LaMarcus Aldridge has finally started to earn his just rewards as an All-Star power forward in the NBA. He is the best player (some might argue Damian Lillard here but I’ll stick with the big man for now) on a Portland Trail Blazer squad that is 26-8. He is averaging career highs in points (23.3), rebounds (11.1), and assists (2.9) this season and has taken home Western Conference Player of the Week honors three times already this season. Yet, there are always things a player can work on to improve himself, and ultimately help his team in the long-term. Aldridge is no different in this regard and in his case, one of his greatest strengths leads to one of his greatest weaknesses.
LaMarcus is now renowned around the league for his pure, seemingly unblockable, mid-range jumper. However, this leads to less free throws taken over the long-term, which ultimately hurts his efficiency. When you watch Portland play you probably get caught up in the fast-paced offense and fail to realize that Aldridge is taking more than 20 shots per game! Carmelo Anthony is the only other player in the NBA taking more than 20 shots per game right now and he’s averaging three more points per night than Aldridge. Simply telling Aldridge “you’re taking too many mid-range jumpers” might not be the best route because as you can see from the following shot chart he is shooting quite well from most spots on the floor.
Yellow = comparable to league average; Green = above league average and Red = below league average. Aldridge is 0-for-6 from 3-point land on the season so disregard the red zones. What catches my eye is that he has taken almost three times more mid-range jump shots than he has shots within the restricted area! Three times more?! LaMarcus has taken 456 mid-range shots and LeBron James has taken 520 shots … TOTAL. I realize the Blazers shoot a lot of jumpers in general but they have to find Aldridge in areas closer to the basket and frankly Aldridge needs to present himself in areas closer to the basket. He has a tendency to float around the mid-range because he has been so successful in those “green” areas shown here.
Pros of Restricted Area Shots
Take notice that I am not simply saying get LMA more shots “in the paint”, because as you can see from the shot chart outside of the restricted area (but still in the paint) Aldridge is only shooting 36.3 percent. The key is to get him more touches and shots in the restricted area. Doing this has multiple benefits.
- Aldridge is shooting 63.5 percent on these shots — if my math is correct that’s where he shoots the highest percent (other than the free throw line).
- Most fouls are drawn on these type of shots: inside post-ups, drives to the basket, etc. Aldridge is currently seventh in the NBA in scoring at 23.3 points per game, however of the top-10 scorers in the league he draws the least amount of fouls against his opponents at a measly 3.9 per game. The leader? DeMarcus Cousins at 7.7; basically double. So these shots are converted at a higher percentage AND they can hurt the other team by getting their post players in foul trouble.
- More free throws. LMA shoots 80.4 percent from the charity stripe yet he only gets there 4.6 times a game. The only player lower in the top-10 of NBA scorers in Stephen Curry at 4.4 (he makes up for his lack of free throws with 3-point makes). The aforementioned Cousins averages the same amount of points per game (23.2 actually) on four less shots a game. How? He shoots 8.9 free throws a night and even though he only shoots 71.5 percent, the added opportunities make up for the lack of field goals attempted.
Is this a tough concept to grasp? I feel like it’s pretty easy, yet for some reason it’s not being done. To be fair Aldridge has always been a bit of a jump-shooter prompting some to call him a “soft” big man a la Pau Gasol. His career high in free throws attempted per game in a season came back in 2010/11 when he got there 5.5 times a night. LaMarcus Aldridge is the unofficial king of the mid-range in the NBA right now (LMA has taken more mid-range shots that the entire Houston Rockets team!), however I see nothing stopping him from getting closer to the basket every now and then. There are benefits of his jump-shooting as well such as: mismatches, floor spacing and versatility in the offense however the pros of more restricted area shots shown outweigh those benefits.
Aldridge is not a 3-point threat like most of the top scorers in the league, so the only way to increase his offensive efficiency and match his scoring per night with the amount of shots he is taking is to get to the free throw line, and to do that he must take less jumpers. The last player in the NBA to average more than 20 shots per game over the course of a season and average less than 25 points a night — Monta Ellis back in 2010-11 when he took 20.1 shots per night (highest in the league) and finished 8th in scoring at a meager 24.1 points per game. The Blazers need Aldridge to take the most shots night in and night out, so I’m not saying he needs to take less shots. However, I firmly believe he needs to take more restricted area scoring opportunities when they arise so that the Blazers can reap the benefits listed earlier in this article.
**You can contact Chris regarding this article or anything basketball related on Twitter: @Chris_Reichert