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Transition Game: LaMarcus Aldridge
The transition game in the NBA is an important weapon during the course of a contest and a season. Last year four of the top 5 teams in NBA transition points scored made the playoffs (Denver, Houston, Atlanta and OKC respectively), being able to turn a missed shot (or made shot) into easy, quick points can turn a game around or keep it from spiraling out of control.
Similarly, once a player or franchise reaches its point where you can’t take it any farther than you’ve already gone, a change often needs to be made. The most extreme example being LeBron, for how great he was in Cleveland, not even LeBron could overcome poor management (overpaying guys like Antawaan Jamison, trading assets for Ben Wallace, drafting Dujuan Wager and Luke Jackson), LeBron was gone when he realized he couldn’t take the Cavs any farther than he already did. My goal with The Transition Game is to identify the spots in the league that are ready for a change, ready to rebound a missed shot and take it back for a dunk. The first team in question is the Portland Trailblazers.
The Portland Trailblazers are the team in question. Last year they finished 33-49 in the tough West with a squad of mostly young, unproven talents. Damien Lillard stormed on the scene and made some noise early, but fizzled out toward the end (to the tune of 42% Field Goal Percentage….gross) . They have found themselves in NBA Purgatory, not good enough to make the playoffs, but far too good to get a top pick and get elite talent in the draft. The Blazers are faced with a hard decision, continue doing what they do and hope they can stock-pile enough assets to make a splashy trade (I mean, they did just draft CJ McCollum, who screams trade-bait)? Or do they consider doing what many teams in their shoes have done before: the hope-inspiring “rebuild”?
This might sound like a Ludacris argument off the top of your head: he’s the franchise guy!? You might find yourself saying to me. But let’s look at some factors that might play into this decision as to why trading Lamarcus Aldridge might be the best thing for a team in transition like the Portland Trailblazers
A) Portland is not that good: they went 33-49 last year with a completely healthy team. They’re starting 5 of Lillard, LMA, Batum, Matthews and Hickson missed a total of 32 games. Batum, the guy the Blazer’s signed to a massive contract last summer…he’s not that good! Rate Adjusted Plus Minus scores Batum’s defense as -0.53, which isn’t terrible, but for a guy who’s scoring goes down when his usage goes up, it’s not great either. The Blazers lost Hickson, who was the lynchpin for their success last season, replacing him with Robin Lopez (probably neutral swap) and outside of that their only notable addition is rookie CJ McCollum. I personally like McCollum quite a bit, but I think his upside is as a 4-6th best player on a really good team (plus he’s already having injury issues). Portland is a mess and they need to do something
B) LaMarcus Aldridge…not as good as you might think: For a guy who was drafted 2nd overall. For a guy who looks like he should be awesome (I mean he’s 7’0 tall, has agility like a wing, is an excellent passer and has the smoothest stroke on his jumper) he’s not that awesome. He is good. Don’t get me wrong. But is he a guy you want to cornerstone your franchise around?
The above chart shows the players with similar careers through 7 games as judged by the “all-in-one” stat Wins Scored (not a perfect stat, but it represents a good reference point). These aren’t franchise players here. Good players? Hell yes, AK, Sheed, Rodman, LJ, these are guys you can win championships with, but they aren’t guys who will win you a championship as the centerpiece.
C) So…what’s the deal with LMA? What don’t you like about him? Fair question, I actually like him quite a bit, if the my hometown Wolves had done a good job of acquiring assets I would want them to tandem Love/Rubio with LMA. But what is it LMA does well?
1) He’s a hell of a passer: I love passing big men. If you have a big guy who can dish out dimes it completely opens up the offense. Guards are more active if they know the post isn’t a black hole, backdoor cuts are impossible to defend, wide open 3 pointers are everywhere. LMA the past 3 years has assisted on 13% of his teams possessions, which is very good for a PF/C, and especially good when you consider last year he was largely playing with rookies and Batum. Addition to this he has excellent handles for a big man, which again really helps open things up
2) He is a good jump shooter: For a big man he is incredibly good off the dribble and on the elbow. He has a butter jumper and his 900 ft wing span makes him unguardable when he gets rolling.
