Death, taxes, and LaMarcus Aldridge’s baseline turnaround from the left block. These are the immutable constants of life over the last fifteen years. In a world now filled with ever-shifting realities, NBA fans will have to adjust to life without the seven-time All-Star. Aldridge abruptly retired Thursday after playing Sunday’s game with an irregular heartbeat, consulting with team physicians, and deciding it was no longer in his best interests to continue his career. The Dallas native was diagnosed with a cardiac condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome early in his NBA career and has had several procedures in the intervening years. It’s commendable that LaMarcus put his health and his family at the forefront of his decision-making, even as it is sad to see him leave the game in this fashion.
Aldridge leaves behind a tremendous legacy as a player. He scored 19,951 regular season points in his career, and was voted All-NBA five times. He never won a title, but played on several tremendously entertaining sub-championship-level teams in Portland and San Antonio. [Though they are not in the same tier historically, finally landing on a championship-caliber team in Brooklyn, only to retire mid-season, is evocative of the recently passed Elgin Baylor. Elgin retired nine games into the 1971-72 season for the Lakers when his body could no longer hold up, with L.A. going on to win the title that season. It would have been Baylor’s one and only championship of his legendary career.]
Aldridge’s Hall of Fame case will be a fascinating one, and will likely cause untold meltdowns among sports talk media clowns. Basketball-Reference estimates his chances of enshrinement at 51%, which despite the circumstances surrounding his buyout and subsequent signing in Brooklyn, almost certainly would have been bolstered by ending this season with a title. [It would have been whiplash-inducing to listen to talking heads argue this point while simultaneously claiming his legacy was cheapened by choosing Brooklyn, so at least we’ll be spared that dumbassery.]
Perhaps more interesting is how his departure from the game acts as a signpost for the stylistic shifts in NBA basketball as a whole. For one, there is Aldridge’s understated personality. He was always a quiet star, never a big self-promoter or endorsement guy. For the most part, he simply went about the business of being an excellent, highly-compensated NBA player without much drama or fanfare. Aldridge was the literal and figurative heir apparent to Tim Duncan, even if he never achieved the same heights as the Big Fundamental.
While LaMarcus will thankfully survive this health scare, from an on-court perspective, he was the last of a dying breed: big men whose offensive game was centered around post-ups and midrange jumpers, the two most maligned play types in modern pace-and-space basketball. While the demise of these types of shots has been exaggerated by the hot-takesmiths out there, it is also true that there are no more high-volume NBA bigs with a shot distribution which looks anything like that of Aldridge. Per Basketball-Reference, for his career, LMA shot over 50% of his field goal attempts from outside of ten feet but inside the three point arc. Only 4% of his career attempts were from three, with the majority of those coming in the last four seasons as 3PA across the league exploded. [Even Joel Embiid, who is dominating in both the post and midrange this season on his way to an inevitable top-5 MVP finish, doesn’t do this much of his work in those areas, relatively speaking. Just over 30% of his attempts this season are coming from the midrange, and over 20% of his shots are threes.]
Aldridge was able to maintain his effectiveness deep into his career despite this analytics-averse shot profile because, unlike your average NBA player, he was an absolute marksman from those spots. His game was extremely asymmetrical — he much preferred setting up on the left side of the court as opposed to the right — and it came as a minor shock anytime he missed one of those aforementioned fadeaways from the left block.
Unless major rule changes are instituted, it is unlikely we’ll ever see a star big man again who plays quite like LaMarcus Aldridge, for better or worse. A front court player with a career 25.8% Usage Rate who doesn’t shoot threes, get to the line much, or generate many assists is going to have a tough time garnering big money in the brave, new NBA world of threes, free throws, and layups. So pour one out for LaMarcus Aldridge. He probably came along a bit too late in NBA history for his own good, but in doing so, reminded us all of what we’ve lost, and in the end, filled us with gratitude for all we have.
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