When LaMarcus Aldridge abruptly retired yesterday due to a cardiac issue, he leaves the NBA as one of the most under-appreciated stars of his era.
It’s cliché to call someone underrated, but Aldridge — who retires just 49 points shy of 20,000 — quietly personified that, while torching Western Conference frontcourts for 19.4 points and 8.2 rebounds during his 15-year NBA career. When you look up and realize that he made seven All-Star appearances while in the Western Conference, it might stun you like a jab in the beer belly, but he was that consistent throughout his career despite never being known as that guy in the same way his peers have.
Seven All-Star trips for the former Portland Trail Blazer and San Antonio Spur: That’s more than, among others, Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald, Joe Dumars, Shawn Kemp, both Ben and Rasheed Wallace, and Adrian Dantley. In terms of bigs from his era, that’s more than Amar’e Stoudemire, Blake Griffin, Pau Gasol, Kevin Love, Al Horford, and DeMarcus Cousins. He even started the 2015 All-Star Game, netting 18 points in 18 minutes.
Perhaps most telling was that Aldridge was a key component on every NBA team he played on from the moment he entered the league via the University of Texas in 2006. His nine-year peak from 2010-2019 saw him average 21.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.1 blocks per contest while shooting 49-percent from the field and 83-percent from the charity stripe on a shade under five foul-line attempts per game. Aldridge even averaged 20.8 points and 8.5 rebounds through 72 career playoff games, where he shot about 46 percent from the field. And beyond that, he played postseason basketball for nine out of 14 years in the West, reaching as far as the Western Conference finals in 2016-17, and we never know how far the Spurs would’ve gone were not for this:
It’s remarkable considering Chris Haynes, of Yahoo Sports, reported yesterday that Aldridge had been dealing with an irregular heartbeat for the entirety of his career.
As Aldridge was facing up and shooting over defenders from 17-feet out, as well as posting up on the lower block, draining shots over your right shoulder by creating juuust enough space on the fadeaway, the league had changed drastically over a short period. When he got drafted, teams were still taking mid-range jumpers with regularity, even as far out as 22-feet, and not by mistake. It’s quite startling to watch as you look back on it now. But during the early 2010s, with teams like the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks, the three-point shot dramatically increased in value. Three has always been more than two, but NBA teams didn’t quite catch on until the past decade.
The three-point boom swallowed up many bigs who never developed an outside game, but Aldridge was too good. He adapted, attempting three three-pointers per game last season, and this current season, he was shooting about 39 percent from beyond the arc. But beforehand, threes were never more than 1.5 attempts per game of his nightly repertoire. He even led the league in two-point field-goal attempts four different times in his career. But still, of his era, very few were as proficient 1-on-1 inside the arc. Very few could say they’ve scored 56 points in a game with just one make from three. And very few bigs ever could say they not only made seven All-Star games in an eight-year span, but they earned five All-NBA bids (2 second team, 3 third team) during their prime years.
Maybe Aldridge was more of a throwback than a one-of-one, but his uniqueness in the modern game is why he stood out, even if he did so discreetly while building an arguable Basketball Hall-of-Fame-worthy resume. If this is it for good, salute to an outstanding career, and for prioritizing health, which is rare when you look around, even in this climate.