How LaMarcus Aldridge Is Playing the Best Basketball of His Career
There are a lot of great power forwards in today's NBA. As Timmy, Dirk, and Pau wind down three great careers, a new trio of star big men has stepped onto the NBA scene. At age 26, 25, and 21 respectively, Love, Griffin, and Davis have many years of their prime ahead of them. But there's one top power forward that often goes unnoticed by the average NBA fan.
Maybe that's because he's not part of either trio I mentioned above. Maybe it's because he's been hidden in the Northwest. Or maybe it's because his team has only recently been relevant. No matter the reason, LaMarcus Aldridge has been overlooked as one of the top power forwards in the NBA. At age 29, Aldridge is having his best season to date.
Or is he? Aldridge isn't having a "career year" in the way many people view that term. He's not posting tons of career-highs. In fact, he's actually near a few career-lows. Aldridge is shooting a career-low 45.5% from two-point land while shooting 45.7% from the field overall -- also a career-low. But, he's improved his offensive game this season in different ways.
Though he's averaging 8.7 two-point makes out of 19.1 attempts per night, Aldridge has expanded his shooting range on the floor. He's now shooting just over a three per game, which is up from 0.2 per game over the past three years. That means he attempted a three once every five games. So what you say? Well, that means Aldridge has taken 36 threes this year. But he's made 18 of those. I'm no mathematician, but that means Aldridge is shooting 50% from three. That's efficient.
However, three-point shooting isn't the only improvement the former Longhorn has made to his offensive game this season. Aldridge has also been a lot better 10 feet and closer to the basket. He's bettered his shooting percentages from 0 to 3 feet (69.7%) and 3 to 10 feet (43.6%) from a season ago (67.5%, 36.4%). These two improvements, both inside and out, coupled with a high usage percentage of 29.4%, have helped Aldridge contribute 2.0 offensive win shares in 34 games this season. If Aldridge continues at this pace (and plays every game going forward), he would reach a total of 4.6 offensive win shares. He's one big reason the Blazers are ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, according to our math.
But LaMarcus Aldridge's big revelation this season has come on the defensive end of the floor. To start, he's averaging a career-low in fouls per game, with only 1.8. So, it's surprising that he's also blocking 1.2 shots per game, which is tied for a career-high. But there's so much more than meets the eye when looking at the box score. Aldridge is putting up some great defensive efficiency numbers.
Through 34 games, the Blazer big man has earned a defensive rating of 99 -- 5 points better than his former career high of 104 set a year ago. Aldridge has also tied a career-high defensive box plus/minus of 0.8 so far this season. However, what really speaks to Aldridge's improved effort on defense is his 2.2 defensive win shares. And if he continues at this pace, Aldridge would finish with 5.0 defensive win shares. That would demolish his previous high of 3.5.
It's not by accident then that the Trail Blazers are the second-ranked defense (only to the Warriors) in the league with a defensive rating of 100.9. That's the best defensive rating Portland has had since the 1999-2000 season. And with their greatly improved defense, they've allowed a league-best 96.4 points per game. Talk about a team-wide revelation.
The Whole Package
Aldridge has made some minor improvements to his offensive game and some major improvements to his defensive game. So, when you put it together on both ends of the floor, what do you get? The whole package. Aldridge has really been just that for the Blazers this year. In just a year, he's increased his numberFire efficiency from 1.62 to 2.3 and his nERD from 5.0 to 7.4. That means that, as a starter, he would have added 5.0 wins to a given NBA team last year but is at 7.4 already this year, a number that will continue to climb if he plays at this pace all year.
Aldridge has also posted a career-high .165 win shares per 48 minutes while tallying a total of 4.3 win shares. Again, if he continues on this pace for the rest of the season, he'll have reached his best total (9.9) since 2010 (11.1). His strong play has also earned him a PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 21.7. But what Aldridge has really meant to the Blazers is 8 points. With Aldridge on the floor, the Blazers are a +10.2 per 100 possessions while they are a mere +2.2 without their All-Star forward on the court.
Aldridge is playing the best basketball of his career, and it's showing for his team. The Blazers have their best win percentage (78.9) since Aldridge has been in the league, as they've started 30-8. Their fantastic play on both offense and defense give our numbers reason to believe they'll make the playoffs, with a 100% chance, per our math. But with a 7.3% chance to win the NBA Championship, the Blazers are tied for the sixth in the NBA. And if they're truly going to compete for a championship, their star power forward will have to continue his outstanding play.