LeBron is Wrong about LaMarcus Aldridge

Here are two non-controversial statements:

  • LaMarcus Aldridge did not play well enough to be an All-Star his first three years in the league [2006-07 to 2008-09].
  • LaMarcus Aldridge did not play well enough to be an All-Star in 2009-10.

This past week, though, LeBron James called LaMarcus Aldridge the “biggest snub in All-Star history.”

So what’s changed?

In 2009-10 – when I think most people didn’t think Aldridge was an All-Star – Aldridge averaged 17.9 points per game.  This mark ranked 31st in the NBA.

This season he ranks 14th in scoring per game with 22.4 points per game.  

Could it be that this is all that has changed? Let’s look at all the numbers.

The table above compares Aldridge to an average power forward.  As one can see, Aldridge is slightly above average with respect to shooting efficiency and somewhat below average with respect to rebounding and assists.  Prior to this year, he was also below average with respect to getting to the free throw line and steals (for the latter he is now just average).

When we compare 20o9-10 to 2010-11, we see a small improvement in shooting efficiency from the field and the line; as well as an improved ability to get to the free throw line.  Aldridge is also blocking more shots and committing fewer fouls.   When we put all these stats together we see that Aldridge’s WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] – at the power forward position – has increased from 0.118 to 0.151.

What does this mean?  Aldridge has played 2,552 minutes this season. If he played his entire season at power forward (and he hasn’t), then he would have produced 8.0 wins thus far this season.  What if Aldridge still had a 0.118 WP48?  Then he would have produced 6.3 wins.  So Aldridge’s improvement is only worth 1.7 additional wins (or 2.2 wins over an entire 82 game season).

Of course, LeBron – and others who think Aldridge is an All-Star – are not looked at WP48.  What they are primarily looking at is scoring.  This season, Aldridge has already scored at least 30 points in ten different games.  And he has scored 40 points or more twice.  Last season Aldridge only scored more than 30 points twice; and he never scored more than 32 points in a single game.  So Aldridge is clearly scoring more.

But that is primarily because he is taking more shots from the field.  As we have seen with Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, etc…; just taking more shots doesn’t really help a team win more games.  Shots are primarily taken from teammates.  In the case of Aldridge, one suspects he has benefitted from the injury to Roy.  With Roy missing games, and taking fewer shots when he does play, Aldridge is seeing more shot attempts.  And these additional shot attempts have led to more scoring and more attention from people like LeBron James.  But when we look at all the statistics, we are not seeing many more wins.

Thankfully for the Blazers, LeBron is not the only one who isn’t evaluating NBA talent perfectly.  Michael Jordan believes that Derrick Rose is clearly the MVP this season:

“MVP of the season. He deserves it. He’s playing that well. He deserves it. Without a doubt. And if he doesn’t get it, now he’ll see how I felt a lot of years.”

As noted a couple of weeks ago, Rose – like Aldridge – also benefits from taking more shots.  If Rose took fewer shots, he probably wouldn’t be an MVP candidate (and as noted, the Bulls probably won’t be any worse off with Rose shooting less per game). 

One might suspect that an NBA owner – and past GM of an NBA team – would not be fooled by a player taking more shots.  But Michael Jordan has not exactly shown us that he can identify the most productive players in the game.

For example, consider the Gerald Wallace trade (see, there was a reason for the Derrick Rose detour).  As noted a couple of days ago, the Wallace trade hasn’t really helped the Bobcats.  On the flip side, though, it has helped the Blazers. 

Here is what this entire team looks like after 64 games (remember, Aldridge has spent time at center so his WP48 mark is lower than what was reported above).

The Blazers have won 37 games this far.  The team’s efficiency differential of 0.97 – and corresponding Wins Produced — is consistent with a team that should have won about 34 games.

When we look at performance in 2009-10, though, we see a team that should have won about 43 games.  In other words, the Blazers should have the 4th best record in the West.  And in terms of efficiency differential, the team’s projected mark of 5.4 would only be topped by the San Antonio Spurs and LA Lakers in the West.  In sum, the Blazers – based on last year’s performance – should be contenders in the West.

When we look at how performance has changed, we can see three players – Brandon Roy, Nicolas Batum, and Dante Cunningham — who are responsible for the Blazers failure to contend.  Roy has been hurt, so it is easy to understand his performance decline. 

As for Batum and Cunningham, the trade for Wallace can help resolve both issues.  Thankfully for the Blazers, Jordan took Cunningham in the trade for Wallace.  So a player who was hurting the team is now playing elsewhere. Furthermore, Wallace and Batum essentially play a similar role.  Batum has averaged more than 30 minutes per game this season, but has played less than 30 minutes per contest across the last three games.  So if Wallace is taking minutes from Batum (not sure that is the case), then this trade also addresses part of the problem with Batum’s lack of production.

So are the Blazers back to being contenders?

With Wallace added to the roster, the team now has above average players at every position:

  • PG: Andre Miller [0.206 WP48]
  • SG: Rudy Fernandez [0.131 WP48]
  • SF: Gerald Wallace [0.247 WP48 in 190 minutes as a Blazer]
  • PF: LaMarcus Aldridge [0.151 WP48]
  • C: Marcus Camby [0.322 WP48]

The team really doesn’t have much depth behind Camby and Aldridge in the frontcourt (Batum and/or Wallace can play the PF if necessary).  Furthermore, the back-up point guard position isn’t helping (Patrick Mills is the problem here).  And Roy is still hurt.

Still…the Wallace trade clearly helps this team.  And the price seems quite low (some non-lottery first round picks and Joel Przybilla — who is older and not entirely healthy).

So although Aldridge is not quite as good as people believe, the Blazers look like a team that could make some noise in the playoffs.  At least, if they somehow get to draw the Mavericks, they might have a chance.

– DJ

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