I’ve been loathe to write statistically about the Blazers this year because with only 11 games under a drastically different system with new personnel, anything can be ascribed to a small sample size quirk as opposed to a trend. At this point though, if you know where to look (e.g. away from efficiency numbers and toward other things), there are meaningful stats where we can start drawing conclusions regarding the direction of the NBA season.
One such area is the manner in which a player is producing (as opposed to the efficiency level of that production). It’s pretty well agreed that LaMarcus Aldridge has not played at the all-NBA level he’s capable of reaching through the first 11 games. Some say the loss of efficiency is rather due to him being a slow starter, or missing shots he normally makes. However, a look at his career trends indicate this isn’t really the case. While his at rim percentage is at a career low 63% (according to Hoopdata), even raising that toward the excellent 68% he had earlier in his career would only raise his overall field goal percentage from 43.6% to a slightly less abysmal 44.5%, a far cry from the 50%+ floor percentages he put up as an all-star and even well below the efficiency levels in the high 40s he put up as a so-called ninny alongside Brandon Roy.
The problem is he’s shooting waaay too many long 2s:
Many players would be happy to just SHOOT every four minutes. Aldridge is taking the least efficient shot in basketball once every four minutes. A certain number of these shots is acceptable, but to do it with this level of frequency (it’s currently the most common single shot location for any Blazer) means this isn’t a bailout option, it’s something the Blazers are actively gunning for. And it’s not like LA’s efficiency level from mid-range could not have been anticipated. It has essentially been the same for his whole career:
I suppose LA deserves some credit for maintaining the same (very pedestrian) level of efficiency while doubling his number of attempts. But the effect on his overall efficiency has been predictable, as increased time drifting around has resulted in a decreased free throw rate (down from .31 to .26 from his 2010-11 banner year) and a drastic drop in at-rim attempts (down from 6.1 to 3.3/40, and for reference he managed 4.1/40 08/09 at the height of Roy’s powers). To combat the impression that this is a small sample size quirk, I present the players who lead the league in long 2s this year and the players who have led in past years:
If this were simply a small-sample size issue, you would see other high-usage players with good jump shots come somewhere near LA’s attempts number. Aldridge is over two attempts/40 ahead of the next closest guys, and the rest of the top 5 is made up of guys whose entire offensive skillset is shooting long 2s.
The key here is to think of the tradeoffs. When Aldridge is in the game, this team is not short of offensive options. Every long he takes is a missed opportunity for Lillard, Matthews or Batum to hit a 3, Batum to dunk or draw a foul, or LA himself to put his defender in a signature spin-cycle on the left block. In comparison to those options the only benefit of an 18 footer is JJ Hickson gets a chance to pad his offensive rebounding totals. Please, Mr. Stotts. Make it stop.