Race to the MVP Ladder
The Race to the MVP Ladder is a weekly look at our favorite to walk away with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy (aka the NBA MVP award). The rankings are written by Sekou Smith of NBA.com's HangTime blog, Hang Time podcast and The Beat fame. If you have an issue with the Ladder, or have a question or comment for Sekou, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on Twitter.
NBA World Seeing What Aldridge Can Do
Dec. 6 -- When Terry Stotts was an assistant in Dallas, helping coach Rick Carlisle craft the ideal system around superstar big man Dirk Nowitzki, it dawned on him how important it was for the Mavericks to find the right man to watch Nowitzki's back.
Tyson Chandler was that man. The Mavericks used that pairing to help them beat back the Miami Heat in The 2011 Finals.
So when assessing his situation in Portland, where Stotts inherited one of the league's other sweet-shooting big men in LaMarcus Aldridge, Stotts went back to that Dallas playbook in trying to find the right player to help bring out Aldridge's best.
Robin Lopez has served in that capacity this season for the Trail Blazers, doing much of the low-post dirty work that frees Aldridge up to attack the opposition in ways only he can. And the results have been tremendous.
"It's really just about letting LaMarcus do what he does best," Stotts said. "And he's been great for us all season long."
With Aldridge, dynamite point guard Damian Lillard and the Swiss Army knife duo of Wesley Matthews and Nic Batum, the Trail Blazers have become one of the surprise stories of this season, even more so than the Indiana Pacers, whom Portland topped in an epic battle on Monday.
Aldridge has certainly taken advantage of the opportunity to crank up his own reasonably high profile, a factor reflected in his jump from 10th to sixth in this week's Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.
Monster performances in back-to-back wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder (38 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and two steals) and Pacers (28 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal) should serve as wristband for his entry into the VIP section for players chasing All-Star and postseason honors.
Doing work like that on the biggest stage, against the biggest names, deserves to be noted. Never mind that Aldridge, quietly one of the best big men in the game the past six years, has never courted the spotlight. What he is doing is using every tool he can to refine his game and be the threat that his talent has always suggested he should be.
So while he's not one of the league's leaders in the bustling social media movement, he's certainly on the cutting edge on and off the court (as profiled by The Oregonian):
"During the first half of Wednesday night's victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Aldridge was pulled from the game and, about two minutes later, an intern from the video department left the video room with an iPad and delivered it to the bench. Aldridge went on to have a monster game, recording a career-high 38 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, perhaps aided by a tip he picked up from the iPad.
"I use it mostly to see how teams are double-teaming me," Aldridge said earlier this season. "Because I get double-teamed a lot, so I like to see what guys are open, who I'm going to hit (with a pass) if I get double-teamed, where the defense is double-teaming me from and where my shots are going to come from."
The Blazers need Aldridge to stay zoned in on the minutiae if they're going to sustain their place in the West's upper crust. He's certainly capable, as his consistent 21-plus-points and 8-plus-rebounds averages in each of the past three seasons show.
"I think you could make a good argument that he's playing the best basketball of any big man in the [Western Conference] right now, especially with Anthony Davis being sidelined with that broken hand," a veteran advance scout said. "Really, there aren't too many big men in the league playing as well as he is offensively and defensively. It's Kevin Love and LaMarcus at the top of the short list in my eyes."
That's fine company for Aldridge to keep, now and well into the future.
-- Sekou Smith
Editor's note on player stats: Instead of going with points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals to measure each MVP candidate's numbers, we are instead going with PIE.
While we do not discredit traditional stats around these parts, PIE is one stat we think accurately reflects the overall value of a player.
What is PIE? It stands for Player Impact Estimate, and it's a new NBA-developed stat that measures a player's (or team's) overall impact on the games in which they've played.
PIE eliminates league- , season- or style-of-play bias, enabling comparison of a player's and team's across different eras. The PIE formula also includes the team's rate of success -- which some see as the ultimate measure.
We feel this is an accurate depiction of a player's overall value. But if you're looking for the traditional (and advanced numbers), they're just a click away on each player, too.