There’s a certain amount of validation one feels after being named to an All-Star team. Confidence, for the most part, has to come from within, but there is something to be said for being recognized by your peers as one of the best players in the league.
But there are two sides to that coin. While the ego boost that comes with being named one of the best of the best is nice, it also brings a level of added attention from your opponents, something LaMarcus Aldridge, just one day removed from being named a Western Conference All-Star for the first time in his career, experienced Friday night in the form of constant double-teams from the Hornets in New Orleans.
Now being double-teamed is nothing new for Aldridge, but the timing and frequency of those doubles was. Most teams have tried to play Aldridge straight up – usually with very little success – to start the game, only before opting to double-team once it becomes obvious that the job is too difficult for any one man. But the Hornets, possibly because of his new status as an All-Star and certainly because of Hornets’ coach Monty Williams’ familiarity with Aldridge’s game, decided to double-team the post from the get-go.
“Coach Mont made me feel like I'm going to get double-teamed even more now,” said Aldridge, half joking. “I felt like after last night, getting called an All-Star and then playing these guys, I feel like I'm not going to be able to play anymore! I feel like my one-on-one play is done now. I'm going to try to become a better passer. That's how I felt tonight. I was like, man, every time I took one dribble they double-teamed like clockwork.”
Dealing successfully with double-teams is the last step in Aldridge’s transformation from fringe All-Star to full-fledged superstar. Some might look at his line against the Hornets – 14 points on 7 for 12 shooting – and wonder how someone who is supposed to be one of the best players in the NBA could be held to almost 10 points below his season average against one of the worst teams in the NBA. And a lesser player, one who judges his performance solely by the final box score, might have forced up bad shots rather than taking what the defense gave, but that’s not the how LaMarcus Aldridge, All-Star edition, operates.
“I wanted to keep our actual flow good. I feel like me passing up taking tough shots and getting good looks was actually working.”
And the fact is, for the Trail Blazers to be successful, Aldridge has to command double-teams, because there aren’t too many guys on the current roster who can create their own shot. What’s more, Aldridge welcomes the double-team, as long as his teammates hold up their end of the bargain.
“If we're getting double-teamed and we're not making them pay, then that bothers me,” said Aldridge. “As the game went on we started getting to the basket, Jamal (Crawford) started making shots, Ray (Felton) made some threes and I feel like that's when I started feeling better about it, because if I'm getting taken out of the game and we're not getting nothing from it then I'm getting frustrated. I'm not doing my job. But if I'm forcing them to play me and we're scoring out of it, that's what I want. I don't mind not scoring, but we have to get something out of it.”
That was the case Friday night, at least in the second half. It’s no coincidence that both Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton had arguably their best shooting nights of their Trail Blazers’ careers on the same night Aldridge started commanding nonstop doubles. And Portland’s perimeter players hitting shots allowed Aldridge to score six points, almost half of his total for the game, in the fourth quarter. Playing inside-out, taking what the defense gives you, it’ what Nate McMillan is referring to when he says, as he often does, “Play basketball.”
“The whole game, from start to finish, on dribble, they double-teamed,” said Aldridge. “That's why I only took 12 shots, but I wasn't mad about it. I was trying to work on my passes and try to get guys good shots so every time they double teamed, I was trying to put guys in rhythm.”
In a perfect league, players would be lauded for making the correct play rather than simply volume scoring. Unfortunately, this league is far from perfect, but Aldridge is perfectly happy taking only 12 shots and scoring only 14 points, numbers that won’t get you a trip to the 2013 All-Star game in Houston, as long as it means the Trail Blazers are winning.
“Considering I was double-teamed the whole game,” said Aldridge, “that's not bad.”
Not bad at all.