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2010-11 Portland Trail Blazers Roster Rundown: LaMarcus Aldridge

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There's no other possible place to begin our look at the individual accomplishments of the Portland Trail Blazers' roster this year than with their Mr. Everything, LaMarcus Aldridge.  In the absence of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, Aldridge stepped to the fore and received recognition, national as well as local, for his improved play.  To start off the discussion, a breakdown of some significant stats:

 

 

10-11

09-10

Change

Games

81

78

+3

Minutes

3211

2922

+289

FG%

50.0%

49.5%

+0.5%

FT%

79.1%

75.7%

+3.4%`

FGA/36

15.9

14.4

+1.5

FTA/36

5.0

3.7

+1.3

ORB/36

3.1

2.4

+0.7

DRB/36

4.8

5.4

-0.6

TRB/36

7.9

7.7

+0.2

BLK/36

1.1

0.6

+0.5

TS%

54.9%

53.5%

+1.4%

USG%

25.7%

22.9%

+2.8%

ORTG

114

113

+1

DRTG

107

107

--

PER

21.5

18.2

+3.3

NETPTS/100

+15.3

+3.4

+11.9

PPG

21.8

17.9

+3.9

PPG/36

19.8

17.2

+2.6

Click through for an analysis of the numbers (plus a couple not in the table), Aldridge's season in perspective, and a look at his future.

The obvious take-home point from LaMarcus' numbers:  he had a monster offensive season.  He improved significantly in points per game (22% increase from the prior season) and points per minute (15% increase).  This came despite only registering a 10% increase in field goal attempts. Obviously the Blazers went to LaMarcus more but Aldridge responded by making the most of his attempts.  Aldridge's jump shot proclivities didn't change too much from 2009-10 to 2010-11.  Around 64% of his shots came off of jumpers in both seasons.  The effective field goal percentage on those jumpers went up about 4% this year though.   Aldridge also saw a 35% increase in free throw attempts measured per minute.  The effective field goal percentage on his inside shots actually decreased this season, falling from 64% to 58%.   The riddle is solved when you look at the percentage of his attempts which were assisted.   Last year 56% of his jumpers were assisted, this year 67% and his effective field goal percentage went up.  Last year 59% of his inside shots were assisted, this year 38% and his effective field goal percentage went down on those shots.  It's absolutely correct to say that Aldridge is the hub of Portland's offense.  He's the Blazers' star, the #1 option, the guy who draws attention and makes everybody else's life easier thereby.  But it would be incorrect to assume that he's a guy you can just pitch the ball to and watch work, relying on him to carry the team singlehandedly.  Aldridge helps create the flow but he works better when in it.

While Aldridge's overall rebounds rose slightly he actually showed a significant shift from the season prior, gaining offensive rebounds while losing a corresponding number of defensive rebounds.  After having been a power forward almost exclusively he split time equally between the forward and center positions this season.  He actually got outrebounded as a power forward far worse than he did as a center.  Theoretically having to roam less guarding opposing centers should have put him in position for more defensive rebounds but it didn't turn out that way.  This remains an area of concern for him overall and will continue to do so until and unless Greg Oden becomes a rebounding vacuum cleaner, letting LaMarcus off the hook.

Aside from almost doubling his blocks on a per minute basis (still registering a modest total compared to true shot blockers) Aldridge's defensive numbers remained static.  This could be considered a net plus, though, given the frequent position changes.  He's not a fantastic defender but he's more than serviceable.

