Friday, April 18, 2008

LaMarcus Aldridge is not most improved

This entry has been gnawing at the corners of my mind for too long. It is only just now seeing the light of day because I've made peace with icky feelings of disloyalty. I feel better when I remember I've done this sort of thing before. I love Rip City, and want all due accolades for the team and players, but sometimes the fans and media go slightly overboard (I plead no contest). A major reason this blog started was because I was frustrated that so many fans were wanting to keep Z-Bo. Then we at DeceptivelyQuick pissed off a large segment of the local fans and media when we called bullshit on the Sergio Rodriguez hype. Pretty soon I won't have any friends left.

This is not LaMarcus hating. If you've hung around here much, you know I'm probably incapable of such acts. This is documenting another possible case of Blazer hype gone unchecked in Rip City. I love rampant homerism as much as the local TV commentators, but I'm getting a little tired of listening and reading claims that LaMarcus deserves to win the most improved player award this season. Yes, his improvement has been great. No, he doesn't deserve the award.

The Trailblazers are excellent at campaigning on behalf of their players. The Roy Leatherman tool (part of the Roy for ROY campaign) and the iRoy were both clever marketing campaigns that got people talking. They've created a slick website for LaMarcus as MIP, definitely not the Roy treatment, but still sort of cool.

Over at the official Blazers blog, Casey Holdahl declares the award is Lamarcus's to lose. A shocking stance for an official Blazers blog to take. He cites that while guys like Rudy Gay and Hedo Turkoglu had nice seasons, the improved team record tips the scale to LaMarcus. Fine, except that the Magic actually improved their record by 12 games over last season to the Blazer's 9. Not his fault, maybe they have wikipedia blocked (1 2) at the Rose Garden.

ESPN took a poll of twenty of their NBA folks and nine different players were selected on individual ballots as winners of the award. None of them were LaMarcus. You can't convincingly make the "nobody pays attention to us cause we're small and in the Northwest!" argument anymore since Roy's All-Star appearance. Plus, LaMarcus was ESPN's preseason pick for the award. It isn't that they aren't paying attention, its that there are more deserving candidates.

On a purely numbers basis, you could make an argument either way. LaMarcus is finishing his second season, his first with major minutes. Hedo has been around 8 seasons, playing over 30 minutes a game for the last three. If you compare stricly this season to last season, LaMarcus takes a statistical edge. Of course his minutes increase of 12.8 per compared to Hedo's 5.8 mean he had a lot more opportunity for dramatic season increases by sheer opportunity.

If you compare this season's statistics to career statistics, Hedo seems to get the edge. But this is likely due to the fact that since LaMarcus has played only two seasons, his current season is having a much greater influence on his career numbers.

The take home on the statistics battle: This season to last season, advantage LaMarcus. This season to career, advantage Hedo. Both had good statistical improvement. Both were crucial contributors to teams with improved records. So why Hedo?

Conceptually, what is improvement? We can use statistics to make us appear more objective, but it has a lot to do with performance relative to expectations. That is where Hedo surges forward in this discussion. He was a mid-first round pick in 2000 and had solidified his place in the NBA as a decent role player. This season he broke his own mold and became a force, a playmaker, a go-to guy, a clutch performer, a star.

LaMarcus was the #2 pick in 2006. We saw his talent bubbling last season despite a role, a team, and an injury or two that acted like a boa constrictor on his game. The more obsessed among us saw even more of it during his brief adventures in summer league. With Zach out of town, and later with Oden hurt, we expected big things. No doubt he performed, but it was expected. It had been clear for a while that LaMarcus was supposed to be a star. Ah, maybe that preseason award wasn't all that great after all.

Walking the path to your destiny is not the same as completely hijacking everyone's beliefs about who you are and what you are capable of. Fair or not, real or not, that is the perceived story on these two players this season. Hedo's violent transformation is too startling to go unnoticed. Stop insulting my intelligence and exploiting my team loyalty by trying to convince me LaMarcus deserves this award. If it makes you feel any better, he has bigger things ahead.


Anonymous said...

According to LA is the 7th most improved player while Hedo is 10th. The most improved? Bynum. Hmmmm.

Jack Brown said...

Interesting, I saw some of the ESPN people picked Bynum as well. Maybe he is actually the most improved, but I'm not sure 35 games gets you any hardware.

Anonymous said...

Hedo killed this season, I would almost argue more of a force than Rashard, who didnt quite perform as much as expected, the assist numbers were the craziest part. This was witnessed first hand when the phenom that is Hedo-whatever he want-Turkgolu killed my fantasy team. I agree Lamarcus was crazy this season, it was expected, Hedo came out of nowhere and helped his team to the playoffs.