Underrated Aldridge Still Expanding Game
When LaMarcus Aldridge has the basketball in his hands, there’s not much that he can’t do. He can score with post moves, mid-range jumpers and three-point shots. He can finish with his back to the basket or with his face-up game. He can even get buckets if he has a hand in his face or if he’s off balanced. At times, Aldridge seems virtually unstoppable.
Kenneth Faried knows this from experience. After the Denver Nuggets’ 116-108 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, Faried sat at his locker praising Aldridge, who had just dropped a game-high 28 points. He scored from everywhere on the floor, including beyond the arc for his fourth three-pointer of the year.
“He’s a stretch four – I mean, literally a stretch four since he can stretch out to the three,” Faried said of Aldridge. “He proved that tonight, stepping out and making a three. In the playoffs last year, he was a threat to score every time he touched the ball. And that turnaround jumper is no joke. He keeps the ball so high it seems like it’s going to go in automatically.”
Even though the Nuggets play Aldridge and the Blazers four times per year, they still struggle to contain the 6’11 forward in their matchups.
“We still haven’t figured out how to get to LaMarcus Aldridge and cut him down,” Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw said. “The way their team is built, it’s tough.”
This problem isn’t limited to the Nuggets, though. Just about every team that plays Aldridge has trouble slowing him down. This season, he is averaging 23.1 points and is even scarier on the offensive end than in previous year since he has added the three-point shot to his offensive arsenal.
The 29-year-old Aldridge remains one of the most underrated players in the NBA. Despite being a three-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA player, his name is rarely mentioned when discussing the league’s best players.
Perhaps this is because he plays in Portland, which is just the 22nd ranked market in the nation. Perhaps this is because he has remained with one team for the entirety of his career and these days all eyes are on the players who change sceneries. This seems possible, as the most attention Aldridge ever received was when he was disgruntled two summers ago and many believed he could be traded. Perhaps it’s because Aldridge doesn’t fill highlight reels with dunks, crossover or other flashy plays.
Some fans and analysts may not give Aldridge the credit he deserves, but talk to his NBA peers and they’ll say he’s one of the toughest players to guard due to his size, length, wide array of moves and ability to score over defenders as if they aren’t even there. Aldridge is the king of the turnaround, fadeaway jumper with a hand in his face. This sounds like a terrible shot – and it would be for most players – but Aldridge makes it look easy.
Blazers center Chris Kaman, who was signed during the offseason, was recently asked if anything about Aldridge has surprised him since he arrived in Portland and he mentioned the big man’s signature turnaround jumper.
“The only thing that surprises me is that he doesn’t shoot that turnaround jumper more; I’m surprised about that,” Kaman said with a laugh. “I’ve been watching him play and playing against him throughout my career. I’ve been out West for most my career so I used to play him four times [per season]. He’s a lot stronger than you think he is and he’s heavier than you think he is, so he creates a lot of space. And he just has a knack for shooting the basketball. It’s a fun thing to see, especially when he has it going because he can be really effective.”
Aldridge and Damian Lillard form an elite one-two scoring punch for Portland, as each player averaged over 20 points per game last season and are capable of going off on any given night. Since Lillard entered the league, they’ve had 14 games in which they’ve both scored at least 25 points (only Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City have had more in that span). Factor in Wes Matthews and Nic Batum making things difficult for the opposition on both ends of the floor along with Robin Lopez doing the dirty work in the paint, and it’s easy to see why teams don’t look forward to playing against Portland.
As talented as Aldridge is, he knows he can’t win games on his own. He’s the first one to say that the Blazers must have a balanced attack in order to be successful. His frustration with Portland several years ago was because the team didn’t have many weapons around him; so, he’d put up impressive numbers in a losing effort on most nights and be sitting at home come playoff time. Now, that’s no longer the case. He has a talented supporting cast and the Blazers do a very good job of spreading the ball around, averaging 23 assists per game (which is seventh-best in the NBA). Portland has four players averaging double-digit points (Aldridge, Lillard, Matthews and Lopez), and two others averaging nine points (Kaman and Batum).
