Culture of Hoops

Sonny’s Top 50 NBA Players: #10 LaMarcus Aldridge

Image courtesy of San Antonio Spurs/Facebook.

Image courtesy of San Antonio Spurs/Facebook.

Resume: 23.4 points (7th in league, career best), 10.2 rebounds (9th in league), 1.7 assists, 1.0 block, 39 double-doubles (9th in league), 35.4 minutes, 47% FG, 35% 3PT (career best), 85% FT (career best) … Team Record in Games Played: 48-23 (3-8 without) … Playoffs: 21.8 points, 11.2 rebounds (career best), 1.8 assists, 2.4 blocks (career best), 33% FG, 89% FT (career best), 1-4 record … 7th in MVP Voting, 2nd Team All-NBA, All-Star

The Summer of 2015 wasn’t one that resulted in a seismic shift in power in the NBA like some free agency periods of years past have. The formation of the Miami Heat Big Three was a colossal event not only in the history of the NBA, but professional sports as a whole. LeBron James‘ subsequent home-coming four summers later was an almost equally large event in terms of wide-scale notoriety. The biggest talking points from this past summers offseason seemed to be the rising salary cap (which by the way, is a huge deal) and the emoji-battle and eventual hostage crisis caused by the indecisive flip-flopping of DeAndre Jordan.

However, the biggest on-court development in July was the San Antonio Spurs signing of multiple time All-Star Power Forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Naturally, as is the case with almost anything the Spurs have done over the last twenty years, this move flew well under the radar, evading most people who are only casual fans of the NBA. The people who were paying attention know well enough that the Spurs without Aldridge have been perennial title contenders for a decade and a half and they didn’t need any sort of splashy move to keep that streak in tact. The addition of Aldridge means that the Spurs now have three of the top eleven players in the league, in my opinion of course, and their chances for another title in the Duncan-Pop Era has seemingly improved.

There are worries that trying to incorporate Aldridge will be like attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole. The Spurs offense is a thing of beauty; a perfect mix of individual skill, heady passing and timely cuts that more often than not lead to a desirable uncontested field goal attempt. Not every player can find a niche in this offense. Some guys just don’t have the skillset. Others don’t have the basketball IQ to make the extra pass or move to the right spot.

With Aldridge the concern isn’t whether or not he can fit in; it’s more about whether he will fit in. There’s a difference. Aldridge has established himself as one of the most talented players in the league, someone whose blend of outside shooting and low-post scoring should lend itself to any sort of NBA offense. But with the Spurs it’s a little different. In San Antonio, it’s rare to see any player hold the ball for more that a second or two or try to isolate against their defender. That’s what Aldridge has spent a good portion of time doing over the last couple of seasons.

And here is where we can credit Aldridge … he’s been more prolific from an area on the floor that is becoming largely extinct than just about anyone else in the league. Portland’s offense was built on Aldridge’s ability to isolate and score against one defender from the place where most defenses are trying to force opposing offenses to score from, mid-range and had Wes Matthews not gone down with a torn Achilles, the Blazers probably would have been playing into the 2nd Round of the Playoffs for the second straight year, riding Aldridge’s coattails.

Even though Aldridge carried an above average offense going to work from the left block and the wing, the Spurs won’t turn over the offense to him. It will be Aldridge who adapts to the Spurs style, not vice versa. And that’s how it should be when you go to a team that already has a culture of winning while playing a certain style.

Making the Aldridge piece fit into the puzzle probably won’t be as difficult as some people think it will be. Aldridge can thrive while helping to create offense from the elbows, and he’s a match made in pick and pop heaven so long as he ditches some of his bad habits, like ignoring open shooters or being too indecisive on the catch. At it’s best, the Spurs offense hums because of good ball movement, better player movement and snap decisions. Aldridge needs to break the habit of catching and stopping.

Again, this is a problem that could easily be fixed by the time the season rolls around. Aldridge is plenty capable of catching and shooting quickly out to about the three point line, and he’s deceptively quick and effective attacking the basket. If the Spurs passing bug rubs off on him, he’ll routinely have wide open shooters to swing the ball too after pick and rolls; his outside shooting ability will draw a ton of attention from help defenders, and once defenses start scrambling to help against the Spurs it’s all but over.

To appease Aldridge and to take some strain off of bench heavy units that don’t pack the punch that the starting five does, there will probably be stretches of in the game where Coach Gregg Popovich will hand over the offense to Aldridge and let him work where he feels most comfortable, the left block. It’s no different than what Pop has done for years with Tim Duncan or more recently with the emerging Kawhi Leonard.

Over time Aldridge will start to feel comfortable with his new role, especially once he sees how many open jumpers the machine that is the Spurs offense can get him. Aldridge was a good catch-and-shoot shooter last year, and the quality and quantity of those kind of looks will probably both go up this season in San Antonio.

It’s purely speculation that Aldridge will thrive in San Antonio, but there isn’t good reason to believe that he shouldn’t. His numbers and touches will go down, but individual accolades don’t necessarily equate to team success and in San Antonio that is all that matters. Aldridge should know that by now, and he obviously must know that the game is changed now that he’s a Spur. He could have went to a bigger market or to a team that was in need of a number one scoring option. The Spurs really aren’t either of those … they’re something better. And they can be even better than that if Aldridge buys into the system.

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