Here's how good LaMarcus Aldridge has been against the Rockets in the first two games of their playoff series: When I first saw this obviously fake and joke-y shot chart on Twitter this morning, my first thought wasn't, "Haha what a silly and stupid thing that is." It was, "Yep. Looks about right."
LaMarcus Aldridge isn't here anymore. His mind has left his body and it has been replaced by the will of some sort of astral being whose religion is the mid-range jumper. How else to explain what Aldridge did last night, scoring 43 points on 28 shots while going 12-for-19 from mid-range? You can see every one of those shots in the highlight reel below, each one more immaculate than the one that came before it.
According to Synergy Sports, the Blazers are running 35.5 plays per game for Aldridge in the half court so far in the playoffs, and he is scoring 1.25 points per possession. Manu Ginobili has the next-highest mark among the top 20 in usage with 1.22 points per possession, but he's only getting 18 plays per game in the half court. In other words, Aldridge is using twice as many possessions as the other most-efficient player in these playoffs, but he's still scoring at a more efficient rate. Yeah, it's only two games, but damn.
There's an especially absurd sequence in the video above in which Aldridge just torments the Rockets with a series of unguardable jumpers: He takes poor Terrence Jones into the post, spins left, and drops a fall-away jumper right in his face. He flicks a jumper from the right wing over the outstretched hand of Omer Asik, a seven-footer who can't even come close to touching Aldridge's shot. He gets the ball on the left block, appears to suddenly find the idea of posting up boring and not worth his time, and again shoots a jumper right over Asik. He gets Asik on the left block once again, takes one hard dribble towards the paint to create some space—as if he was ever actually going into the paint, Omer!—before pulling up for another gorgeous jumper. Aldridge hops away on one leg, completely amused with himself, while poor Asik turns into a giant, Turkish Charlie Brown.
It's that soul-crushing quality of Aldridge's game that makes him so much fun to watch when he's on like he was last night. Efficiency reigns supreme in today's NBA, and good teams are good because they know where to find the most valuable shots on the court: At the rim, from behind the three-point line, and at the free-throw line. The mid-range jumper, long the albatross of every shot-happy shooting guard that came up thinking he could be the next Jordan (ahem, Nick Young), was to be cast out of every good offense. The Rockets adhere to this doctrine more than any other team in the league, and the Blazers built a world-beating offense behind a devotion to the three-point shot.
And yet here is LaMarcus Aldridge, taking the shots that nobody is supposed to be taking anymore, and hitting damn near every one of them. It must be maddening for any team, but especially the Rockets, to have to stand there and watch a guy like Aldridge tear them up from mid-range. That's not what you're supposed to to! Why is this working?
But it does work for Aldridge, because when you're as big and as fluid and as precise with an unassailable jumper as he is, a long two isn't a bad shot. The space between the paint and the three-point arc still very much exists, and players with the proper skill set—like Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki—can turn it into a place that is just as valuable to an offense as the three-point line is. While everyone else is trying to feast on efficiency, Aldridge isn't afraid to venture into the fringes, where so many are told they don't belong, and where nobody can stop him.