“I’m just trying to make my guys better,” Aldridge said when asked about Portland’s impressive ball movement. “That’s who we are; we try to make the extra pass or the extra, extra pass. We try to make all of our guys better. I thought these last few games guys have been doing that, and that’s how we’re going to win games. I felt like earlier in the year guys were playing more one-on-one basketball, but I feel like now the ball is moving a little bit more.”
With that said, if the Blazers need a bucket, head coach Terry Stotts knows he can always dump the ball down to his reliable big man.
“It’s comforting when you can throw it to No. 12 down there,” Stotts said. “He’s been very effective on the post. The guys are doing a good job of finding him in pick-and-pop situations or different sets that we run when he’s popping to an open side. When you give him time, he’s automatic. Then on the post, he makes tough shots. He’s been doing it since I’ve been here, so I don’t take it for granted but I know what he can do.”
“That’s just him, the game comes easy to him,” Lillard said of Aldridge. “Teams know [where] he likes to get to and they can’t stop it. I think the scoring is so easy because he’s willing to throw the ball out and we knock down shots from the three-point line so it makes people scared to leave, so they let him play one-on-one. He’s done a great job rebounding the ball, so I mean, the game just comes easy to him.”
While Aldridge has worked hard to add improve his three-point shot and expand his already-versatile game, he insists he won’t change his style of play too much. He wants to limit his three-point attempts, using it to keep defenses honest rather than relying on it often. This season, he has only shot 11 three-pointers (1.6 attempts per game) and he’s hitting 36.4 percent from beyond the arc.
“I can shoot them,” Aldridge said. “Coach doesn’t mind. I’m not going to live out there, but [I’ll shoot them]. When guys don’t close out on me, I just take my time on it and [shoot]. I’m not going to live out there though, that’s not me.”
The Blazers are now 5-3 on the season, which is the fourth-best record in the competitive Western Conference. They have wins over projected playoff teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder (before the injuries), Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks and Charlotte Hornets. Aldridge is obviously a big part of Portland’s success – whether he gets the respect he deserves or not – and has helped turn the Blazers into a legitimate contender.
Gasol Getting Acclimated in Chicago
Despite being limited by injuries and adjusting to new pieces, the Chicago Bulls hold the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 6-2.
Now, with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah returning from injuries and Pau Gasol getting increasingly comfortable alongside his new teammates, Chicago will likely elevate their game even further and continue their winning ways.
Gasol has been excellent for the Bulls early in the season, averaging 18.4 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. Those are the best stats that Gasol has averaged in four years, proving that he’s still a dominant force when healthy and used correctly.
After the Bulls’ last win over the Detroit Pistons, head coach Tom Thibodeau praised the play of Gasol and Noah, who combined for 30 points, 29 rebounds, 10 assists and four blocks in the impressive win.
“He and Pau were outstanding inside, battling,” Thibodeau said of his frontcourt duo. “They played very well off each other. Jo had some of the multiple effort plays, which is huge for our team.”
Gasol was just excited to see the team at full strength, since Rose, Noah and Jimmy Butler have all missed multiple games even though the season is just two weeks old.
“It was great to have everyone,” Gasol said. “A full roster available and healthy. I hope we can keep it that way.
“It was great to have [Rose] on the floor. He’s a difference maker. He’s very explosive and gets to the hole. A key player for us.”
Gasol has stated that one of the main reasons he joined the Bulls last offseason was to play alongside Rose. Because Rose has only played in four of Chicago’s eight games, he and Gasol are still trying to get on the same page. However, Gasol is optimistic that they will complement each other well and both emerge as playmakers for the Bulls once their chemistry improves.
“The more we play, the more we will understand each other,” Gasol said of Rose. “We will find each other on the floor and make our teammates better. I look forward to playing more games with him.”
The first eight games of the season haven’t gone quite as planned for Chicago, but they have found a way to make it work (as they always do). With that said, the best is likely still to come for the Bulls and this team has the pieces to be the top team in the Eastern Conference if they can remain healthy and play to their full potential.
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