Nerdnumbers avatar

LaMarcus Aldridge is Overrated

Stats in this post taken from games through 1-27-2014

Here at Boxscore Geeks, we've been of the opinion that LaMarcus Aldridge is overrated for quite some time. Heck, the player comparison engine uses Aldridge in a "Goofus" like comparison to Kevin Love, which was one of Patrick's first articles (Patrick's note: back then, people really believed that "Kevin Love is the best power forward in the game" was a crazy statement!). The thing is, many people think Aldridge is an MVP-worthy player, and that's just nuts. But the reasons used to justify Aldridge aren't so crazy:

  • He's on a winning team.
  • He scores the most points on his team.
  • He looks like a basketball player.

LaMarcus Aldridge is seven feet tall, scores over 24 points per game, grabs over 11 rebounds per game (Patrick again: of note, this is way over his career average), and looks like a good basketball player. He certainly seems like the best player on a very good team. But let's take a closer look at his numbers (Courtesy of the patented Boxscore Geeks comparison engine of course!):

Stat LaMarcus Aldridge Average PF
Points 31.7 21.1
Field Goal Attempts 27.6 17.4
Free Throw Attempts 6.9 5.0
Free Throw Percentage 82.4 73.6
True Shooting Percentage 51.8 53.9
Offensive Rebounds 3.2 3.3
Defensive Rebounds 11.7 8.5
Assists 3.7 2.9
Blocks 1.3 1.4
Steals 1.2 1.3
Turnovers 2.3 2.5
Fouls 2.6 4.3

Let's talk about where Aldridge is actually above average. First of all, he's great at defensive rebounds. Secondly, he gets almost half an assist per game more than the average power forward. Finally, he doesn't foul. Two of these three stats are on defense, and it turns out Portland only ranks 20th in the league in terms of defensive rating.

Of course, most people assume Aldridge is awesome on offense. His high point totals and assists would seem to back this. Except, Aldridge' True Shooting Percentage (which factors in a players three point shooting and free throws) is a full 2.1% worse than the average PF. In fact, it's worse than the average at every position in the league! And what that means is that, on average, Aldridge is costing his team every time he shoots! I know that's bizarre to hear, but let's break the Blazers down a bit more.

As of this writing, the Blazers have the best offense in the league. Thanks to Dean Oliver's four factors, we can break down why:

  • Team Effective Field Goal Percentage: 51.0% (10th in the league)
  • Team Turnover Percentage: 12.1% (3rd in the league)
  • Team Offensive Rebound Percentage: 29.3 (2nd in the league)
  • Team Free Throws / Field Goal Attempts: 21.1% (15th in the league)

For the team with the top offense, the Blazers aren't actually that good at getting the ball to go through the hoop. But they do excel at keeping the ball and getting the ball back via offensive boards. Here's a breakdown of how the top five Blazers look in regards to that:

Player Pos Offensive Rebounds over Par Turnovers Under Par Net
Lillard PG -0.4 -0.4 0.0
Matthews SG 0.0 -0.9 0.9
Batum SF 0.4 0.6 -0.2
Aldridge PF -0.1 -0.2 0.1
Lopez C 1.8 -1.0 2.8

2013-2014 Top Five Wins Producing Blazers ORB and TOV per 48 Minutes.

When we break down the areas where Portland excels, two names stick out: Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews. It isn't even close. But we're not quite done yet. Despite Aldridge being worse than average at shooting, the Blazers still have a top ten shooting team. How did this happen? It's simple:Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews are having absurd seasons from beyond the arc:

Player Season Team 3PA/G 3P%
Stephen Curry 2012-13 Golden State 7.7 45.3%
Peja Stojakovic 2007-08 New Orleans Hornets 6.8 44.1%
Mitch Richmond 1995-96 Sacramento 6.4 43.7%
Ray Allen 2001-02 Milwaukee 7.7 43.4%
Peja Stojakovic 2003-04 Sacramento 6.8 43.3%
Damon Jones 2004-05 Miami 6.4 43.2%
Reggie Miller 1996-97 Indiana 6.6 42.7%
Dennis Scott 1995-96 Orlando 7.7 42.5%
Damian Lillard 2013-14 Portland 7.1 41.9%
Wesley Matthews 2013-14 Portland 6.3 41.7%

Top 10 season three point percentages (minimum of 6 three pointer attempts a game)

This season the Blazers have two of the top ten three point shooters (minimum of 6 shots a game) in the history of the NBA. This more than offsets Aldridge's sub-par shooting.

Now the argument I often hear goes like this: "Someone has to take the shots. Aldridge has the highest usage on the Blazers, so he must be important!" And to counter that argument, I'd actually like to talk about the Heat. Not LeBron, Wade, or Bosh; no, I'd like to talk about some of the other players of that team. The Heat currently employ Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, and Michael Beasley. Combined, these players take 21.2 shots a game. This is almost identical to the number of shots Aldridge takes a game. And while these players certainly help the Heat succeed, no one is foolish enough to assume that someone other than LeBron and Wade are driving the bus.

The key difference between Aldridge and the Heat is that Aldridge is one player taking many shots, whereas the Heat have several players taking many shots. And that's big. If Aldridge left the Blazers, they wouldn't need to replace all of his shots with one player; they could simply spread them around. "But wait!", you say. "Doesn't Aldridge spread the floor? Where could the Blazers find someone to take a lot of shots to 'open up' the three for Lillard and Matthews?"

Whenever the "spacing" argument is brought up, I notice that its effect conveniently moves as required. Do jump shooters open up the paint for post players, or do post players open up the court for three point shooters? Which is it? The mental gymnastics employed to defend poor shooting are amazing!

Alright, so on to replacing Aldridge. How could anyone possibly take as many shots as him and hit them at the same rate? Well, it turns out that it wouldn't be very difficult. In fact, if we rank NBA teams by their True Shooting Percentage, then LaMarcus Aldridge would be 25th in the league, right below the Utah Jazz. You know, one of the worst teams in the West! It's hard to believe that shooting as much and as well as LaMarcus Aldridge is difficult when a terrible team achieves it every night. In short, if the Blazers truly believe that Aldridge is the one responsible for the Blazers' success, they could easily find several less expensive players who are willing to take bad shots at the same rate as Aldridge.

Aldridge is just following an age old formula used by players like Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony: be the top scorer on a team of underrated players. But Aldridge isn't an MVP talent. He doesn't make his team better (why didn't his chucking improve his teams in the past? Was he simply shooting too well?). No, the story is that Aldridge has finally gotten better teammates. And the response from the community has been to give Aldridge the credit. While that's definitely good for Aldridge, it's not good for Blazers' fans who hope for a championship.