Friday, March 13, 2009
Dunking In The Face Of Finesse
LaMarcus Aldridge, for all of his offensive gifts, isn’t considered a dunker. In fact, most fans would probably complain Aldridge spends too much time outside of the paint, preferring the 15-footer over the two-handed jam. And there’s some merit to that. Aldridge undoubtedly works the inside/out game, and often times, that ratio shades toward the latter.
But there’s a good chance Aldridge is spending more time in the paint than you realize, which brings us back to those dunks. For a player known more for his high release than his high flying, Aldridge is right up there in the NBA in made dunks. Fifteenth in the league, to be exact, right behind Andrew Bynum and just in front of Rudy Gay. He’s ahead of guys like Kevin Garnett, David Lee, Josh Smith and Chris Bosh, players who are all considered more “post oriented,” lunch bucket-type guys than Aldridge.
Don’t feel bad if you didn’t expect Aldridge to be that high on the list. To be honest, he didn’t either, which speaks to the prevalence of the perception that Aldridge isn’t a legitimate threat in the low post when he’s not shooting turnaround jumpers. Roughly 19 percent of Aldridge’s 475 made baskets this season have come by way of dunks, which is a healthy percentage for a player of Aldridge’s skill set.
Even aside from the throwdowns, Aldridge’s play as of late would seem to indicate an increased aggressiveness, an observation backed up by the numbers. So far in March, Aldridge is bettering his season averages in points (20.0), rebounds (8.8), assists (2.4) and steals (1.3). And he’s attempting 5.8 free-throw attempts per game in March, almost two attempts per game better than his season average.
According to Aldridge, there are a few reasons for the increased productivity, with the foremost factor being a concerted effort to be more active on the boards.
“I think I’ve been more aggressive trying to get rebounds,” said Aldridge. “I think that’s put me in a good rhythm with everything else. I think this whole season, teams have keyed in on me, but I think I’ve learned more. I’ve figured out ways to stay efficient and affect the game other than scoring.”
And then there’s the desire to make the playoffs. Aldridge is anxious to make the postseason for the first time in his professional career, and he’s putting much of that burden on his own shoulders.
“I think I’ve made a big step this year as far as talking more, playing more like a leader this season,” said Aldridge. “I’m trying to step up for the playoffs. Trying to get better. I think as we go forward that we’re going to need everybody to raise their level. I know I’m trying to raise mine.”
But there’s something more visceral driving Aldridge’s improvement: his almost maniacal quest to prove his doubters wrong. For a man who has the words “Me Against The World” tattooed across his back, the desire to silence all questions about his game runs deep.
“I feel like when I was coming up, I had to prove to everybody that I should be here,” said Aldridge. “I think I still have to prove that I’m a go-to player. I don’t think some people really believe it yet, so I have to do it every night. Go out and prove it every night.
“I’m in the paint more than they think I am. I’ve just got to keep proving them wrong.”
With every dunk, Aldridge gets a little step closer to achieving that goal.