LaMarcus Aldridge is a lethal attacking force in the post. Every team is well aware of this fact, yet not many have figured out how to even slow Aldridge down when he catches the ball down low. The Grizzlies face the daunting task of keeping Aldridge somewhat at bay on the block for an entire playoff series. Can the Grizzlies get it done? If so, how?
Before we can arrive at the point of deeming which defensive strategies are most successful against Aldridge in the post, we must first understand where his post touches come from and take a look at his shot chart.
According to Vorped, Aldridge had 366 touches inside the arc on the left side of the floor, whereas he had a mere 96 touches of the same variety on the right side of the floor. Those basic numbers simply demonstrate that Aldridge predominantly does his damage, including on post ups, from the left side of the floor. He does so for two reasons.
First, Aldridge seems to feel more comfortable shooting turnaround jumpers turning over his right shoulder away from his strong hand. Secondly, posting up on the left side of the floor allows Aldridge to dribble with his dominant hand on drives to the middle of the paint.
Now let's look at Aldridge's shot chart. Since we are talking about post ups alone, the main thing of note is the significant increase in field goal percentage as the shots get closer to the basket. This isn't groundbreaking in and of itself. If the Grizzlies can't take advantage of that information in some way, then it's useless. Context matters, and that's why film comes in handy to supplement this information.
In four meetings between the Grizzlies and the Portland Trail Blazers this season, the Grizzlies threw many different looks at Aldridge when he had the ball in the post. Without surprise, the least successful of those methods was giving up ground to Aldridge, thus allowing him to gain deeper position and turn and sweep right into the middle of the paint.
As the shot chart above demonstrates, Aldridge is much more dangerous in the paint than he is out of it. That's not to say he's not still really good posting up outside of the lane, but the Grizzlies would be wise to force Aldridge to stay out of the paint on as many post touches as possible and play the odds on Aldridge missing tougher jumpers.
When the Grizzlies gave up the middle of the lane to Aldridge when the teams met this season, he converted more often than not. Notice in the video below how whoever is defending Aldridge either gave up way too much ground, allowing him to dribble right back into the goal, or the defender didn't take away his sweeping dribble with his right hand that he so often utilizes to get into the lane and soft underbelly of the defense. Giving up deeper position also typically provides Aldridge with a greater opportunity to draw a foul.
Of course, it's one thing to say the Grizzlies *should* keep Aldridge out of the paint, and it's entirely another to state exactly how they can accomplish that. It's no small task, but it can be done as the Grizzlies proved on multiple Aldridge post ups in the regular season.
The first and most obvious method the Grizzlies employed was to force Aldridge to catch the ball further from the basket. Defenders were able to do this a couple times to Aldridge by staying low in a nice defensive stance and positioning their chest lower on Aldridge's back, giving them more leverage. Most of the time, that takes away the option for Aldridge to muscle his man back and makes him work much harder to get a shot off. Not only does he have to work harder just to create a shot when he catches the ball out close to the perimeter, but the shot he does get will likely be much tougher than if he were closer to the basket.
Aldridge is a freaking beast, so utilizing this strategy won't necessarily guarantee a miss by the power forward. However, head coach Dave Joerger clearly wants his guys to defend Aldridge this way. On the live feed of both plays shown in the clips below, Joerger can be heard screaming "GOOD" repeatedly from the sideline as a result of a defender making Aldridge work harder and not allowing him to catch the ball anywhere near the basket.
The key method the Grizzlies used to defend Aldridge on the left block during the regular season was incredibly clever. If they couldn't force him to catch the ball close to the perimeter, which they often couldn't, they took away his best option of slashing to the middle of the floor by shading him towards the baseline. On numerous occasions, Aldridge's defender sat on his left hip to bait him into taking a turnaround baseline jumper.
This strategy is not only the best one because it mitigates Aldridge's domination of the slow, aging Zach Randolph, who will likely draw Aldridge a fair share of the time, but also because a turnaround baseline jumper is a much tougher shot than one that comes inside the paint — even for Aldridge.
If Aldridge catches fire in the post at any point, the Grizzlies can bring a help defender, usually the other big, to surprise him and trap him on the baseline. The wing player on the weakside can then dig down and cover the offensive player left by the man bringing the double-team. Aldridge could still hurt the Grizzlies in that situation, but he would have to make a tough pass across the court to the opposite wing to do so.
By utilizing this strategy, the Grizzlies are taking away a large portion of the floor for Aldridge and the Blazers to work with on post ups, and that's a major step towards the Grizzlies' success on the defensive end in this series.
There's no way to completely shut down a player of Aldridge's caliber, but the Grizzlies must at least attempt to slow him down. Given that the Grizzlies have problems switching because of personnel, stopping Aldridge in the pick & roll will likely be a much tougher ask than slowing him down in slow, grind it out post-up situations.
Memphis will have to come up with some way(s) to make Aldridge less formidable in certain areas and not allow him to get everything he wants offensively in every game. Based on what we know by drawing upon film from previous meetings and Aldridge's shot chart, the Grizzlies should play the odds based on his shooting percentages from different areas of the floor and make him work harder to get his points in the post. Advancement to the next round just might depend on it.