of his possessions whether passing or shooting, ranking fifth in the league in points per possession on such plays, among players who did so on at least 300 possessions. It's still far and away the biggest part of his game, but how he's becoming a more useful player than just one who can score and pass out of a double-team in the post and hit a jumper on a pick and pop.

    Aldridge's use in pick and rolls and pick and pops has been the obvious uptick as he and Damian Lillard have formed a fantastic duo. Aldridge has also become more comfortable making moves off the moves, such as taking a dribble to get a shot off a pick and pop rather than just taking the jumper, which teams aren't letting him just get with ease anymore.

    According to Synergy, 23 percent of Aldridge's jumpers in pick and pop plays came off the dribble. In 2010-2011, it was six percent and during the lockout shortened season it was 13.8 percent. Now, he's doing it more and improved his efficiency on those shots by .18 points per possession, a notable and encouraging increase. His dribble moves are more precise, quicker and effective.




    Aldridge is now doing more things with the ball than has ever been asked of him and his overall percentages dropped. But, as Aldridge enters the prime of his career and is no longer a surprise with his low-post excellence and ability to shoot, he's had to adjust to the adjustments. The left block will always be there for Aldridge, but to get his teammates involved, to be a great player and to be a franchise forward, you have to have arsenal for which there is no scheme. You take what the defense gives you and as players grow, what the defense gives them continues to change as their understanding of those players evolves. The great ones are ever evolving players, testing the limits of what they can do and the rest of the league is finding a role by sticking to their strengths.

    Aldridge's sacrifice in being something other than a post-up player, playing around the elbows and other angles of the floor and being comfortable with going to other spaces was a development of this season and something to continue to watch. Nate McMillan's isolation-heavy offense allowed Aldridge to shine and use his one-on-one strengths. Now, both due to a team-oriented motion offense that empowers all of it's players to take shots and the fact that teams no longer allow Aldridge the simple moves, Aldridge has had to change.

    Also, despite knocks earlier in the season about his shot selection, Aldridge only got better as the season went on, despite the fact the Trail Blazers started to fade out of the playoff race. His percentages have taken slight dips but after the season, Aldridge, despite all the changes to his game remains a great player and one of the best big men in the game today. Among players who averaged 15 field goal attempts (being able to get shots off is an underrated skill in its own right), of which there were 23 in the NBA this season, Aldridge was 12th in True Shooting percentage and effective Field Goal percentage and the players ahead of him, including his teammate Damian Lillard, all shoot threes, which adds more value. Only five players have a higher field goal percentage who took 15 or more shots per game than Aldridge.

    So, he's still one of the best in the league and is in the conversation for the league's best power forward. Except now, he's different and becoming less predictable. Something opposing teams will continue to fear and something fans should enjoy, rather than trying to put him in a box and only want him only on the block.



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