Rasheed Wallace. A name that evokes a mix of emotions amongst fans, analysts, coaches and the media.
Some would call him arrogant and selfish. Others might call him passionate and determined.
For me, he was a pendulum of volatility and talent.
Wallace was, without a doubt, one of most talented and frustrating players I have ever watched. He had a wonderful offensive game that included a baseline fade away jumper that proved unblock-able. He always positioned himself deep into the post and gained separation by using everything at his disposal - arms, legs and with exaggerated aggression, his butt. The rumored 7'4" wingspan combined with the over-30 inch vertical created thunderous dunks that left opponents posterized and more often than not, pissed off.
His defense, although recognized, was vastly underrated. He was actually incredible. He was often tasked to guard the opposing teams’ bigs one-on-one for the entire game. This included in their-primes Chris Webber, Kevin Garnett, and Tim Duncan. Wallace didn't always win his match-ups but he never ever really required double-team help. He was the best bend-but-don't-break defender who could control the paint and allow others to concentrate on their man. This was huge considering how old his veteran teammates (Arvydas) were during his Blazer tenure.
Here is a small but visual representation of his game. Forgive the low-quality.
You can see that Rasheed could shoot, rebound, and play decently well in the post. He was physical but also highly skilled. The guy could flat out ball.
And yet as many remember, the dude was also erratic. He would lead the league in technical fouls, angrily throw towels at teammates, and scream profanities at his own coaches and fans. These usually came during the worst times too. Game-wise, he did the ultimate big "no-no" for big men who play in the post. He fell in love with siren-song of the 3-ball. Yes, Rasheed could shoot the three. He would hit 100 treys in a single season six times in his career. It was truly a nice facet of his all-round offensive game. Made him an even bigger threat. However, he never once shot over 36% in one season. His career 3 pt. field goal percentage was 28%.What drove people nuts wasn't that he could shoot the three but that he would often jack up threes for no particular reason. There were times where you would see Rasheed Wallace sitting out at the 3 pt. line instead of gaining position down in the low-post where you needed him. You would wonder, for a guy so good in the post, why the hell is he way out there? At first we blamed the coaches, then we realized that it was just Sheed being Sheed.
Teammates, such as Damon Stoudamire, often talked of Wallace's immense talent. But they and many others wonder why he never fully capitalized on it. With his otherworldly physical attributes and those glimpses of incredible basketball, Rasheed Wallace should have been a player who year-in year-out averaged the coveted 20 pts/10 rebounds. But he never did.
Simply put, Rasheed didn't deliver.
But on whose expectations? Rasheed eventually won a championship with the Detroit Pistons. Again, he played on a team without elite players and yet he won like he always did with the Blazers. Portland went to the playoffs every single year with Rasheed Wallace on their team.
Maybe our Sheed frustration can blamed on his teammates, his attitude, his surprisingly un-selfish play, or the Portland environment that demands greatness from all its basketball players to the point it’s claustrophobic and, at times, naive. Or perhaps it goes both ways. Fans deserve to vent because fans knew the talent was there but never fully realized. Maybe Rasheed deserves fan's forgiveness because, despite his faults, he delivered memorable wins, a fiery attitude, and great defense in an era where he often faced one the most dominant post players of NBA history, Shaquille O'Neil.
All this aside, how does this long intro relate to LaMarcus Aldridge?
You might be facing Sheed deja vu.
Let's first get this out of the way. Aldridge is not as good as Wallace on defense nor is he as good of a 3 pt. shooter, albeit at his own choosing. Despite being 20 lbs. heavier than Wallace, Aldridge does not consistently get deep post position and can be pushed out of the low block by big players. Frankly, he's just not as strong or as physical as Wallace.
However, like Wallace, Aldridge is an immense talent with incredible physical attributes. Aldridge is extremely long and has surprisingly good quickness and agility for his size. He can run all the way down the court for a breakaway dunk. He has some very quick spin moves that leave even some guards flat footed. Although not an elite defender, he is still very solid and usually handles his assignment one-on-one.
But the real beauty is his jump shot.
The high release is unblockable and its quick enough that even with defenders in his face, Aldridge will get his shot off. He can shoot it from anywhere along the perimeter and more often-than-not it’s going in. For a guy his size, Aldridge should not be that good of a shooter. But he is. There is only two other NBA comparisons with that length and that good of a jump shot - Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant.
Aldridge utilizes a variety moves to get his shot. He will do the Sheed-like baseline fade-away, the classic pick-and-pop, the jab-step-and-shoot, the up-and-under move, and the one-dribble-and-step-back shot. Recently, Aldridge has really gotten good at one of my favorite moves that just makes you shake your head when watching him: the Jordan-like turn-around jumper.
