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San Antonio Spurs 2017-18 season review: LaMarcus Aldridge

MILWAUKEE, WI - MARCH 25: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs shoots over John Henson #31 of the Milwaukee Bucks during the first half of a game at the Bradley Center on March 25, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - MARCH 25: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs shoots over John Henson #31 of the Milwaukee Bucks during the first half of a game at the Bradley Center on March 25, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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LaMarcus Aldridge delivered his best season with the San Antonio Spurs in 2017-18.

Following an offseason that was marred by trade speculation and rumors that he was unhappy with the San Antonio Spurs, LaMarcus Aldridge had a career year in 2018. With Kawhi Leonard out for all but nine games of the season, Aldridge was called upon early and often to carry the load offensively. He responded by having the most efficient season of his career and posting near career numbers across the board.

On a team that lacked players who could go out and create their own shots, Aldridge bailed the Spurs out of many tough nights by being simply unstoppable. His stellar season was recognized with a trip to his sixth NBA All-Star game and a place on the All-NBA Second Team.

Following the Spurs loss to the Warriors in the 2017 playoffs, many Spurs fans were calling for Aldridge’s head. While fans were calling for him to be traded it would later come out that Aldridge was asking for the same thing. The big man was simply unhappy in the Alamo City. He had even gone so far as to reach out to his old teammate Damian Lillard about getting him back to Portland.

The discontent between the Aldridge and the Spurs had caught some fans off guard but wasn’t totally surprising. He had taken the backseat to Kawhi Leonard. He was also asked to significantly change his style of play in order to better fit the type of offense that head coach Gregg Popovich likes to run.

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In early October the Spurs and LaMarcus surprised the NBA world when they announced that he wasn’t going anywhere. He had signed a contract extension that would keep him with the Spurs through the 2020-2021 season. The move was surprising. Wasn’t this the player who, just months before, asked to be moved? It turns out that honest and open communication, and stacks of cash, can help salvage almost any relationship (looking at you, Kawhi).

Aldridge and Gregg Popovich had sat down and had a heart to heart to hash out their differences. According to ESPN’s Michael C. Wright, the two were able to settle their differences over some dinners and, knowing Pop, some very nice wine. Popovich even admitted to overcoaching the former Trailblazer. Both parties agreed that Aldridge would follow the team on defense. On offense, it was clear that he needed to get back to playing in a style similar to his days in Portland.

The adjusted style of play paid dividends almost instantly. In his first two years in San Antonio Aldridge was asked to shoot more threes and play further away from the basket. This year Aldridge returned to bullying smaller players and ducking past larger ones down low. It was clear that he was more comfortable with this style of play. Be it working in the pick and roll with Dejounte Murray, high low actions with Pau Gasol, or working in isolation on the block, Aldridge was constantly involved in the offense.

Retooling the offense around him clearly worked. Aldridge had only reached 30 points once in the 2016-2017 season. He did it 17 times this year. With Kawhi out, and lacking many other consistent scoring options, it became quite common to see the Spurs just dump the ball into Aldridge on the block and let him do what he does best. He would end the season with an effective field goal percentage of 52 percent and averaged 23.1 points per game.

On an older team that was constantly dealing with injuries, one of Aldridge’s’ best abilities was his availability. He was there for the team night in and night out. Popovich praised the big man’s consistency after a particularly tough loss in the playoffs. “I can’t imagine being more proud of a player,” Popovich said, “As far as playing through adversity and being there for his teammates night after night after night.” His impact on the team was more visible than ever in a game against the Jazz in late March. That night Aldridge would post a career-high 45 points on an absurd 19-28 shooting performance.

There were many nights where Aldridge was the only player on the team who could get it done. Were it not for his career year, the Spurs would have likely missed the playoffs. Unfortunately, when he did carry the Spurs into the playoffs they ran into the juggernaut Golden State Warriors. Aldridge and the Spurs proved to be no match for the defending champions and fell in five games.

As a result of his excellent play throughout the season, Aldridge was named to the All-NBA Second Team for the second time in his career. He was joined by Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar DeRozan, Russel Westbrook, and Joel Embiid.

Career year, All-Star appearance, 2nd Team All-NBA, carried his team to the playoffs? Take a bow LaMarcus Aldridge, what a season it was.

Season Grade: A

The situation surrounding Kawhi Leonard will likely dominate the offseason discussion. However, it ends up Spurs fans should take comfort in the knowledge that they will still have LaMarcus around next year. LaMarcus will turn 33 and will be entering his 13th year in the league next year. However, he has never had any major injuries and the Spurs do an excellent job of monitoring their older players minutes. Spurs fans should be worried about a significant drop off happening anytime soon.

Next: 2018 NBA Mock Draft: After the lottery

It will be interesting to see how Leonard and Aldridge reintegrate if the former is still on the team next year. Either way, it will be great to see Aldridge ack on the floor for the San Antonio Spurs in 2018-2019.

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