No one in Portland is surprised that the prize of the 2015 free agent haul, the one who couldn’t wait to run the other way, LaMarcus Aldridge, has been average or worse in the Western Conference Playoffs semi-final series. It was pretty much the Aldridge playoff familiarity Portland grew used to. When a superlative game was required, not trusting L.A. when he begged you to, and then watching him underperform like you knew he would, was the rule of the day.
Three years ago, in the Blazers first round series against Houston, Aldridge went off for 43 points and 48 points. But he also had an 8 point bore in a 25% shooting performance. The series was won by a Damian Lillard killer three at the buzzer.
Last year against the Thunder, Aldridge opened up strong, 78% and 71% shooting, pushing back the critique of his game. And then Aldridge was meek. In game three, he missed 13 out of 21 shots, shooting 38%. In game four, he missed 10 out of 18 shots, shooting 44%. In game 5, he missed 15 out of 21 shots for a sad shooting performance, 28%. You get the point. Aldridge finds a way to give less when more is needed. So much for Aldridge being the next superstar following Tim Duncan. He looked like a role player.
In the 2017 playoffs:
45%, third lowest of his career. 15.3 points, career low. 3.9 free throw attempts, second lowest of his career. 74.4% free throws, lowest since his rookie year. 4.8 defensive rebounds, second lowest of his career. Get the theme here? 1.0 blocks per game, career low. Last year his offensive rating in the playoffs was 117. This year it is 107. Last year, his defensive rating was 102. This year it is 112. His PER is a career low but we don’t need geek numbers to tell you that. Just watching him have zero efficiency posting up smaller players as if his feet were in a vat of cement said it all. Aldridge failed the eye test.
He’s shooting 28% on long two’s. Last year, he shot 52% from that same distance. He is going downhill. He is boring to watch. The supposed star is playing Scottie Pippen to Kawhi Leonard’s Michael Jordan. But in Game 5, he played second chair to Manu Ginobli. Boy, have the mighty fallen. Remember how Aldridge couldn’t wait to get out of Portland because he had issues with the meteoric rise of Dame Lillard? He waltzed into San Antonio and now it is Kawhi Leonard who is the star. Where is Aldridge’s luck?
His play in the regular season without the crutch of Tim Duncan let everyone know he isn’t the heir apparent. His regular season was underwhelming, okay, it was a disaster. 47.7%, a career low. 3.8 free throw attempts, only his rookie year was worse. 7.3 rebounds was a disappointment from the year before number of 8.5. 17.3 points was better than his rookie year number of 9.0, but worse than every other season. It had been seven years since his PER didn’t cross the 20.0 threshold. It was 18.6 in 2016-17.
Aldridge is a good player who has come up small in big moments. But in the playoffs great is needed, particularly when you have already been identified as the player to take the Spurs into the next generation.
In Game 5 and with a hobbled Kawhi, Aldridge missed 14 out of 21 shots, mostly guarded by smaller players. He had 14 rebounds. Kawhi who bailed out in the game because of injury had 15 rebounds. We know who the real Spurs star is. Aldridge had 0 blocked shots. He had the second highest usage rate on the team behind Kawhi, 27.3%.
Tonight isn’t the biggest pressure moment of his career but it is significant. Kawhi Leonard won’t be a 100% healthy, if he even plays. Aldridge will be asked to deliver. The Rockets have been successful defending Aldridge with smaller, more athletic players who crowd him with their body and force him to run the floor in transition. Aldridge likes his mid-post shot with space. Add to that the refs aren’t giving Aldridge the Tim Duncan treatment, no benefit of the doubt, no calls. His silky smooth shots are clanking off the rim, particularly contested shots.
When Aldridge doesn’t get the calls and when his shot isn’t falling and when he is being crowded, he loses confidence. A sensitive tactician, Aldridge has never been one to force his game back into reliability, and even though the Spurs have a lot of weapons, when the ball gets into Aldridge’s hands, he usually shoots it. His career assist percentage is 1.4. This playoff season, he is averaging one assist per game. He’s a black hole out there. He shoots and if it misses he is depending on the Spurs to grab an offensive board. Often he is the offensive rebound grabber.
Tim Duncan had a textbook smooth shot that went in 50% of the time and he averaged 10 boards a game. Aldridge, in his career, is a 48% shooter averaging 8 rebounds a game. Great is a five time champion. Good is never getting to a conference final.
Tuesday night was a big game in the LaMarcus Aldridge bio. A lot was expected from the max player. Traditionally, Game 5’s, in a 2-2 tie, are fraught with tension and chaos as everything is on the line, particularly when your best player turns his ankle. No one wants game 6 to be an elimination game.
And therein is the Portland Trailblazer-LaMarcus Aldridge irony. Miles separate him from his former team. Everyone has turned the page. Skill separates him from the greatest power forward who ever played. Aldridge is good, not extraordinary. The Spurs were supposed to mean a title for Aldridge. He was supposed to be special, like his glory days in Portland. He was supposed to lead the Spurs somewhere.
But Aldridge and the Blazers may have the same thing in common. They both may be on vacation come Sunday.
photo via llananba