Spurs Reaching Max Potential Depends on LaMarcus Aldridge.

Dec 15, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Spurs defeated the Suns 107-92. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 15, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Spurs defeated the Suns 107-92. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite a lackluster effort from LaMarcus Aldridge, the San Antonio Spurs were able to muster up a gutsy win against the Indiana Pacers, 100-99.

Thank you, Kawhi Leonard.

Behind Leonard’s efforts in the second half of last night’s game, the Spurs were able to overcome a rusty first half and beat the Pacers on the second-to-last shot of the game.

Kawhi fadeaway FTW pic.twitter.com/uq5g7Df20L

— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 2, 2017

Leonard finished the game with 31 points on 50% shooting, along with 10 rebounds, and three steals. According to Quixem Ramirez, it was Leonard’s second 30-10 game of his career.

Not only did Leonard hit the game-winner, but his production has put him over 6,000 points for his career, joining elite company in the process.

Kawhi Leonard just reached 6,000 career points. 7th Spur with 6K in first 6 seasons (Robinson, Elliott, Robertson, Parker, Ginobili, Duncan)

— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) March 2, 2017

The other points came from Pau Gasol and David Lee, both of which came off the bench.

Gasol finished with 18 points on 4-of-7 shooting, along with four rebounds and two blocks. Lee poured in 18 points on a perfect 8-for-8 night, along with five rebounds and a block.

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On the other side, we must give credit to the Pacers. For a team currently on a Texas road-trip, who had just finished playing and beating the Houston Rockets on Monday, played incredibly well and probably deserved to win that game last night.

Unfortunately for the Pacers, Monta Ellis was sent to the free-throw line with a 1-point lead late in the game, and missed both free-throws, setting up Leonard’s heroic shot.

Paul George finished with 22 points on 5-of-18 shooting, along with six rebounds and two assists. CJ Miles finished with 19 points, and Myles Turner had 16 points of his own.

Much like the first matchup, this game was decided by late-game execution. Since Ellis missed those key free throws, Leonard was able to take advantage and give the Spurs a win.

Kawhi in two games against Paul George this season: 63 points, 16 rebounds, 7 steals, 5 3's, 1 game-winner, 53.3 FG%, 41.7 3P%, 90.9 FT%.

— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) March 2, 2017

However, the real story here is LaMarcus Aldridge.

In the summer of 2015, Aldridge was a free agent, and decided he would come back to his home state of Texas and become a Spur.

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At the time, he was coming off a season with the Portland Trailblazers where he was averaging 23.4 (career-high) points per game on 46.6% shooting and 10.2 rebounds.

This year, Aldridge is averaging 17.2 points (Worst since rookie season) on 47.6% shooting, and 7.4 rebounds (Worst since rookie season).

Granted, the situation with the Blazers was different than the situation he’s in now with the Spurs.

At times, the offense ran through Aldridge in Portland. In San Antonio, they rely on a system where everyone touches the ball and the open-man takes the best shot.

The proof is in the field-goal attempts category.

His last year with the Blazers he was averaging 19.9 field goal-attempts a game, second-highest of his career. This year, Aldridge is averaging 14.2 field goal attempts a game, third lowest of his career.

A fan on Twitter asked Spurs beat-writer Jeff McDonald about Aldridge’s play, to which he responded:

I think he's typically one of the players who plays better when Tony Parker plays. TP makes sure he stays involved. https://t.co/QNmyZ2iWtp

— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) March 2, 2017

In Tony Parker’s absence, Aldridge was a non-factor. The numbers back this notion. Aldridge finished the night with six points on 3-of-9 shooting, along with seven rebounds.

As long as Aldridge is healthy, he should be awarded at least 15 shots per game.

For argument’s sake, let’s take the Parker excuse. Without Parker, the inexperienced Dejounte Murray was forced to run the offense, and didn’t find Aldridge as often as he should have.

How about the rest of the games leading up to tonight? Aldridge struggled shooting for a majority of the Rodeo Road Trip, in which Parker played every game.

The last time LaMarcus Aldridge scored 6 points in a game was back on 12/06/16, almost 3 months ago.

The Spurs won both times he scored 6.

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) March 2, 2017

In the loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Aldridge had 13 points on 4-of-19 shooting.

In the win against the Philadelphia 76ers, he had 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting.

In the win against the Detroit Pistons, he had 19 points on 8-of-18 shooting.

In the loss versus the New York Knicks, he scored 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting.

In the win against the Pacers, he had 19 points on 7-of-22 shooting.

In the win against the Orlando Magic, he had 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting.

In the win against the Los Angeles Clippers, he scored 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

In the win against the Los Angeles Lakers, he had 16 points on 8-of-14 shooting.

Spurs' frontcourt duos:

Aldridge/Dedmon: 10 pointsLee/Gasol: 34 points

6:45 left in 4Q.

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) March 2, 2017

Throughout the Rodeo Road Trip, Aldridge was averaging 16.8 points on 40.9% shooting with 6.5 field goal attempts per game. Parker played in every single Rodeo Road Trip game.

While I do agree that Parker gets Aldridge involved on the offensive end, that has nothing to do with his shooting slump.

It’s no surprise that the Spurs are able to win without consistency from Aldridge, as they are 46-13 on the season, the second-best record in the NBA.

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  • However, Aldridge’s struggles are about the big picture: How far in the playoffs can the Spurs go with an ineffective Aldridge? The answer depends on how stellar Leonard can be.

    Unfortunately, even with Leonard’s greatness, the Spurs will not make a championship appearance without an All-Star caliber Aldridge, as the Western Conference has too much talent to compete without him.

    Let’s not forget that the Spurs were 67-15 last season. The Spurs would have to go 21-2 in the final 23 games to match that record.

    That Spurs team who breezed by the regular season lost in six games in the second round to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder were certainly not lacking talent, but the Spurs couldn’t keep up.

    To put things in perspective, Aldridge was averaging 21.9 points on 52.1% shooting, along with 8.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game in last year’s playoffs. If Aldridge’s playoff performance mirrors his regular season performances this year, the Spurs will again lose in the second round.

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    With Gregg Popovich as head coach, the Spurs will always dominate the regular season. Come playoff time, when defense tightens up and all-star caliber players must step up, Popovich’s coaching expertise will not help you win a series.

    At the end of the day, Popovich can’t make your jump shots for you.

    It’s incredibly likely the Spurs end up with the second seed in the West, granting them home-court advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs.

    With a win last night, they brought themselves 3.5 games back of the Kevin Durant-less Golden State Warriors, and securing a one seed is not out of the realm of possibility.

    The point is, the Spurs will have a comfortable seed heading into the playoffs. Once there, the regular season means nothing. In Aldridge’s case, this can be a good thing.

    When the lights were brightest, Tim Duncan shined.

    Aldridge came to San Antonio to contend for titles, and if he wants to reach that point, he must find his inner All-Star, and help Leonard take the Spurs to the promised land.