The NBA has entered what some are referring to as the “golden era” of point guards. Seemingly every team trots out a superstar point guard, or one that has all the makings of a superstar down the road. The Portland Trail Blazers are no different in this regard as they have a brash, young 23-year-old stud in Damian Lillard. Lillard’s rapid ascension had some thinking he might be more valuable that long-time star LaMarcus Aldridge — not this blogger.
I’m not simply saying that the Blazers are better with LMA on the court, because, well duh. Aldridge is having a career season this year with averages of 23.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per night and he has vaulted into the “who is the best power forward” conversation along with Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Anthony Davis.
Portland has held their own when Aldridge has had to miss games this season; they are 7-5 in the 12 games missed by LMA due to injury. This might lead one to jump to conclusions and think that they could sustain their 48-27 record without Aldridge — believe me, they cannot. Of those seven wins only two were against playoff bound teams (Wizards and Nets) and the combined record of those seven teams is 214-302 (.415). An even more telling sign is that the five losses came against four playoff bound teams with a combined record of 211-157 (.573).
Point being — Portland is not going to beat playoff teams without LaMarcus Aldridge; what’s more is that they need an excellent Aldridge to compete with most and he has not been that lately.
Take a look at the regression of Aldridge since his (and the Blazers’) ridiculously hot start.
December: 25.0 points, 12.2 rebounds; 49.3 percent shooting — Blazers were 12-4
January: 26.1 points, 13.1 rebounds; 46.8 percent shooting — Blazers were 8-6
February: 21.0 points, 10.0 rebounds; 43.1 percent shooting — Blazers were 7-6
March: 19.6 points, 9.5 rebounds; 40.1 percent shooting — Blazers went 8-9
The most telling things you should notice here are that Aldridge’s shooting efficiency has dropped dramatically over the last four months. Call it fatigue if you like, but all those mid-range jump shots are finally catching up to him. LaMarcus has taken 818 mid-range shots this season — 818!! That’s 98 more than the second place person (Carmelo Anthony) and LMA is only shooting 41.7 percent on those shots; not very efficient for your most taken shot.
The other thing to notice is that as LMA’s field goal percentage slips, so does the Blazers’ record. Yes, Lillard, Lopez, Wes and Batum are all good in their own right, but Aldridge is taking 20.6 shots per night so as he starts to miss (and keeps shooting) it only hurts the Blazers.
I’m definitely not saying that Aldridge needs to shoot less, but he needs to pick his spots much better and focus on getting shots closer to the basket. He’s shooting 65.1 percent in the restricted area — the problem is he’s taken almost three times less the amount of shots from there (181-278). That averages out to only 4.4 field goal attempts per game in the restricted area while he’s taking 12.9 field goal attempts from mid-range — per game!! He’s taking more mid-range shots per game than all his other teammates, except Lillard, take total per game. It’s asinine to think he can have a sustainable percentage with those habits.
Unfortunately, we’re 75 games into the NBA season and I don’t see Aldridge changing his ways anytime soon and frankly he probably doesn’t think he should. He’s posting a career high 23.2 points per night and has his team in the fifth spot out West. The issue with this train of thought — the Blazers will never win a championship while Aldridge is this inefficient.