The recent game versus the Pacers is an excellent example of Aldridge’s various shooting skills.
One can’t help but notice the confidence Aldridge exudes when shooting.
He never hesitates.
Look at Blake Griffin, Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan, Serge Ibaka, and Zach Randolph. Some of those players are decent shooters but they will usually scan the floor first, see how much space the defender has given, and then decide whether to shoot or not. Several moments will pass by. For Aldridge, the decision is very quick. He will feel the defender and make immediately his move. This happens because Aldridge believes in his jump shot and his ability make it in a variety of ways. The quick decision puts defenders at an immediate disadvantage in the overall flow of the game. If Aldridge hits those outside shots right away, the defender has to press up in respect but if he does so, Aldridge will use his quickness and drive right by to the basket. It causes major issues for defenders to defend.
Frankly, Aldridge is a pure shooter trapped in a 6’11 body. Unfortunately, this fact is where the frustration builds for basketball analysts and Blazer fans.
I hear and read this constantly from friends, coaches, former coaches, former players, former fans, current analysts, twitter followers, hobbits, former friends and subjective/objective journalists – why isn’t LaMarcus more physical and a better player in the post?
Well, when you hear 6’11 and 240 lbs. you might think great rebounder, elite blocker, and inside scoring. Nope. With Aldridge you get jump shot after jump shot after jump shot. Its all gravy when he hits those J’s but when Aldirdge has a cold spell, it looks really bad. There is nothing more deflating than seeing a guy his size settle for jump shots when going against such an elite defender as the great and almighty 6’9 David Lee. Its even more frustrating when you see Aldridge getting shoved out of the key constantly by defender and allowing it to happen.
Honestly, Aldridge doesn’t have a plethora of low-post moves to create the shot for himself. In fact, he really only has one post move, if you can call it that. But that one move has been pretty effective for him so far. It goes like this – look for the jumper but if the defender is pressing, dip your left shoulder and dribble by him with your right hand down the lane for either a lay-in or a foul. There is no hook shot, pump fakes, spin-moves or even dunks. Nor does he really crash the boards on a consistent basis for those Kevin Love-like rebounding points. Usually, its just dribble drive hard into the lane and hoping for a lay-in or a foul. Its gets awkward when he gets neither.
Now to be fair, Aldridge has done a better job in trying to play in the post, especially after Brandon Roy went down. However, this doesn’t mean he’s been really that good at it. He has been fairly dependent on guards like Andre Miller to either set him up for some alley-oops or open looks after his defenders collapse due to guard penetration. Aldridge might be trying to get better in the post but he still nowhere close to Tim Duncan who is one of finest examples of having an inside-outside game.
But the like with Wallace, the ripples of talent is there. For LaMarcus, the low post potential should have been fully realized. I cannot stress how underrated is Aldridge’s agility and foot quickness. He may not be Blake Griffen but Aldridge has a great feet when it comes to spin moves and getting by people. Also, I am blown away by his improved ball handling. I have seen him do a lot more cross overs in order to get even more separation from defenders. Here is my Beauty Pageant Wish list: 1. World Peace 2. Water for Africa 3. LaMarcus Aldridge attending Hakeem Olajuwan’s one-on-one training sessions. I have seen Lebron James improve immensely in his postgame after working with The Dream. This could mean the same for Aldridge because he appears to be a perfect candidate.
Now, LaMarcus is 28 and not getting younger. He may leave Portland in the next couple of the years. He might leave as one, if not, the greatest Blazer power forwards of all-time. Keep in mind that the Blazers, despite some troubling seasons recently, have always had a good shooting power forward in their line-ups. First there was Clifford Robinson, then Rasheed Wallace, Zach Randolph and now Aldridge.
But how much could Aldridge be leaving on the table if he leaves?
Do I think Aldridge is better than Rasheed Wallace? Not necessarily. Do I think Aldridge is a better at certain things than Wallace? Yes. Do I think Aldridge has reached his full potential? I don’t know. I think only Aldridge can answer that question.
He could be like Sheed. A player who we want and expect more from due to seeing flecks of gold in the water while never realizing that a full lode of silver is right beside it. LaMarcus is amazing in his own sweet-shooting way. He has a game that isn’t contingent on physicality but rather skill and a unique skill that isn’t there for everyone. Its sustainable. He could score like this well into his 30s.
LaMarcus might need to decide whether he wants to be like Rasheed Wallace and find a championship elsewhere on a team of zero Hall-of-Famers or LaMarcus can become that all-time great and find that title with the team that said "you’re our man."