In his fourth year with the San Antonio Spurs, it’s become evidently clear that All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge was the perfect player to take over franchise star Tim Duncan’s role.
Transitioning to the luxurious basketball machine of the San Antonio Spurs took some time for star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who signed on with Gregg Popovich in the 2015 NBA offseason. Serving as a buffer between the Big Three era and the future of Spurs basketball, Aldridge bought into the tactical positioning and methods of the franchise that’ve led him back to the All-Star game in three of the last four seasons.
It took some time for the Spurs to adjust to life with Aldridge as the marquee big man. He was forced to fill the shoes of the franchise’s heart and soul in Tim Duncan. He felt misused by Pop, who openly admitted to failing Aldridge in certain situations. It became evidently clear to all parties involved that the Spurs couldn’t use LaMarcus in the same ways that they used Duncan, but instead needed to apply similar strategies to new spots on the floor.
Still, Aldridge embodied the same dedication that Duncan displayed throughout his career and stayed the course. He worked with Popovich to create a winning situation that the duo could benefit from in the long term.
Even as Kawhi Leonard emerged as the face of the franchise, San Antonio’s offense consistently ran through Aldridge in the low/high post. High screens, pick-and-pop plays and deep cuts are essential to the offense instilled by Pop and his staff, making Aldridge a perfect complement to a proven system of play.
Now that the Spurs in their newest iteration are built around complementary role players supporting Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, we’ve seen the true potential of what LaMarcus can achieve in San Antonio.
Next: Anchoring the rim
Anchoring the rim
Prior to his tenure in the Alamo City, Aldridge was known more as a one-sided star in spite of some consistent effort on the defensive end of the ball. The defensive tactics instilled by Terry Stotts with the scrappy Trail Blazers are commendable and have resulted in great regular season success for many years, but Gregg Popovich enabled LaMarcus Aldridge to become a rim enforcer.
Aldridge has a stout and physical frame at 6-foot-11 with broad shoulders and a long reach. These tools make him an incredible asset under and around the basket. His long reach and intense focus are key to disrupting layups and blocking shots at the rim.
During his nine years in Portland, Aldridge blocked 80 or more shots in a regular season just three times. He’s done it every year in San Antonio including 83 blocked shots through 66 games in the 2018-19 season. Every single year, Aldridge’s commitment to paint defense intensifies.
Many great players sacrifice their defense in the latter stages of their careers, but Aldridge is unlike the traditional superstar. Constant improvement is the name of the game in San Antonio and Aldridge is committed to his craft. Every year he adds more to his defensive repertoire while maintaining his status as one of the game’s most reliable and consistent scorers of the last decade.
Let’s get something straight – Duncan was a far superior defensive player in his heyday. There’s an argument to be made that ‘The Big Fundamental’ was the greatest defensive big of all-time for his constant disruption at the basket and impeccable knack for slowing down his assignments. Aldridge has merely adapted the conventions that the Spurs have in place for him to unlock his defensive potential.
Next: Team-first values
Since buying into the San Antonio Spurs culture over the last few years, we’ve seen Aldridge become a clear-cut leader of the team both on and off the court. Before you can fit in with the team’s systems of play, you must be able to project the values of the team in your everyday life. In many ways, Aldridge can come off as quiet and reserved to the general public – Duncan was the same way.
What many fans don’t see is just how valuable of a teammate Aldridge truly is to the rest of the locker room. His jolly attitude, competitive spirit, sound moral compass and distinguished concentration on his play style rub off on his teammates. Without doing anything too far outside of his norm, Aldridge sets the precedent for the rest of the squad to work hard and play hard.
It’s not Aldridge’s responsibility to fill Duncan’s massive shoes. No one will ever quite match the legendary team-first mentality of The Big Fundamental that inspired generations of teammates to achieve the best versions of themselves, yet somehow Aldridge similarly inspires his peers to reach new heights.
His chemistry and encouragement of guards Derrick White, Dejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes have been duly noted while his rudimentary footwork has done dividends for Jakob Poeltl in their short time as teammates.
Though Aldridge only played besides Duncan for one short year, it’s evident that the leadership skills and true love of the franchise rubbed off on the perennial All-Star.
Next: Initiating Offense from the Post
Initiating Offense from the Post
A staple of Gregg Popovich’s offensive sets in the half court is the motion of offense circulating around an anchoring big man in the post. Tim Duncan often initiated offense from the high post or low block, so Aldridge is oftentimes positioned in similar positions around the mid-range and post.
Aldridge has always had a score-first mentality with the ball in his hands. His size and length oftentimes allow the near seven-footer to pour in fadeaway jumpers, layups and pull-up twos.
As he aged and expanded his ever-growing basketball IQ, Duncan learned the value of passing out of the post to help initiate team offense. He came to understand when and where double-teams came from, enabling his teammates to set up for open shots around the perimeter or at the rim off of cuts. We’ve seen Aldridge take similar steps in his progression this season.
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Averaging 2.4 assists per contest, Aldridge is posting a career-best assist ratio at 10.7 and a 11.8 percent assist percentage; a career-best mark. San Antonio has seen a crop of double teams thrown at its franchise star, so naturally the next step in his development as a player is an improvement in his passing.
Kicking the ball out from the post may not directly result in an assist every time, but Aldridge can draw defenders for a double-team, defer to a teammate and allow them to make a play for someone else. Posting exceptional assist numbers can be hard in the team-based offense of the Spurs where any player can account for a dime. This is why Aldridge’s consistent fundamental instincts in the post are so objectively impressive.
It’s not easy to be a post player in 2019, and yet LaMarcus continues his dominance over the low block by leaning on his uncanny array of post moves and jump shots.