After taking over as the No. 1 option for the San Antonio Spurs last season, LaMarcus Aldridge has been forced to adjust his game once again.
There’s no doubt about it, power forward LaMarcus Aldridge has been the heart and soul of the San Antonio Spurs over the past year. When it was announced that Kawhi Leonard would sit indefinitely with his quad injury, Aldridge stepped up and produced one of the best seasons of his coveted career.
He carried an enhanced offensive workload while continuing his graceful development into a quality rim defender, earning All-NBA Second Team honors in the process.
When Leonard was traded to Toronto in July, Aldridge welcomed shooting guard DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs family with open arms. He invited the challenge of tackling the Western Conference with a new unit and came out of the gates strong, scoring 21 points and grabbing 19 rebounds in the season opener against Minnesota.
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Watching Aldridge adapt to the Spurs’ uptick in tempo and adjust to playing alongside DeRozan has been one of the more interesting developments of the season. While it remains true that Aldridge is an effective two-way player with the ability to pop off on any given night, he hasn’t made the most of his opportunities up to this point.
The midrange aficionado generally knocks down his jumpers at a near perfect rate, especially with the right spacing. DeRozan, whose playmaking has given San Antonio a major offensive boost, has done an excellent job of getting the ball to Aldridge off of screens around the top of the key.
A huge component in Aldridge’s chemistry with former Spurs point guard Tony Parker was their ability to operate the pick-and-pop. Parker understood how to find Aldridge off of a screen and where he’d like the ball most: just inside the three-point line. This is something that DeRozan understands well, since he also shoots best in those spots as well.
Because of this understanding, DeRozan has made an obvious attempt to find Aldridge in those spots on the floor but LA hasn’t quite found his rhythm.
Through a nine-game sample size, Aldridge is shooting 5.8 percent worse from the field than he did in his 2017-18 campaign. Despite the arrival of DeRozan, head coach Gregg Popovich has made sure that Aldridge remains as important to the offense as he was last season. Even with a substantially improved offensive roster, Aldridge is shooting just 0.6 less shots than he did last season.
Pop’s system has always been reliant on a fundamentally sound power forward in the low post and there’s no sign of that changing any time soon. The Spurs are as reliant on Aldridge as they’ve ever been, since his production shows a direct correlation with the team’s success.
In victories, Aldridge is shooting an average of 48.2 percent from the field for 23.2 points, just 0.1 points more than his scoring average from last season. To contrast that Aldridge is shooting an average of 37.8 percent from the field for 13.7 points per game in losses, a significant drop off from his production in winning efforts.
Free throw attempts have been huge for Aldridge, who shoots 4.3 more shots from the charity stripe in wins than losses. By using his smarts and drawing fouls on opposing bigs, Aldridge increases his own opportunity to score while taking his primary matchup off the floor for extended periods of time.
The national headlines have zoned in on DeRozan’s hot start to the season, but the Spurs are still entirely reliant on LaMarcus Aldridge to pull out wins
Popovich’s emphasis on getting the ball to Aldridge holds steady, but the adept veteran has made an added effort to get the ball to his teammates as well. He’s averaging a career-high 3.4 assists per game while only turning the ball over 0.4 more times per contest, a trade off that certainly benefits the booming offensive lineups that Pop designed
San Antonio, like plenty of other teams in the league, is adjusting to a new roster constructed over the course of the summer. It’s hard to believe after years of Pop and the Big Three pumping out winning seasons, but this the most roster turnover the team has faced in quite some time.
Aldridge, like the rest of his teammates as well as the organization as a whole, is adjusting to a new period of Spurs basketball. For this team to truly compete for a sixth banner, they’ll need the Aldridge-DeRozan duo to lead the way.