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.

I agree that L. Aldridge is 'overrated' since he gets a ton of money and (this year) numerous MVP mentions...even though he should NOT be a contender for that award. Nevertheless, Aldridge is having a decent year. His play has contributed some to Portland's success.
Tommy,
True, but my title was "overrated" :) Similar to my point I made on recent podcast. Many top 5 picks turn into swell players. But the expectation is franchise changing. There's a very big gap between the two. Very big gap between average PF and MVP level $14 mill a year guy.
What's interesting is that even though Aldridge is having by far his career-best year in rebounding, he's still nowhere near MVP-level.
The pro side for Aldridge is that among the 'Top' power scoring power forwards, he is the best defender / interior defender. Players he guards shoot a lower percentage and he is able to guard at both the PF and C positions.

http://www.sloansportsconference.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/The%20Dwight%20Effect%20A%20New%20Ensemble%20of%20Interior%20Defense%20Analytics%20for%20the%20NBA.pdf

And that the Blazers team defense ratings with the starters is around 103 (middle) while to total team defense rating is around 105+

The other Pro side for Aldridge is that the offense is designed for him to take the 'bad' mid-range 2 if an open 3 or layup does not present itself. A shot which occurs an average of 25% of each shot for each game for all teams and which Aldridge makes at around a 46% rate.

All of this is irrelevant to the All Star selection. Aldridge has several great games against the top teams (Houston, Golden State, Oklahoma, Indiana). The coaches see this and at the same time overlook the 6 or so absolutely horrid games.
What I wonder with "volume scorers" like Aldridge is whether they are drawing the defenses away from the shooters. If his team expects him to take a lot of shots, don't opposing defenses?

Whether or not it makes sense to focus on him on defense (personally, I say let him shoot) coaches clearly believe he does. Seems like that has to be a factor in the rest of the starting lineup True Shooting 57%+.

I might make the same case for Westbrook in past seasons. Obviously Durant is good on his own, but everyone on that team was hyper efficient scoring.

Not sure how to rate his effectiveness, but I sense he is above average, but not an all-star. I also think a good coach will expose that team very quickly in the playoffs.
Kevin,
First, Durant just had one of his best scoring months with Westbrook out. Second, as I pointed out, scoring efficiently is not the Blazers strength. Even if Aldridge is improving his team's scoring, the volume of bad shots seems to outweigh it.
Dre,
I think you are way too hard on Aldridge here (full disclosure, I'm a Blazer fan). Is Aldridge an MVP caliber player that should be mentioned with LeBron and Durant? No, not even close. But he is an All-Star caliber player. The reason is spacing and I that is not an argument I would use to defend every high volume shooter. Melo does not create space for his teammates, neither did Iverson. Those guys are high volume, low efficiency players that "create shots" for themselves but not for their teammates. Aldridge creates shots for his teammates, and he is a huge part of their league best offense. Aldridge's ability to hit a midrange jumper at a good clip bends the defense and helps create good looks for Portland's army of capable three point shooters. And his ability to pull bodies away from the rim contributes to Lopez's superb offensive rebounding.

Don't get me wrong, the main reason the Blazers have improved this year is that Matthews, in particular, and Batum and Lillard have gotten better. But Matthews benefits a lot from playing with Aldridge as far as helping create the good looks the Blazers are getting. Aldridge is probably overrated this season -- his team is winning and the two main causes, very low turnovers and improvement from role players, are reasons that are often overlooked by mainstream media. He also scores the most, and I thoroughly agree with the consistent BSG refrain that scorers are overrated in general. But the WP metric undervalues Aldridge because it can't quantify his contributions to the spacing that makes Portland's offense effective. Just because some people employ the spacing argument to serve an alternative narrative that they would prefer doesn't mean it isn't a valid argument.
I tend to think of guys in this vein as "good enough to draw the double team, not good enough to beat the double-team".
Ezra,

As Dre said, he is "overrated", not "bad".

But I disagree that he is an All-Star. I could say the same for Dirk. There are many bigs that could/should have been chosen ahead of him: Cousins, DeAndre Jordan (seriously, WTF with this snub), Bogut, Anthony Davis, Ibaka, Tim Duncan.

And that is only if I stick to names that don't spark too much controversy.

Ibaka and Jordan are both amazing snubs. Again, I get that fans are clueless voters, but it's crazy that coaches don't recognize the fact that being the best rebounder and best shot-blocker on a top 5 team probably means you can play basketball.

With Davis...it's like Kevin Love all over again. WTF kind of numbers does he have to put up to get in? Dirk over Davis is, to me, every bit as mystifying as Joe Johnson over Lance Stephenson.

And if your argument is that no one wants to see defense in the all-star game, so that isn't part of the selection criteria, I will argue that watching Jordan throw down is pretty damn electrifying, but watching LMA shoot 20-footers is not.
Fair point on Westbrook being out, and I'm not saying Aldridge is an all-star. I think the adjustment for "focal point of offense" might translate to somewhere between .02 and .03 wp/48. Davis and Jordan are far more deserving.
Why does it say 31 points for LaMarcus Aldridge and 21 points for the average PF? Is that per 48 minutes?
LMA's own production is overstated, like you've mentioned, but something about him being a real possible threat from mid-range is affecting opponent's defense such that 3PT opportunities are created.

