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A few thoughts on the "LaMarcus Aldridge versus Damian Lillard in the clutch" debate.
Portland Trail Blazers All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge missed a potential game-winner on Monday night against the Philadelphia 76ers. He's one-for-four on clutch shots in the last 10 seconds this season and he has gone to the jumpers all four times. The first time he airballed it, the second time he knocked it down, the third time he missed it (and laughed about it) and the fourth time, last night, he missed again.
Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com wonders whether there's a reason for Aldridge sticking to his jumpers, often turnarounds, and we dug into Aldridge's clutch stats this morning.
The standard definition of "clutch" over the last few seasons has been the final five minutes of games with a point spread of plus or minus 5. You can find those stats here. And if you drill down through Aldridge's career you find a player who shoots a significantly lower percentage from the charity stripe in the final five minutes of close games. During his career, Aldridge has made just 111 of 164 free throws -- 67.7 percent. And this from a player who is a 78.2 percent shooter, overall, from the foul line during his career.
I believe it's possible Aldridge is -- perhaps even subconsciously -- doing things late in games that he knows won't put him on the foul line. He's avoiding going to the basket and not looking for contact. I believe that would be a natural thing to do, even with Spencer Hawes guarding you and enough time to drop step or pull off an up-and-under move. I think it's entirely possible Aldridge likes his chances of winning the game much better on that jump shot than with a couple of free throws.
Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star forward unintentionally started/fueled a debate that has gained steam over the last few months when he said back in January that he was "glad" that Damian Lillard didn't shoot a three against them in a situation that saw Aldridge airball a long jumper with the game in the balance.
Just a few quick thoughts on the topic in general...
1. A game-deciding shot is a success, in my eyes, if one of your team's top players is able to get a good look or one of your team's best shooters is able to get a clean look. Aldridge's shot against the Thunder, too deep and rushed, was not a good look. I consider his last three late-game tries to all be good looks. I had no problems with any of them. A contested step back two or three from Damian Lillard doesn't qualify as a good look by default even if he's capable of making them. Running a high pick-and-roll that winds up with J.J. Hickson on the foul line needing to make both free throws is not a good look.
2. Aldridge is shooting 45 percent overall from outside the left block area and 48 percent outside the right block area. Lillard's jump shooting numbers overall vary greatly -- from 50 percent on long twos from the top to 31 percent on right angle threes.
3. Chris Paul is generally seen as the gold standard for late-game success at the point guard position. Paul operates dangerously out of the high screen and rolls and exploits the midrange to full effect. Only 21 percent of his attempts in clutch situations are three-pointers. Nearly half of Lillard's clutch attempts are threes and he's making just 30.8 of them on the season. Even Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry, two of the league's smoothest shooting point guards, connect on 32.1 percent and 30.0 percent of their clutch three attempts, respectively, this season. There are better -- albeit less sexy -- shots to be found, and Lillard is fully capable of finding them.
4. Both Nicolas Batum (38.2 percent) and Wesley Matthews (45.5 percent) are shooting significantly better than Lillard on threes in clutch situations given similar total attempts. At first glance, I read that as a good demonstration of the value of a shot that is set up by ball movement versus one that is created in isolation.
5. Using Aldridge as a go-to late-game option does present challenges. He doesn't have the handle of a Durant or a Dirk Nowitzki, so any face-up opportunity he finds himself in would be naturally riskier than some other stars who often go one-on-one late. He's also shooting against a contesting opponent (if not two) on virtually every occasion.
6. Backing down Aldridge back-to-the-basket allows the Blazers to control the clock and limit the possibility of turnovers. Those benefits shouldn't be overlooked. His length and ability to create a shot regardless of blanket coverage are true assets. If he is able to establish position, the odds of a "good shot" are very high.
7. As I wrote recently, Aldridge's mentality towards late-game shots -- that he is OK make or miss -- was convincing and good enough for me to believe he's "mentally equipped" (or whatever you want to call that concept) to be in those positions. I think that part of the discussion is usually nonsense.
8. This season, the Blazers have shown a lot of balance in who gets the game-deciding shots. That might be easy to overlook because of Aldridge's high-profile misses, but let's not forget Nicolas Batum's threes, Damian Lillard's variety of looks, Wesley Matthews' opportunities, etc. Remember, there's a difference between lamenting any miss and lamenting the fact that Aldridge missed.
9. The playoffs are no longer a realistic possibility and the season should now move into a developmental phase. Part of that could and probably should include mixing up the late-game looks, particularly with an eye towards evaluating Lillard's abilities in these situations. A top goal should be encouraging Lillard to remain in attack mode rather than step back three mode, especially when facing one and two point deficits.
10. Last and least, as most everyone here has surely been thinking for years, Aldridge needs to get to the free throw line more all game long. Lillard does too. That's one of the easiest criticisms of an NBA player but it applies to both.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter