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Why Doesn't LaMarcus Aldridge Take More 3-Pointers In The Blazers' Offense?

Dirk. Love. Bosh. These guys all take tons of 3-pointers, and they fit nicely into their respective teams' systems. Why can't LaMarcus Aldridge do the same?

Let it fly, LMA.
Let it fly, LMA.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

A quick glance at the landscape of today's NBA is all it takes to reveal an interesting general trend that's sweeping the league - on the whole, big guys are taking jump shots a lot more than they were a decade ago.

This is a new and exciting thing. In the old days, the "stretch four" was a niche curiosity that every team was aware of but few actually had. Guys like Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu existed, but the bulk of the NBA's best squads had traditional power forwards who banged heads down in the low post, fought for rebounds and scored in the paint. Stretchy big men might as well have been a passing fad like MySpace profiles.

Now, though? The best power forwards in the league are the guys who can shoot the 3. Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Love and Chris Bosh are three of the biggest stars in the game today, and they got where they are because they boast diverse offensive games. They can score inside, out and anywhere in between.

If you're a Blazers fan, you might observe this trend and get a little bit antsy. You watch LaMarcus Aldridge, and it's tantalizing - he shows a little bit of that stretch four mentality, but he doesn't follow through on it. He shoots a ton from the mid-range, and it's made him one of the most prolific scorers in the league. So why can't he just take a few steps back? Why can't he be like Dirk and knock down the 3-ball with regularity?

This can be a source of endless back-and-forth debate if you want it to be, but I think it's fairly evident that there's a correct answer. Becoming a 3-point specialist is a lot more complicated than taking a few steps and lining up behind the arc. It's a matter of not just changing the way you play, but modifying the entire offensive approach that your team takes on each possession. Even if Aldridge is capable of getting into the gym and taking a few hundred jumpers every day, that's not all it takes to become a shooter. You need a role that makes sense within the context of your team. On the Blazers? Given their system, their personnel and the way everyone interacts with one another? I don't think "LaMarcus Aldridge, 3-point gunner," were this hypothetical player even to exist, would be a fit.

If you disagree, I'd be happy to share a few examples.


Let's start with a classic Dirk 3-ball. Here's a quick snippet from a game the Mavs played against Golden State back in April:

You'll notice that Jae Crowder gets a long rebound and takes off down the floor, and rather than dart to the basket and look to score right away (Crowder's wicked quick, so he could probably get to the rim without much trouble), he decides to hold back and wait for Dirk. He finds the big fella tailing him in transition, pegs him with a heaving pass and watches him knock down the smooth jumper.

Would this work for the Blazers? I'm not so sure. Here's a clip of the Portland starting five in transition:

Aldridge gets the rebound; he drops it off to Damian Lillard. Lillard can take it up the floor if he wants, but he opts to fling it up the floor to Nicolas Batum. Batum has a decent look at a 3, but he passes it up and makes a ridiculous pass across the court to Wesley Matthews on the opposite wing. Matthews drills the 3. Beautiful.

That's one difference between the Blazers and other teams that have a go-to guy like Dirk. While Aldridge is a prolific scorer, he's not the kind of guy you need to look for every single possession. The Blazers don't operate that way. Especially in transition, their style is free-flowing and unpredictable. You kinda have to love it that way, don't you?

Let's move on.


Let's talk about Kevin Love. One of the best 3-point shooting bigs in the game, right? Let's see how. Watch this clip from a March Wolves-Rockets contest carefully - the play develops fast, you might miss it:

Ricky Rubio brings the ball up the floor, and as he approaches the top of the key, he makes the slightest movement to go left. Patrick Beverley follows him left, and boom - he smacks into Love, who quickly makes a fluid motion out to the 3-point line. Rubio chest-passes it back to Love; Love waits, dodges an oncoming Terrence Jones and ends up with a smooth, wide-open jumper. Easy as pie.

The play works because Love initiates the pick-and-pop action early in the possession, with Rubio still at the very top. Because he gets into the defender early, he's in the perfect position to sneak out for an easy 3-pointer. Do the Blazers play that way? Um, no, not exactly. Your counterexample:

This opening possession from Game 4 of the Portland-Houston playoff series is a very similar play: It's also a 1-4 pick-and-pop, and it's also against the Rockets' defense. Aldridge, like Love, gets into Beverley early in the play to open up space for his point guard to operate.