I'm really curious to see Portland's offense in the playoffs when teams will probably zero-in on Lillard, Matthews and Batum and chase them off the 3PT line or never leave them unguarded, like the how the Spurs treated Curry and Thompson last year.


Wesley Matthews
Season 3PA/Game 3PM/Game 3P%
2012-13 2.449 6.159 .398
2013-14 2.625 6.292 .417
Difference +0.176 +0.133 +.019
Per game Matthews is contributing 0.528 additional points through his improved 3 point shooting.

Damian Lillard
Season 3PA/Game 3PM/Game 3P%
2012-13 2.246 6.134 .368
2013-14 2.896 7.083 .409
Difference +0.650 +0.949 +.041
Per game Lillard is contributing 1.95 additional points through his improved 3 point shooting.

As a team in 2012-13 Portland scored 105.8 Points per 100 possessions, in 2013-14 Portland is scoring 112.7 points per 100 possessions. Portland is scoring 6.9 more points per 100 possessions this season, and the improved 3 point shooting of Lillard and Matthews accounts for 2.478 of those 6.9 points. So it isn’t that simple.

Next let’s consider Nicolas Batum
Nicolas Batum
Season 3PA/Game 3PM/Game 3P%
2012-13 2.260 6.082 .372
2013-14 1.780 4.938 .346
Difference -0.480 -1.144 -.026
Per game Batum is contributing 1.44 fewer points per game through his improved 3 point shooting.

Portland is 6.9 points better this year than last year per 100 possessions. In 3 point shooting Lillard, Matthews, and Batum are in aggregate producing 1.038 of those 6.9 points.

Next let’s compare and contrast, Robin Lopez, and JJ Hickson
Player Season TS% Usage Rate PPG
JJ Hickson 2012-13 .591 19.9% 12.7
Robin Lopez 2013-14 .590 14.0% 10.6
Difference -0.001 -5.9% -2.1
Robin Lopez is shooting an identical TS% to JJ Hickson. Robin Lopez is 0-0 on 3’s, and JJ Hickson was 0-2 on 3’s. Lopez has a FG% of 54.3%, Hickson was 56.2%, and Hickson shot 1.5 more 2’s per game than Robin Lopez. Lopez has a FT% of 79.5%, Hickson was 67.9%, but Hickson shot 0.8 more FT’s per game than Robin Lopez. In aggregate per game Hickson scored 2.1 Points more per game than Robin Lopez.

So Portland is scoring 6.9 more points per 100 possessions, and they are the most efficient offensive team in the NBA. In aggregate Portland is getting 1.062 points fewer from Robin Lopez and the 3 point shooting of Matthews/Lillard/Batum, than they got from JJ Hickson and the 3 point shooting of Matthews/Lillard/Batum. Now I am comparing per game and also per 100 possession, so just to put the minutes in context the 4 player group of Matthews/Lillard/Batum/Lopez is playing 137 minutes per game, and the foursome of Matthews/Lillard/Batum/Hickson played 140.9 minutes.

So in 2.76% fewer minutes Portland is getting 1.062 fewer points from this foursome, while the team as a whole is more efficient by 6.9 points per 100 possessions. It is not as simple as you make it.
Ziggy, your methodology seems to assume that the only thing that players can do of value on offense is actually score, but that's not true. Assists, avoiding turnovers, and offensive rebounds (the latter two of which the Blazers rank really highly in) are also valuable to the offense. Those are the factors that account for the 6 or so points you're talking about, and is certainly better than just saying, "Aldridge helps the spacing!"
ReallySeamus,
Please point out any reference I made to LaMarcus Aldridge. His name does not appear anywhere in my comment. At no time did I say "Aldridge helps spacing". At no point did I say that assists, turnovers, offensive rebounds are not valuable in generating offense.
I responded to this declarative statement by Andres Alvarez,

---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:---

Andres made a simple declarative statement that the reason the Blazers are top 10 in shooting is simple. I simply and directly pointed out that the Blazers improvement in offensive efficiency cannot be so simply ascribed to the fact that Lillard and Matthews are having historically great shooting seasons. If anything it is I that is inferring that their ARE OTHER reasons for their team improvements, beyond this one simple fact.

My methodology does not assume anything of the sort that "the only thing that players can do of value on offense is score". I recognize that the MO around here is to quite often throw up the Yay Points straw man, but your characterization of what I stated in my comment is completely and demonstrably false.
Ziggy,

I really enjoyed that. You showed how to create FUD very well.
I know I'm late to the party on this, but LMA is shooting 42% from midrange. A 3-point shot that has a 29% chance of going in is a better idea.
shawn-woods15,
For every 100 attempts, if you make 42% of your 2 point shots, then you score 84 points. For every 100 attempts, if you make 29% of your 3 point shots, then you score 87 points. So from that perspective your point is accurate.
For every 100 attempts, if you shoot 42% you will generate 58 misses, and on average 75% of those will result in a defensive rebound. So the other team will gain possession 44 times.
For every 100 attempts, if you shoot 29% you will generate 71 misses, and on average 75% of those will result in a defensive rebound. So the other team will gain possession 53 times.
So even though you scored 3 more points (87-84) shooting 3's at a 29% rate, you also gave your opponent 9 additional possessions.
So what/who are the reasons for the improvement anyway?
Ziggy,

