How Much Will LaMarcus Aldridge's Injury Hurt the Trail Blazers?
News broke last night that LaMarcus Aldridge will be out for 6-8 weeks to undergo surgery for a ligament tear in his left thumb. In the midst of a crazy playoff race in the Western Conference, just how big of a blow will this injury be on a Blazers team that currently sits third in the West?
Portland's already been in a bit of a tailspin lately, and have lost five out of their last six. However, that was against a brutal schedule –- they lost to the Celtics last night, but their other losses came against the Clippers, Spurs, Grizzlies, and Suns. The pessimistic side of that timetable, eight weeks, would put us at March 20th. Here’s their schedule from now until then.
|Sat, Jan 24, 2015||Washington Wizards|
|Mon, Jan 26, 2015||Brooklyn Nets|
|Wed, Jan 28, 2015||Cleveland Cavaliers|
|Fri, Jan 30, 2015||Atlanta Hawks|
|Sat, Jan 31, 2015||Milwaukee Bucks|
|Tue, Feb 3, 2015||Utah Jazz|
|Thu, Feb 5, 2015||Phoenix Suns|
|Sat, Feb 7, 2015||Dallas Mavericks|
|Sun, Feb 8, 2015||Houston Rockets|
|Wed, Feb 11, 2015||Los Angeles Lakers|
|Fri, Feb 20, 2015||Utah Jazz|
|Sun, Feb 22, 2015||Memphis Grizzlies|
|Wed, Feb 25, 2015||San Antonio Spurs|
|Fri, Feb 27, 2015||Oklahoma City Thunder|
|Sun, Mar 1, 2015||Sacramento Kings|
|Wed, Mar 4, 2015||Los Angeles Clippers|
|Thu, Mar 5, 2015||Dallas Mavericks|
|Sat, Mar 7, 2015||Minnesota Timberwolves|
|Wed, Mar 11, 2015||Houston Rockets|
|Fri, Mar 13, 2015||Detroit Pistons|
|Sun, Mar 15, 2015||Toronto Raptors|
|Mon, Mar 16, 2015||Washington Wizards|
|Wed, Mar 18, 2015||Miami Heat|
|Fri, Mar 20, 2015||Orlando Magic|
As you can see, being a Western Conference team means your schedule is never truly easy, but the Blazers do have a couple stretches against the Eastern Conference, specifically one starting this Saturday at home against the Wizards. It’s a bit of bad luck they have to play some of the tougher Eastern Conference teams like the Wiz and Hawks, but it’s much better than playing an all-West schedule.
Part of Aldridge’s 6-8 weeks out will come during the All-Star weekend, so that’s one or two fewer games the Blazers have to play without him than they would have if this injury came earlier in the year. That may not sound like much, but again, it’s the West –- as the Grizzlies, Mavs, and Suns proved last year (and the Suns and Thunder will likely prove this year), every single game matters.
Unfortunately, Aldridge’s injury comes at a time where the Blazers are also missing starting big man Robin Lopez. He’s rumored to be back before the All-Star break, and that would be huge. Obviously Aldridge isn’t replaceable, but having Lopez back to provide rim protection and give point guard Damian Lillard a good screener will definitely soften the blow.
Speaking of Lillard, he has been a superstar this season and will need to continue his amazing play with Aldridge out. The cupboard certainly isn’t bare –- Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum are good perimeter players -– but Lillard is the guy who will have to pick up the slack. Batum has been struggling this season and really hasn’t been fully healthy, but showed earlier this week against the Suns what type of player he can be.
The biggest struggle to replace Aldridge's production will be on offense. Per NBA.com, the Blazers have been a bit better defensively with Aldridge off the court -- they have a 100.8 defensive rating with Aldridge and 97.1 without him -- but as you can see, they've been good either way. And offensively, they fall off a cliff without their big man. They have an offensive rating of 108.0 with Aldridge on the floor and 99.6 without him, a mark that would rank 29th in the league.
Head coach Terry Stotts is smart and will definitely stagger lineups over the next month to limit Lillard, Matthews, and Batum all being off the court at the same time. Scoring the ball will be a struggle for a while, but when Lopez gets back, they can rely on their defense (second-best in the NBA, with or without Aldridge) to stay in games. And if they're in games at the end, there aren't many closers right now better than Lillard.
Thankfully for the Blazers, they’ve afforded themselves a comfortable cushion that they can fall back on. Aldridge’s injury probably pushes them out of contention for a top seed, but they’ve built up enough equity in the win column that they likely don’t have to worry about falling out of the playoffs altogether.
Our algorithms agree with that notion –- numberFire projections guru and Chief Analyst Keith Goldner ran some simulations for me and our numbers say that Aldridge being out will cost the Blazers about 0.65 wins. Admittedly, the projections seem to be on the conservative side, but the playoff odd change (down 1%) and championship odd change (down 0.6%) are probably fair.
So no worries, Blazers fans. Your team at full strength is good enough to contend for a championship, and that remains the goal. If Aldridge and company are fully healthy when the playoffs come, you’ll be right back in the mix of things.