Except Lillard isn't Ricky Rubio. One of the great strengths of the Blazers' offense is that Lillard is a serious threat to score from anywhere on the floor, and the Blazers would be foolish not to capitalize on that. So rather than dish immediately like Rubio (who can't shoot!) does, Lillard attacks the paint. This forces the Rockets to commit - watch carefully as Beverley and Omer Asik both collapse on him as he approaches the basket. Then, from the low block, he skips it back to Aldridge, who is now wide friggin' open.

The spacing here is perfect. Lillard is far enough away from Aldridge that he can pull the defense away and create an open shot for his teammate - he's not so far away, however, that he risks making a foolish pass and turning the ball over. This is a hallmark of Portland's offense - the team ranked fifth in the NBA in fewest turnovers last season, with only 1,125. That's a credit to the precise formations drawn up by Terry Stotts and executed beautifully by his players. Tamper with them, even a little bit, and you risk messing up a really good thing.


While the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop are the NBA's staple plays these days, they're not the only ways that teams generate opportunities for themselves offensively. Sometimes a guy just gets an open look at a spot-up jumper and takes it. Here's an example involving the Miami Heat and Chris Bosh:

The Heat here are playing a super-small lineup with Bosh as their de facto center, Shane Battier at the "four," and a trio of Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Norris Cole lurking on the wings. With these five guys on the floor, they can't rely on their strength inside to score points, so they play five-out and rely on their ball movement and execution.

There's motion all around Bosh, with the Heat frantically running side pick-and-rolls - you see Cole screening for Allen first, then later Battier screening for Cole - but Bosh is lurking on the perimeter the whole time, waiting for his chance to launch an open jumper. He finally gets it and takes advantage.

You'll rarely see the Blazers take jumpers from a formation like this. They have a lot of traditional bigs on the roster, so they almost never resort to a five-out setup like the one the Heat used here. Instead, you'll see them take spot-up jumpers in situations like this:

In this clip from an April game against New Orleans, you'll see the original plan is to have Matthews race around a screen and knock down a quick jumper. That plan fails miserably, as Matthews cuts to his intended spot only to find three agile young Pelicans - Brian Roberts, Tyreke Evans and the terrifying Anthony Davis - all ready to pounce on him. It's a somewhat broken-ish play, except Aldridge is on the wing, standing by, waiting to take an open jump shot.

Now why can't that shot be a 3, you're asking? Why can't Aldridge take a couple of steps back?

I hear you. But let's consider two things:

1. Aldridge is in his sweet spot. That area of the floor - from the left corner, at a distance between 16 and 24 feet - is where he makes his paycheck. He was 69-for-143 from that spot last season, for 48.25 percent, his best percentage of anywhere on the floor besides at the rim. He's money from right there. From the corner 3-point area, a few feet back? He was 0-for-1. Why ask him to step outside his comfort zone when he's so, so good there?

2. It's no accident that Stotts likes having guys in this mid-range position rather than beyond the arc - especially guys like Aldridge, who's a good rebounder. By having his shooters closer to the basket, the odds are higher that they'll pull in the occasional offensive rebound. The Blazers were third in the league in offensive boards last season, with 1,022; Miami was dead last. Aldridge had 2.4 per game to Bosh's 1.2. This stuff happens by design.

The analysis above is neither flawless nor comprehensive. There are surely little wrinkles in these plays I'm not seeing, and these are only six brief clips - there are probably plenty of counterexamples out there. There are surely a couple moments you could handpick from this past Blazers season to demonstrate that no, I'm wrong, LaMarcus Aldridge totally shouldn't give up his 3-point dreams. Over the course of a long season, you can find evidence to support pretty much anything.

But I think these examples serve as some tasty food for thought. Chew on them a bit; think about them. You might realize that when LaMarcus Aldridge doesn't spot up from 24 feet and drill that clutch 3, there's actually a good reason he's choosing otherwise. These things aren't just about trying a different shot - there are matters of spacing and timing and fitting into a system with four teammates. Basketball's complicated, and things don't always fall into place the way you'd hope.

Man, that Dirk jumper sure is pretty, though.

No worries. LaMarcus has plenty of ways to score in his own right.