Up until this past season, LaMarcus Aldridge had become sort of an enigma for most Portland Trail Blazer fans.
He was always good, but he was never great. He showed flashes of brilliance, but couldn't seem to sustain that level of play over a longer period of time. He wasn't tough enough. He spent too much time playing on the perimeter and not enough time in the low post.
Everyone had an opinion, and most of those opinions centered around the perception that we didn't quite know what to make of Aldridge. We knew he had it in him to be good, maybe even really good, but no one really knew how close he was to reaching his ceiling, or how much more he had left to show us.
After Brandon Roy's injuries took him out of the lineup for much of last season, Aldridge was thrust into a new role as focal point of the offense. Surprisingly, though not to those who knew him the best, Aldridge thrived and finally showed us what we had been waiting for all this time.
Now that we have a better idea of what his ceiling is as an NBA player, and what we have a right to expect from him for the next few seasons, we can take a look at the different areas of his game and see how he measures up.
Shooting is one thing that LaMarcus Aldridge has been known for, even from his earliest days as an NBA player. As a rookie, he shot 50.3 percent from the field, and for his career he is at just under 50 percent.
He has a sweet looking jumper that he is almost automatic at from just inside the 3-point line, although he is not much of a 3-point shooter, having never made more than 5 in a season.
His long arms and good, high release make his shot essentially untouchable, though he's no Dirk Nowitzki in that respect, either.
Grade: B+. He stretches the floor and can shoot both inside and out, giving his team exactly what they need on the offensive end of the floor. If he were able to increase his range and start making threes, he would earn an A in this category.
One area of Aldridge's game that's never got much attention before this past year was his ability to create shots and generate offense for his team out of the low post. And that was probably somewhat deserved, given his overall style of play.
Not any more, though. One thing that really stood out from almost every Blazer game that I saw this past year was not only Aldridge's ability, but also his willingness, to take the ball into the post and get easy buckets for his team.
He has a nice jump hook now that is very reliable, though his main limitation is that he's not able to score at will with both hands, making it a little bit easier for lengthy opponents to guess his move. Even so, his post offense is probably more fluid than Dwight Howard's at this point, he just doesn't have the overpowering strength that Howard has.
Grade: B-. Against the all-time greats, Aldridge still would have a ways to go in terms of what he is able to do in the low post offensively. But it's remarkable to me how much improvement he showed last year, and since he is willing and looking to score that way consistently, he's only going to get better from here.
Aldridge is a very good defensive power forward. Last year he averaged 1.2 blocks per game (good for seventh in the league among power forwards) along with a steal on average every contest.
He is so good at it because he is able to bother most opponents with either his long arms or his strength, which is a very underrated part of his game. This allows him to match-up well with both the Pau Gasols and the Blake Griffins of the NBA world.
Players like Tyson Chandler, who are even bigger and longer, are the ones that give Aldridge the most trouble, as we saw in the playoffs.
Grade: A-. He is a very good two-way player and makes his opponent work on both ends of the floor.
It's somewhat ironic to look at this picture and see Aldridge guarded by one of the best passing big men to ever play the game, Shaquille O'Neal.
Aldridge is not the passer that Shaq once was, but as is a common theme with these different categories, he showed a lot of improvement over the past couple of seasons as he took on a more central role in the offense.
When the Blazers are rolling offensively, it is because almost every play goes through Aldridge. And he has become much better at passing out of double teams and finding open players such as Wesley Matthews on the perimeter. Matthews is one guy who had a great season shooting the three last year, in part because of the way Aldridge opened up the floor.
Grade: B-. He is above average, and turned the ball over less than two times per game last season. He still has room for improvement, but with his length and ability to see plays develop before they do, he is becoming a very good passing big man.
Aldridge's greatest overall gift as a basketball player is probably his incredible athleticism. However, he is very smart about the way he goes about each game.
He is a player who is able to pick his spots, and when he does, it seems to come out of nowhere, and is almost impossible to stop. To me, basketball IQ deals a lot with how well a player is able to exploit his strengths, and cover his weaknesses, while the opposing team feels powerless to do anything about it.
Grade: A-. He is a true leader on his team. He understands how to play differently on different nights in order to match up in the best possible way against different opponents.
In 2010-11, Aldridge gathered an average of 8.7 rebounds per game. This is a pretty impressive number when you consider that Marcus Camby, a well-established rebounder in his own right, was playing alongside him for much of the season.
One area in which Aldridge excelled was offensive rebounding; he earned his team an average of 3.4 extra possessions per game, good for fourth best in the NBA. A lot of those came off of tip-ins at the rim, one of the highest percentage shots in basketball.
Grade: B+. He has essentially maintained or raised his rebounding average in every season so far, and with Camby getting older and Oden not quite ready to play yet, that trend figures to continue in the upcoming season.
Aldridge has become one of the best alley-oop finishers in the game, in large part thanks to how well he is able to move without the ball.
One of the Blazers' most reliable plays last season was Aldridge coming off a pick and rolling to the rim just in time to collect an on-point pass from Andre Miller and put it in. Some of his post moves were powerful enough that he would be able to generate his own layups and dunks on a routine more easily than a lot of other big men.
Opponents had to constantly be aware of where Aldridge was in tip-in situations, leading to open opportunities for other Blazers, like this one.
Grade: A. Whenever the Blazers needed an easy basket, this was a consistent and reliable look for them. Any time you can do that for your team, you deserve a high grade.
For this past season, Aldridge was sixth in the league among active power forwards in terms of free throws attempted per game at 5.4. He also shot them at a pretty high percentage, just under 80 percent for the season.
LaMarcus has a soft shooting touch, and fortunately it translates into an ability to score easy points from the free-throw line. This keeps him from being a liability in late game situations and makes opponents wary of sending him to the line at any time.
Grade: A-. He's not the best in the league, but he gets his team four to five easy points each game, and a lot of those come off of fouls called on shots that he makes—meaning he's actually getting to the line five or six times a game.
One of the games which stands out to me the most from this past season came against the Utah Jazz. It was a road game for the Blazers, and I remember it being close going into the fourth quarter. It seemed like the Jazz would pull it out, because they are usually so good at home.
This time was different, and the biggest difference late in the game was the play of Aldridge battling against Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. He came up with big buckets and good defense late, and the Blazers pulled it out.
Since that game, I remember realizing that Aldridge, along with Brandon Roy, had became a go-to guy for his team in the fourth quarter, and that they could count on him to get to the basket when it counted.
Grade: B-. He probably won't ever lead the league in fourth-quarter points, but he isn't afraid of the moment, and will only get better with time.