As Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Thursday, the Portland Trail Blazers have offered all-star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge a max contract extension that would add three years and $55 million to the end of his current contract. Aldridge will make just more than $16 million next season, after which he would become an unrestricted free agent.
This represents a canny move for the Blazers, as the largest offer he could receive next summer would be, well, larger. Once his current contract expires, he could ask for five years at more than $21 million per year from the Blazers, while other teams could offer him a four-year deal.
But is Aldridge worth the money? Barring injury or a large-scale drop in play, absolutely. First of all, the Blazers might be hard-pressed to replace Aldridge’s talent if he left. They project to have sizable cap space in the 2015 offseason with only Nicolas Batum, Damian Lillard and likely C.J. McCollum making guaranteed money, as Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez will be up for extensions in addition to Aldridge. Presumably the Blazers will also have made some moves to strengthen their depth in the interim, and these additions will likely carry salary guarantees into 2015-16 and beyond.
Further, Portland does not have an extensive track record as a destination for marquee free agents, even if the Blazers did have cap space to replace Aldridge with a “max”-type player while securing their other important assets.
Moving away from the opportunity costs, is Aldridge a player who deserves a max contract? A quick look at the top-line numbers says he is. A three-time all-star in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, over the last four seasons Aldridge has averaged 21.9 points, 9.3 rebounds 2.4 assists and around 1 steal and 1 block per game, and has done so while shooting a respectable 48.6 percent from the floor.
However, critics point to his mediocre efficiency (he had a career-low .507 true shooting percentage in 2013-14) and his penchant for shooting long two-pointers while rarely venturing beyond the three-point line. These are fair critiques. As Aldridge’s profile has risen, the 6-foot-11 big man has become more of a perimeter player. The average distance of his field goal attempts has risen in each of the last three seasons, going from 9.3 feet in 2010-11 (his first season as a 20-plus point scorer) to 12.5 feet last year, per Basketball-Reference.com. These longer shots have not been three-pointers as he has taken only 63 over that stretch, seven of which were desperation, end-of-quarter heaves.
The answer to these critics is two-fold. First, Aldridge’s own efficiency is somewhat undersold by efficiency measures that ignore turnovers. Of the 38 players who have used at least 25 percent of their team’s possessions over the last four years, only one — Al Jefferson (another player whose offensive game is underrated by shooting-only measures of efficiency) — turns the ball over substantially less often than Aldridge.
Combined with Portland’s excellent offensive rebounding, Aldridge’s ability to generate shots without conceding turnovers is of significant value to the team.
Speaking of the team, the fact that Aldridge is one of the deadlier mid-range shooters in the league opens up a great deal of space for his teammates. Compare the true shooting stats of the Blazers’ other four preferred starters with and without Aldridge sharing the floor:
Thus, despite Aldridge’s “poor” shooting last season, the Blazers were a substantially better offensive club with him in the lineup (averaging 113.8 points per 100 possessions with Aldridge on the floor as compared with 107.8 when he rested, per NBAWOWY.com).
None of the above even takes into account Aldridge’s defensive mobility, his excellent rebounding or his ability to draw fouls against tougher defenses, but he possesses all those traits as well, making him an easy candidate for a max contract.
Seth Partnow lives in Anchorage, Alaska, with his wife, daughter and dog. He blogs about the NBA and related topics at WhereOffenseHappens.com. His work can also be found at Hickory-High.com and ESPN’s ClipperBlog.com, where he is a regular contributor. Seth can be reached on twitter @WhrOffnsHppns.