In his third season with the San Antonio Spurs, power forward LaMarcus Aldridge took an advanced role and earned an All-NBA Second Team selection.
It’s no secret that LaMarcus Aldridge and head coach Popovich met prior to last season to work through their issues. A huge reason why he left Portland in the first place was to take on a primary role within a winning organization, but the emergence of Kawhi Leonard overshadowed his contributions. Aldridge was the greatest benefactor of the now infamous ‘Kawhi-Saga’ in 2018, causing the six-time All Star to regain the title of No. 1 scoring option for Coach Pop.
Aldridge remains committed to Spurs organization after signing a three-year extension in October of 2017 to remain the franchise centerpiece in San Antonio. With a whole new roster in the uber-competitive Western Conference, Aldridge has to take on new responsibilities as the go-to guy in the Alamo City.
— Leigh (@nemomocha) August 26, 2018
Next: Expanding His Range
Expanding His Range
Few players have a mid-range shot as reliable as that of Aldridge. Whether it be a post shot, fadeaway, catch-and-shoot or pull up jumper, the near seven-footer excels at taking and making high percentage shots. Now, it’s time for him to spot up behind the line and help space the floor for San Antonio. Last season was a step in the right direction, but he’ll need to become a more consistent three-point shooter to elevate his game.
Aldridge shot his second most three-pointers for a single season in his career with 92 attempts last year. Unfortunately, he struggled to actually connect on the shots, hitting just 29.3 percent of his attempts from outside. For someone with such a high-quality jump shot, his struggles from behind the arc are a bit staggering. Adding the three-pointer to his offensive arsenal would not only benefit the team’s scoring options but could have positive long-term effects on his body.
By becoming a consistent three-point shooter, Aldridge can score with relative ease compared to his physically daunting style of play. Center Pau Gasol is benefitting from this adjustment, as his floor spacing ability allows him to remain impactful without exerting all of his energy each time down the floor. Adding a consistent three-pointer to the skillset of one of the best scorers in basketball would greatly benefit what’s already a rich offense.
Next: Consistency is Key
It’s rare for a player who’s shown signs of decline over the course of two years to instantly revitalize themselves with the right encouragement, but Aldridge genuinely put up one of the best seasons of his life in 2018. At 23.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, the 33-year-old got back to his old ways by using his strength, physicality, skill and high IQ to capitalize on a style of play that the casual fan would consider dying.
Since Popovich has allowed Aldridge to simply play his game instead of an adjusted version of it, he’s returned to the player that was recruited in the Summer of 2015. The next step in fulfilling his goal of contending for the championship is to keep it up with the team’s new cast of talent. Consistency is a trait that Aldridge has embodied thoroughly over the past 12 seasons of his career.
Milestone Watch: LaMarcus Aldridge (SAS) is 129 pts away from 17,000 Career Points
— NBA Milestones (@NBAMilestoneFan) September 3, 2018
The most important thing that Aldridge can do to help the team win is to continue doing what he’s been doing for the past year: playing his game. A decent percentage of the personnel added this offseason was meant to compliment Aldridge. If he can recreate his production from last year, chances are the Spurs will be an extremely competitive playoff contender in the coming season.
Next: Stepping Up on Defense
Protect the Paint
Like many players before him, Aldridge has transformed into a much-improved defensive player over his three years in San Antonio. His defensive instincts were always considered average in Portland, but Popovich has helped Aldridge to unlock his potential as an elite rim-protector and help defender in the paint. His size and stature gave him the tools necessary to lock down the paint and force opponents to take difficult shots.
In his career, Aldridge has never averaged more than 1.2 blocks per game, which he’s recorded in six seasons including the last two years. With Gasol aging and the frontcourt rotation lacking some size, Aldridge may be asked to take on a larger defensive role in holding down the restricted area of the paint.
Increasing his block average above 1.5 per game could marginally improve the Spurs’ team defense by securing the paint while the backcourt rotation of Dejounte Murray and DeMar DeRozan chase shooters off of the three-point line. Newcomer Jakob Poetl, who’s touted as an exceptional rim defender and shot blocker, can share some of the responsibility but may not get the minutes necessary to supplement Aldridge’s assignments on the low block.
Above all, Aldridge must return to form for San Antonio to remain competitive. As long as he’s scoring efficiently and being himself, the rest will fall into place.