LaMarcus Aldridge is the top free agent who might actually switch teams. More than one team has traded off major contributors to acquire him without getting any commitment first, and the Los Angeles Lakers seem desperate to land him. And this all raises a question worth asking: Is he worth it?
There are certainly reasons to believe he is. He averaged 23.4 points and 10.2 rebounds last season. The only other players to hit those marks in the last five years are Anthony Davis, Kevin Love and DeMarcus Cousins, per Basketball-Reference.com.
He also began to shoot more threes and made 35.2 percent of his triples, which dwindles the above list down to just Love. A power forward who can stretch the court and rebound is certainly an asset to be valued as the league leans more and more in that direction.
And, unlike Love, Aldridge doesn’t present a defensive challenge to compensate for when he’s on the court. Opponents shot 2.1 percent below their season averages when he was on them, per NBA.com.
Aldridge certainly is a nice piece to have on a championship caliber team, but does that mean he’s a game changer? Is he worth the sacrifice some teams are making? When you start looking at the advanced numbers, he’s not quite as impressive.
Of players qualifying for the minutes per game leaderboard, his 22.8 player efficiency rating was eighth, last season. His 8.6 win shares ranked just 21st. His box plus-minus was .3, only good for 105th. His Real Plus-Minus was 4.06, ranking 25th, per ESPN.com. Among players who averaged 20 minutes and played 40 games, his Player Impact Estimate was tied for 11th. His 1108.2 Floor Impact Counter at RealGM.com was 13th.
We could argue that those numbers don’t appreciate the “eye test” and that numbers can be deceiving. Of course, numbers and the eye test aren’t mutually exclusive either, and the vast majority of the time, the numbers tell the truth — particularly when most of them are saying the same thing.
And part of the deception is the reputation as a court-stretcher is overstated. Yes, he shot well enough from behind the three-point line, but he only actually made 37. And he has just 61 for his entire career. The scoring average is nice, but he took more two-point attempts than anyone in the league, and the majority of those came from the less-efficient mid-range area of the court.
Nor, as his shot chart reveals, is he particularly effective in any area:
So it’s a legitimate question: How much is it worth to land a player who isn’t even in the top 10? Bear in mind, this isn’t taking a swipe at Aldridge. He’s a very good player, but is he a truly elite player? Is he the type, nearing 30 years old, who can turn the fortunes of a franchise around?
Whether he’s worth it or not may come down to what the team has to offer around him. In a case like the San Antonio Spurs, where there’s enough in place to form a solid structure beneath his feet, I think it’s a bold, but smart move. However, with some of the other teams hoping to land him as the cornerstone of a rebuilding project, I don’t think he has that kind of talent.
He’s not a LeBron James-type figure who can join any team in the league and instantly make them a contender. He can be a difference-maker, but only in the right situation. However, when it comes to free agency, there’s always an extra value to being the best player available. It causes perceptions and value to inflate.
Some teams will regret what they gave up to land him if they miss out, but if he doesn’t make the “right” choice, the winner might have buyer’s remorse as well.