Lamarcus Aldridge seems like he should be the perfect 4/5 for the new-wave NBA, up tempo, wide open, but then, why is his impact so modest?
3) He’s not an overly effective defensive player: LMA gets by a lot on his length and athleticism, but it’s really troubling for me to see his block numbers hovering around 1 a game. He has the frame and athleticism to be a dominant, Tyson Chandler-like goaltender and he isn’t even close. Additionally his steal numbers are not impressive either. For a guy who physically is in another world, his defensive production is pretty grounded on Earth.
4) He’s not very aggressive: This ties in with the defensive argument, but his free throw attempts per game are at 4.5, which would be modest for a good wing. Kevin Love gets around 8.5 FTApg. This tells me he is settling for too many jumpers and not taking the ball to the hoop and utilizing his impressive size.
Looking at both offensive and defensive numbers it paints a picture of a guy who is 7’0 tall, can jump out of the gym, but doesn’t want to play close to the hoop. Is he a franchise guy?
I am curious to see what the Blazer’s mindset is here. They are in an unenviable spot. I don’t believe LMA is a franchise type player but I would like to see him play with either a franchise guy, or a guy who is like LMA and is maybe a 1b rather than a 1a, I don’t expect the Blazers to be very good so they might be faced with some tough decisions. Here are a few options I see:
Option 1: Help Cleveland get LeBron
Cleveland gets: LMA
Portland gets: Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters, Anderson Verajo and a 2014 unprotected pick
For as much as I didn’t agree with the Cavs decision to draft Bennett over Noel (Noel was flat out the most talented player in last year’s draft) or even Otto Porter, I do like Bennett’s talent quite a bit. Why would Portland do this? This trade would offer Portland the chance to build around a core of young players, have 2 potential top 10 picks in the stacked 2014 draft and move on with life, hopefully full of Parker’s and Wiggins’.
Option 2: The Blazer’s and Bull’s flip teams
Chicago gets: LMA, Batum, Matthews, Lopez
Portland gets: Boozer, Deng, Noah, Butler, 2014 pick
The LMA/Rose combo could be a devastating one for years to come. They are a very good fit in their demeanor and their styles of play complement each other well. Rose takes the ball to the basket, but has a reliable kick out in the pick and pop game with LMA. Why would Portland do this? Outside of the LMA/Boozer swap, they are actually coming out of this on top in terms of talent: Noah is significantly better than Lopez (Noah is so much better than Lopez it might be more fair to compare Noah to LMA in this deal), Deng is better than Batum and Butler is better than Matthews. Getting the young Butler makes this deal one that allows Portland to still be competitive but building around a younger core.
Option 3: let’s call a spade a spade
Warriors get: LaMarcus Aldridge and Wes Matthews
Wizards get: David Lee, Harrsion Barnes
Portland gets: Otto Porter, Klay Thompson and a draft pick from the Warriors and Wizards
I like this deal a lot, Washington gets a lot closer to winning now, Portland nabs a few prime young assets and Golden State makes the quickest jump ever from irrelevant to an absolute force of nature in the West. LMA was born to play with Andrew Bogut and Steph Curry, the amount of spacing and passing that will happen will be a thing of beauty. This is the role LMA should be playing, part of a dynamic core, but not the focal point of the core.
Ultimately, my guess is Portland decides to do nothing. It’s often easier to sit on hard decisions in the NBA, especially if there is a decent amount of success built in. But as you consider the factors for youself: is LMA a franchise guy? Would you want your franchise to be cornerstoned by LMA? Is LMA even a marketable guy? He’s an excellent talent and is the kind of guy who could swing a title on the right team, but is he on the right team for what he offers?