Player Capsule (Plus): LaMarcus Aldridge and the Burden of Proof

 

For the last two seasons, watching LaMarcus Aldridge go to work offensively has been an absolute joy. Aldridge owns one of the most unstoppable pet post moves in the league, and represents one of the few joys that classical post aficionados can get from the modern NBA. He does this exceedingly graceful hard right shoulder fake followed by a soft jump hook. If the defender doesn't overplay it, of course -- if they do, he simply shakes them off and explodes to the rim for a dunk. Sounds a touch unimpressive, perhaps, but it's remarkably effective -- Aldridge converted on an absurd 63% of his hook shots last year. Extremely high. It isn't quite Kareem's skyhook, but it's still almost impossible to stop. He folds that in with an excellent long range game -- albeit absent threes -- that takes his defender out of the post and some of the best free throw shooting from his position (81% from the line, on an above-average FTA/FGA to boot). To a man who likes watching big men work for their own offense, Aldridge is sublime -- he hearkens back to the days of McHale and Olajuwon, with a touch of a modern flair.

As for his defense, it's just about as impressive -- he's never going to be confused for Kevin Garnett, but he's been consistently excellent on that end for Portland He's better at covering the pick and roll than almost anyone in the league (excepting, of course, Garnett and Taj Gibson) and he's a solid defender in the low post. His length makes him a decent spot-up cover when he's engaged, although at times last season he looked a touch lost when he had to float on his man outside the paint. I'd attribute that to the general miasma around last year's Blazers before I really impugn Aldridge, though -- he's been an excellent defensive player for years and one of the top defenders at his position since 2010. His only real flaw, defensively, is his relatively disappointing rebounding -- Aldridge is per-possession one of the worst rebounders among any star big man, and he's never going to average the eye-popping rebounding totals that a Kevin Love or a Blake Griffin type player puts up. That's not necessarily to say he doesn't help the Blazers on that end -- the Blazers have traditionally rebounded better as a unit with Aldridge on the floor, and part of that is for the same reason Epke Udoh improves a team's rebounding despite anemic personal rebounding numbers -- he often blocks out the other team's best rebounder, and he's rather adept at tipping out boards to the Portland guards.

Here's the thing. On offense, you have a superstar player who produces blisteringly efficient offense on a silky-smooth classical style unlike anyone else in the league today. On defense, you have a stick of pick-and-roll dynamite whose slim frame is misleading to his actual defensive value, and whose defense is far and away the best out of all the rising star power forwards in the league. His contract is a laugher, paying him around $13 million annually for one of the few legitimate superstar players in the league. He's humble. He's smart. He's got a compelling personal story and a lovely family. He supports his teammates, loves Andre Miller, and stays generally absurdly healthy despite playing in one of the most health-luckless franchises in the league. Without adding a three to his game, it's almost beyond the realm of possibility for Aldridge to be more efficient or multifaceted offensively. Without a front office that can surround him with talent that at least approaches replacement-level, it's essentially beyond the realm of possibility for Aldridge to single-handedly lead a defunct roster to contention in a brutal conference.

I put the question to you. What more does he need to do to be appreciated? Continue reading

Player Capsules 2012, #343-345: LaMarcus Aldridge, Brad Miller, Shelvin Mack

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. But it's certainly not done yet! Today we continue with LaMarcus Aldridge, Brad Miller, and Shelvin Mack. Continue reading

Player Capsules 2012, #340-342: Samuel Dalembert, Jason Smith, DeShawn Stevenson

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. But it's certainly not done yet! Today we continue with Samuel Dalembert, Jason Smith, and DeShawn Stevenson. Continue reading

Player Capsules 2012, #337-339: DeJuan Blair, Bill Walker, Goran Dragic

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. But it's certainly not done yet! Today we continue with DeJuan Blair, Bill Walker, and Goran Dragic. Continue reading

