LA at center?
Throughout his NBA career, LaMarcus Aldridge has become one of the best power forwards in the game. He’s an inside-outside threat, he’s a two-time All-Star and his game has improved drastically since the departure of Brandon Roy.
So why would we want to move the big man away from his natural position?
Simply put, he has the potential to be even better as the Portland Trail Blazers’ starting center.
*All advanced statistics are provided by 82games.com and accurate as of Feb. 2, 2013 at 12:00 AM PT.
LaMarcus Aldridge has proven he can play center. (Photo: Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY Sports)
*The Big Disclaimer
Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat.
LaMarcus Aldridge has only played nine percent of the 2012-13 season at the center position. The sample size is small, and it’s possible that more minutes would balance out the impressive showings we’ve seen thus far.
But on a team that has lacked a dominant center for so many years, the risk of balancing out statistics might be worth it. The Blazers are fighting for a playoff spot out West, and half way through the season, Aldridge has been more productive when he’s playing the 5-spot than when he’s playing power forward.
Aldridge has been touted throughout the years for his deadly jump shot. His range has extended season after season, and he’s trusted to score the ball virtually anywhere inside the three-point line.
The past few years, though, we’ve seen the big man develop more moves inside, and that’s the kind of versatility that helps take advantage of bigger players.
At the power forward position, Aldridge is averaging 25.2 points per 48 minutes. However, when he’s played center this season, that number has jumped up to 28.1. That’s good enough to put him just outside the top 10, which makes sense considering his field-goal percentage increases from 46.4 percent to 51.1 percent.
Per 48 minutes, Aldridge also averages 3.5 fouls per game. That number drops to 2.6 when at the 5-spot.
If you’re unfamiliar with ESPN’s PER stat, it is defined as “the overall rating of a player’s per-minute statistical production,” (according to ESPN). When Aldridge is playing the 4, his PER is 18.6—3.6 above the league average. However, when he plays center, his PER skyrockets to 25.3. Only four players in the league have a higher number than that approaching All-Star Weekend, and those players are Brook Lopez, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
Defense is where Aldridge’s game has always needed the most work. He’s only averaged one block per game throughout his six-and-a-half years, and his toughness has often times been questioned against bigger competition.
LaMarcus Aldridge has been a better rebounder as a center this season. (Photo: Bruce Ely/The Oregonian)
When you look at the stats, though, for the 2012-13 season, you have to question whether or not that criticism is 100 percent valid.
As a center this season, Aldridge has out-rebounded his opponents 14.3 rebounds per 48 minutes to just 7.6. As a power forward, he’s averaged just 10.6 rebounds—a number that is completely negated by the 10.6 rebounds he’s allowed to his competition.
When playing his natural position, the Blazers’ big man allows his fellow forwards to post a 16.0 PER. That number is 1.0 above the league average, and it drops to just 12.7 when he plays center.
It’s true that Aldridge allows his center competition to shoot a higher percentage than his fellow power forwards, but he also draws 2.3 more fouls per game as the man in the middle. He commits 3.5 fouls per 48 minutes as a 4, and that number drops nearly a whole foul when he plays the 5.
Why It Still Won’t Happen
When it comes down to it, Aldridge simply doesn’t want to play center. Despite the evidence that he can handle his own against the bigs of the NBA, the 6’11” forward wants “the luxury of playing with a dominant center,” according to The Columbian’s Candace Buckner (h/t Blazer’s Edge).
Given more minutes, it’s possible that Aldridge could be that dominant center. But when it comes down to it, you have to keep your stars happy, and Aldridge is happy as a power forward.
J.J. Hickson has done a remarkable job playing center this year, but his future is in flux, as he’s in a contract season. Portland could be looking for a new big man this summer, and while Aldridge makes sense, expect them to look elsewhere when it comes to the starting center position.
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