How does the opponent get an additional 9 possessions out of the deal? In the case of a made two-pointer, the opponent gets possession anyway. If anything, shooting threes allows your team to preserve additional possessions. I'd be interested to know whether this is offset by a decreased likelihood of offensive rebounds.
Ziggy,
Either way there are 100 attempts. If a 3-point shooter shoots 100 3s at 29%, the defensive team gets the ball 100% of the time that he makes it (29), and 75% of the time he misses (53) for a total of 82 times. For the 2-point shooter that shoots 42%, the defense gets the ball on 100% of his makes (42), and 75% of his misses (43), for a total of 85.

So we have fewer possessions and fewer points, which seems like a bad idea.

Sorry I was making different points in my head than I was in the comment. I should have said the defensive team actually gets the ball 3 more times in 100 attempts.

But it doesn't matter because in this scenario both teams shoot 100 times.
Iceman,
The reason the Blazers are better is because of (1) Brook Lopez and, (2) Matthews, Batum, and Lillard are shooting 3s at an incredible percentage (although Batum and Lillard have tailed off recently).
The Blazers team actually demonstrates the flaws with the WINs stats.

2012-2013 JJ Hickson was 10 Wins and Robin Lopez was 5 Wins. According to the numbers the loss of Hickson should have sunk the team. What wins misses is:
A - Hickson is not an interior defender. Replacing Hickson with Lopez improved the teams defense.
B - Hickson's rebounding numbers are inflated from being the cleanup guy on the boards. In a game there are several defensive rebounds that could go to almost anyone on the team. For the Blazers Hickson collected those rebounds and Lopez does not. Aldridge is getting those boards this season. The difference between Hickson and Lopez's rebounding numbers is closer to zero. This is also one of the first years that Aldridge has benefited from being the cleanup guy.
Neither of these increase Lopez's stats or decrease Hickson's so WINs misses them completely.

Side note: Lillard's shooting is down because is defender is now always going over the top of the screen. This is decreasing the open looks and also explains the increase in the number of shots Aldridge takes.
462 of LMA's 1055 shots have been between 16 ft and 3, and he is making 43.7%, for reference.

@Ezra. You say "Aldridge creates shots for his teammates, and he is a huge part of their league best offense. Aldridge's ability to hit a midrange jumper at a good clip bends the defense and helps create good looks for Portland's army of capable three point shooters." I fail to see how this is helpful. Sure Aldridge shooting a ball that will give the Blazers around .9 points is different, but if all of those 462 possessions were replaced by Wesley Matthews jacking up contested threes, of which around 30% would go in, the Blazers would end up with the same point totals. But if they did something more productive than shoot midrange shots or jack up 3s...

@shawn. Whoa, cool. I never thought about how 3 point shots can have the same PPS but provide more value because they are up for rebounds more. I also bet that 3s are easier to get orebs on because they bounce farther. Such a study was suggested at WoW in reaction to a Sloan paper last year, but never done.

@Patrick and Dre. I knos you guys know this but failed to mention it in your comments on LMA's rebounding-OFFENSIVE REBOUNDS ARE MORE VALUABLE because defensive rebounds are subject to much greater diminishing returns. LMA might be good at grabbing defensive boards, but he's slightly below average on the offensive glass.

@James. "The other Pro side for Aldridge is that the offense is designed for him to take the 'bad' mid-range 2 if an open 3 or layup does not present itself." Well what kind of a design for an offense is that?! I don't know whether the midrange 2's he takes are because he was wide open while the defense took away the layups and 3s, or whether he was taking them contested on bad possessions, I havent seen too many Blazers games. But the fact of the matter is, whatever the design is, it's not working. A contested layup (accounting for higher likelihood of fouls) or a contested 3 is at least as valuable as the shots LMA is taking. If your offensive plan includes shots that have under .9 expected points, you need a new plan!

@Ziggy. That was my first attempt at analytics-adding points per game. If only basketball were that simple. If the Blazers are scoring more, is it because they're getting more possessions from oboards and cutting down on turnovers (spoiler, yes)? Is a player scoring more because he's shooting better, or more (if a player increases usage, their efficiency doesn't seem to decline, but there are obvious issues with that research)? Analyzing the NBA is a lot more nuanced than your approach, and I think these guys have a great (albeit imperfect) approach here that you can learn from.

Points per game and rebounds per game put Aldridge in the ASG and will get him paid, but they don't make him valuable. Batum Matthews and Lopez deserve, but won't get the credit for the Blazers success. Guys like that have a good chance of ending up in HOU or SAS (and maybe PHI, I'm still wondering about Hinkie). Sorry for the ridiculous length.
@NathanLazarus35 The Blazers have one of top offenses in the NBA and therefor have demonstrated that the offensive design works. Maybe you meant to say the Blazers offense could be better?

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