Blazers coach Stotts says criticism of LaMarcus Aldridge is undeserved

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Overall, LaMarcus Aldridge is playing at a high level for the Blazers. But the fact that he’s seemingly reverted to jump-shots over post play has resulted in some criticism that his head coach doesn’t feel is appropriate at this time.

Aldridge’s points-per-game average of 20.8 is down alost a point from last season, but his rebounds are essentially the same at around eight per game, while there’s been a slight uptick in his assists and blocked shots per game averages.

One area where Aldridge has seen a significant decline is in his field goal percentage, which is currently at 45.9 percent, down from 51.2 last season.

Fans in Portland have been largely down on Aldridge this season because of it, and because when observing the games, it appears that more of his looks are coming from jump shots instead of from aggressive play in the post.

Go ahead and count Blazers head coach Terry Stotts among those who feel the criticism is neither warranted nor justified.

From Joe Freeman of The Oregonian:

Stotts is sick and tired of the general masses crushing LaMarcus Aldridge.

“He’s been doing everything that’s been asked of him at both ends of the floor,” Stotts said of his All-Star power forward. “And he’s done it willingly and effectively. And it just bothers me when people throw darts at him, when they are disparaging. He doesn’t deserve it. I don’t think the criticisms are valid.”

“When you look at plus-minus, everybody plays better when LaMarcus is on the floor,” Stotts said. “And that provides a tangible benefit that doesn’t necessarily show up in box score.”

And while it may appear to the naked eye that Aldridge has abandoned his low-post game, Stotts said the reality is that his franchise power forward is actually averaging “slightly less than one fewer postup every 36 minutes” compared to last season and roughly the same number of free throw attempts (4.9 to 5.0).

“I think it’s a legitimate observation,” Stotts said, referring to Aldridge’s dip in shooting percentage and rebounding. “But it’s undue criticism that he’s not being aggressive or he’s being soft or that he’s not pounding inside. He is doing all those things when he has opportunities.”

Aldridge’s dip in field goal percentage — again, really the only glaring area that’s a legitimate cause for concern — is likely due to where he’s being used in Stotts’ schemes.

Aldridge has said earlier this season that he’s simply doing what he’s told offensively, so there’s no reason to believe that after an All-Star campaign, where he was at times dominant in the post, he’d choose to follow that up by reverting to his jump-shooting preferences that were evident in the earlier stages of his career.

If that’s the case, Stotts will need to find more opportunities to use Aldridge in the post, as is his strength. Otherwise, the criticism is likely to continue to fall on Aldridge’s shoulders, whether justified or not.

Brandon Jennings no fan of the NBA’s new Awards Ceremony event

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Come June 26, Drake will be on stage in New York City, handing out the NBA’s awards — Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, and so on. (We need to set an under/over on the number of players Drake hugs that night.)

The NFL does it. The NHL does it. And the NBA has decided to follow suit with a broadcast awards ceremony where everything — except the All-NBA Team — will be announced that night. It’s happening because the broadcast partners want it.

Brandon Jennings is not a fan. Here is what the Wizards’ point guard Tweeted:

Jennings took down a Tweet that said if he had won the award he would have wanted to get it with the organization and his teammates around him. (And no, he knows he’s not winning the award. If you were going to put that in the comments be more creative.)

There’s something to what Jennings is saying. The NBA award roll out was awkward at times in previous years, but it gave the fans a chance to celebrate the awards with their favorite player. Now, everyone will watch it unfold on television from a ballroom in NYC. That feels a little colder. Also, we will get to see the reaction of those who don’t win (particularly this season, where several players can make a strong case for MVP).

It will be interesting to see how this first year goes, and how the league tweaks it going forward. The more than two month gap between the end of the regular season and the awards could feel a bit awkward. But we’re not going to knock the idea until we’ve seen it in action.

Portland GM makes it official, Festus Ezeli will not be back with team next season

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This season the Portland Trail Blazers found their center of the future (and the present) in Jusuf Nurkic.

Which makes the next step fairly obvious: Portland will not pick up the option on Festus Ezeli for next season, GM Neil Olshay confirmed at the team exit meetings Tuesday.

Portland signed Ezeli on what they thought was a great contract (one-year, $7.4 million, with a team option for the second year) because he was coming off knee surgery last summer. However, Ezeli was never healthy, needed a second surgery, and never got on the court. After taking it slow over last summer he practiced with the team twice in mid-October, there was more swelling, so he pulled back.

This summer Ezeli will not draw any guaranteed money from teams, but some teams may take a look at him. Athletic bigs get a lot of chances in the NBA.

Gordon Hayward will play for Jazz in Game 5 without minutes restriction

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Gordon Hayward has averaged 20.5 points a game in these playoffs — and that includes a 40 point outburst in Game 3 — but what has been more impressive is he has done it efficiently, with a true shooting percentage of 61.1. While Joe Johnson and others have stepped up, Utah will need Hayward’s shot creation if they are going to win this series.

They will have it Tuesday night in Game 5.

After missing the second half of Game 4 due to food poisoning (he tried to play but was ineffective in the first half), he is back and ready to go this time around.

So is Rudy Gobert. The Jazz will be at full health, while the Clippers remain without Blake Griffin for the remainder of the playoffs.

Having those two back is a boost for the Jazz, they need to score more consistently against the Clippers, but the bigger key will be defensively trying to deal with Chris Paul on the pick-and-roll. He has been masterful this series, and the Jazz need to keep him in check to give their offense a chance.

When NBA switches to Nike uniforms next season, Hornets will move to Jordan Brand

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There are not going to be dramatic changes to the look of the NBA when Nike takes over the apparel contract for next season, replacing Adidas. Instead of the Adidas logo, there will be a swoosh, sleeved jerseys will fade away, and some teams will modify their alternate jerseys, but the league is not getting a total uniform makeover next season. Things will look basically the same.

Except in Charlotte — they will not have a swoosh, they will have the Jordan Jumpman logo.

The why is obvious — Michael Jordan is the primary owner of the Hornets and, obviously, the guy the Jordan brand was named after. The Jordan Brand is part of Nike. The Hornets made the announcement this week buried in a press release about moving the fan shop at the arena, hat tip to Sole Collector for finding this. Here is what the release says:

The re-opening of the Hornets Fan Shop will coincide with the launch of the team’s new Jordan Brand uniforms as Nike becomes the NBA’s uniform provider beginning this season.  The Hornets will be the only team in the NBA wearing Jordan Brand uniforms, and with the agreement taking effect, the Hornets Fan Shop will have even more of the popular Jordan Brand Hornets merchandise than it has had previously.

While it’s not like the Lakers or Celtics are going to be changing up their traditional uniforms, even teams like the Hornets will keep a similar look under Nike.

What should be interesting to see is what the Christmas Day and All-Star uniforms look like under a Nike touch.