The standout storyline from Aldridge's season is encapsulated in the "Net Points per 100 Possessions" line near the bottom of the table.  The stat measures how many points both teams produced when the player was on the floor versus off the floor over the course of the season, every minute and every opponent accounted for.  With all of the game-to-game fluctuations edited out, how many more points did Portland produce and how many fewer points did their opponents score when Aldridge was on the floor versus on the bench?  In 2009-10 he had a net positive impact of +3.4 which is not too shabby.  In 2010-11 the Blazers scored 9.3 points more per 100 possessions when Aldridge was on the floor and allowed the opponent 6.0 points fewer for a net gain of +15.3 points.  That is...scary.  Whatever Aldridge's strengths and weaknesses in isolation he was everything to his team this year.  Even when you account for a relatively weaker bench tanking those off-court numbers, Aldridge was the guy who kept that bench from coming into play.  His impact was HUGE.  Take away Aldridge in 2010-11 and the Blazers fall like a rock wrapped in a bowling ball dropped in a black hole of lottery oblivion.

So, peeling away the numbers...who is LaMarcus Aldridge?  He is without a doubt this team's Most Valuable Player and it's not even close.   Has he become a star?  Yes.  More than that, he has shown that he can shoulder the responsibility of being the first option, main option, high-minute and high-shot option on his team and come through every night regardless of opponent.  He played in every game but one.  He faced down every opponent and came out ahead.  That was a big development in itself after he failed to do so the prior season when Brandon Roy went down injured.  And yes, LaMarcus Aldridge could hold his head high among the All-Stars of this league and will be able to do so in the next All-Star Game as long as his production doesn't tank early next season.

Not all stars are created equal, though.  Aldridge has not ascended to the ranks of your Dirk Nowitzkis and Kevin Garnetts.  We still saw plenty of stretches this year where his shot wasn't falling and his game devolved into rushed attempts and jumpers.  We saw him shut down by tough, physical defense, most notably in the later games of the playoff series against Dallas.  Take away Aldridge's easy buckets and he has a hard time manufacturing breakthrough points to re-establish himself and carry his team.  He's not going to give you 15 boards and elite-power-forward defense most nights to make up for it either.  Aldridge is difficult to stop now...that's a step forward.  But he's still relatively easy to deal with and account for.  You know what he's going to give, you know he'll likely give less if you pinch him hard, and you're not scared of him busting open the game the way an elite superstar would.  If that step is to come, it's still in his future.

This is important because at this juncture it's appearing more and more like this is the kind of star the Blazers need.  Brandon Roy may never return there.  Greg Oden may never be healthy.  Gerald Wallace couldn't quite get there in Charlotte.  This team still has designs on being great.  Very good from Aldridge may be enough to get them there if the rest of his teammates can perform every night.  That didn't happen this year, thus very good was not quite good enough.  If Aldridge has another gear he'll certainly get a chance to show it.  But the jury is still out and may be hung at this point if what we saw against Dallas is any indication.

In order to prosper Aldridge will need to continue developing his back-to-the-basket game, increase his comfort level (and passing level) against double teams and pressure, continue to come to grips with his role as the #1 guy including the resolve to not let any opponent take him out of his game, and strengthen his impact in non-scoring roles including rebounding and screen setting.

With every season rundown we'll discuss the player's likely future with the team.  Is there any way LaMarcus Aldridge could be moved?  The short-term answer is no.  If this season is any indication it would be tantamount to suicide.  The Blazers couldn't even rebuild convincingly given their other salaries.  They'd just be limping along with a gaping hole in the rotation.  They'd not recover from that.  That doesn't mean Aldridge is the next franchise player, perpetual solution, "retire his number right now" guy though.  If Aldridge continues on this level but lacks the extra spark (and perhaps grit) to propel him to true superstar status he could be moved down the road.  That would certainly be several exits from the current location though.  For the foreseeable future this guy is the heart of the Blazers attack and that's a good thing.

Season Grade:  A

Stock Market Recommendation:  Solid Blue-Chip investment, Buy.  But also realize that the growth margin on this stock isn't going to be as flashy as some others.  This is an investment to preserve your money and reap a good dividend, plus you figure it could still be the Next Big Thing.  Either way, it's not going down in value.  You can't go wrong with your money here.  Just don't over-invest and assume the company will be #1 forever.  Keep an eye on it.

Feel free to add thoughts of your own about LaMarcus and his season below.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)