Player Capsules 2012, #334-336: Ronny Turiaf, Anthony Parker, Andray Blatche

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. But it's certainly not done yet! Today we continue with Ronny Turiaf, Anthony Parker, and Andray Blatche. Continue reading

Player Capsules 2012, #331-333: Brandon Rush, Dominic McGuire, Chris Wright

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. But it's certainly not done yet! Today we continue with Brandon Rush, Dominic McGuire, and Chris Wright. Continue reading

Player Capsules 2012, #328-330: Marquis Daniels, O.J. Mayo, Delonte West

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. But it's certainly not done yet! Today we continue with Marquis Daniels, O.J. Mayo, and Delonte West. Continue reading

Player Capsule (Plus): Kyrie Irving -- Showman, Structure, Star

“Mighty is geometry; joined with art, resistless." -- Euripides

On November 23rd, 2010, the Duke Blue Devils obliterated the Kansas State Wildcats by a score of 82-68. The game was hardly as close as the score makes it seem. It was a really impressive victory -- the Blue Devils (then ranked #1) were playing against a #4 ranked Kansas State team that featured player-of-the-year candidate Jacob Pullen, one of the most electric scorers in the college game and among the best shooters in the country. The Blue Devils were favored in the game, but only by the slimmest of margins and most thought it essentially a road game for Duke despite the neutral site locale. It was thought of as a given that Pullen would drop 20-30 on a permissive Duke perimeter defense, helmed by rookies and youngsters that hadn't quite grasped Krzyzewski's defensive system yet.

Not quite. Pullen shot 1-12 for 4 points, posting what may have been his worst game as a collegiate athlete. And Kyrie Irving? The 18-year-old jitterbug was phenomenal. Beyond phenomenal. A revolution, a revelation, a reincarnation of all that's good in basketball. A vertical Rothko in three shades of blue, disrupting almost every single shot Pullen took and making everything he touched work better. He even had a poor shooting night, missing his two threes and numerous wide-open jump shots off his pet pick and roll sets. It didn't matter. He still dominated. Nothing he did in that game was anything short of a wonder. He had four games of college experience. Four. He was facing one of the greatest scorers in the history of the college game, in his first true away game as a pro. He had jitters, as he later admitted, but it simply didn't matter -- sometimes you're just too good for jitters.

After the game, what was the topic of conversation? It wasn't really about Irving at all. Some highlights, some features, some general pats on the back for a game well-performed. But little focus on how dominant Irving was in the contest, because that simply isn't how Duke teams are traditionally understood -- instead, commentators sprung for the usual well-worn cliches, continuing to beat the drum on the idea that Duke was the most talented team in basketball and nobody was really anywhere close. Unbeknownst to most at the time, this wasn't true. At all. Without Irving, the 2011 Duke Blue Devils were a lacking bunch with scant cohesion, flawed chemistry, and a tenuous grasp of the defensive end of the court -- and even Nolan Smith's flukishly-good season didn't obscure that once Irving went down. By the time he came back at the end of the year, the 2011 Blue Devils had been exposed as something of a fraud, and Irving was relegated to being an everyday Duke player -- good, decent, and maybe a perennial all-star. Perhaps. With his dominance forgotten, his flaws overstated, and his game misunderstood, people continued to assert rank inferiority of a draft class that's ended up being (potentially) quite a bit better than the 2 or 3 that came before it. And Kyrie Irving sat, in wait, ready to be the transformative player that he knew full well he'd be.

Can you be a star when they don't know who you are?

Continue reading

Player Capsules 2012, #325-327: Kyrie Irving, Wesley Matthews, J.J. Redick

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. But it's certainly not done yet! Today we continue with Kyrie Irving, Wesley Matthews, and J.J. Redick. Continue reading

Player Capsules 2012, #322-324: Sundiata Gaines, Marcus Thornton, Martell Webster

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. But it's certainly not done yet! Today we continue with Sundiata Gaines, Marcus Thornton, and Martell Webster. Continue reading

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